Why Asking for a Raise Is Hard, and How to Do It Anyway

Riddle me this one: In the ten years I worked for the largest education publishing company in the world, I was afraid to ask for a raise. But in December 2014, I was brave enough to resign, change my career path, and start my own business.There is so much discussion surrounding equal pay, and in this case, equal pay for women. You can listen to Sarah Silverman talk about receiving $10 compared to her male stand-up partner’s $60. Or even Chelsea Clinton stating that asking for the raise is just the beginning of the negotiation and that women must learn to value themselves.WonderWomanBut in my case, the reason I hesitated to ask for a raise was ignorance—or a lack of understanding of the system. Although I worked in a corporate culture for a decade, I never really learned to navigate the waters, or at least float through them well. I believed in merit. I believed that when people work smart and contribute to the positive development and progression of their organization, they should be recognized, promoted, and paid accordingly. Through the years, I assumed my day would come. I gave my all. I extended my best energy. My day never came.Part of the reason I didn’t receive what I believed I earned is because I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t ask for a specific title accompanied by a specific salary because I was afraid. I felt asking for more would make me vulnerable. If I spoke my truth and verbalized my worth, those things might have been rejected. Even more, I didn’t want to be viewed as pushy or demanding.Some may think asking for what you want is easy. However, there is a reason that 63% of women don’t negotiate their compensation. Part of that reason is out of fear and the difficulty we have with monetizing our worth, questioning whether or not we have earned the raise we want and that promotion we have been seeking.In my final year at said corporation, I knew my time there was limited. I was asked to join another team. My role was clear and specific. Because I then believed I had nothing to lose and had dreams of a different path, I put on my cloak of courage and made an appointment with the director of Human Resources. Feeling confident (largely because I knew the person well and had been at the company for so long), I prepped for our discussion and articulately outlined the title I wanted and why it was appropriate. With that title, I also wanted an increase in salary.To say I felt embarrassed leaving the director’s office that day would be an understatement. Not only had my request been denied, but I learned that my official “level” in the system was lower than I had been aware of. I had a title that was equivalent to a manger, but in the system I was a senior. That meant I was a step below a manager and certainly not on the manager pay band. The year prior, I had been responsible for a $55 million product, but I was still considered a senior. That meant I wasn’t going to get the title I wanted, I wasn’t going to get my raise, and I would need to make a lateral move to do those things (with “opportunities for growth,” of course). I’d spent five years as a senior. I didn’t even know to look or to ask about my title in the “system,” but it was a stinger, nonetheless.It is easy for some to say that we, as women, must learn to be or own advocates. It is easy to say that negotiating for an increase in pay is not that hard—the worst answer you can get is “No.” But when you put your worth on the line, that “No” can be a significant punch in the gut. Women are sometimes viewed, when in a position of power, as pushy, bossy or overly emotional. We are viewed differently than men in the same position, constantly having to prove our worth. Then, we have to build up the courage to ask for what we believe we have earned, fighting the internal dialogue that emotes fear. For some of us, it is just plain hard.What is the solution? How do we fight through the fear? How do we do the hard things?I say, let’s get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Let’s seek people we respect, who are in positions that we seek, and ask for help.Let’s get comfortable being vulnerable. Let’s use our Wonder Woman stance when we’re in fear of making ourselves seen.Let’s get comfortable with admitting we don’t have all the answers, so we can educate ourselves and arm ourselves with information that makes us feel strong and powerful.Let’s get comfortable with the fact that we are unique beings who do not have to conform. Let’s take pride in our individual talents and focus on those strengths instead of our weaknesses. Let’s surround ourselves with people who support our efforts and remind us that We. Are. Enough.Then, let’s put our big girl pants on and negotiate. Although at the end, I didn’t get the title or the salary I wanted, I learned a valuable lesson. I would do it again (definitely sooner) and I learned to pay attention to what I am doing as well as what I am worth.