Asking for a raise can be scary, especially for women and people of color. Here are some tips from a career expert and a couple who tripled their salary within 10 years.
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PEOPLE’s Real Tips for Real Life presents practical answers to some of the most commonly asked questions around finance, employment and preparing for the future — even when that future can seem very uncertain.

When career expert Vicki Salemi was a corporate recruiter, she noticed that the majority of women did not negotiate their salary when offered a job.

"Nine out of 10 men always asked for more," says Salemi, "while women were like, 'When can I start?'"

This mindset extends to women not asking for a raise, she says.

"You may say, 'Well, I should just be so lucky to have a job right now,' or, 'I don't want to come across as greedy. My boss will think negatively of me,'" says Salemi.

Many women also underestimate their value in the workplace and unknowingly ask for lower pay than their male colleagues.

"Your company and your boss are not going to say, 'You've done such an awesome job — we're going to increase your pay by 10 percent,'" says Salemi. "You can't sit idle, especially if you know you've been underpaid by a certain amount — you have to speak up."

Married Atlanta couple Julien and Kiersten Saunders certainly did, and it paid off, with each tripling their salaries in 10 years while working in marketing for a national hotel company.

"It was making the right connections, helpful connections that would amplify your work," says Kiersten, 35, who with Julien now runs the financial advice website Rich & Regular.

Kiersten and Julien Saunders
Kiersten and Julien Saunders
| Credit: Kiersten and Julien Saunders

Though asking for more money in the middle of a pandemic might not be possible as companies experience financial difficulties, here are some tips from experts when the timing is right.

Know Your Worth

Kiersten stayed ahead of the curve when digital marketing was first developing. So when it came time for her company to enter that area full force, she was already known as an expert who could add value to the company in this area; this led to a raise in a new internal position.

"It helps to see the areas of the company that are being invested in," Kiersten says. "A lot of people try to get raises within their same team, go to their boss and say, 'Hey, I took on this extra responsibility and now you should pay me.' And that is not nearly as lucrative as figuring out where the company is going to put their chips to be a part of that."

What Should You Be Paid?

Before setting up a meeting with your boss, research what you should be paid. Speak with a former boss, former colleagues, professional organizations or your college career office, says Salemi.

She advises that you say something along the lines of, "I'm doing research to know my worth, just to make sure I'm not underpaid and make sure I get paid what the market bears. Based on my level of experience and years of experience, what do you think someone at my level would be paid?"

PayScale is another place to discover your worth. Approach the meeting with a number in mind.

Vicki Salemi
Vicki Salemi
| Credit: Vicki Salemi

Interview for Outside Jobs

Kiersten interviewed for positions outside of her company and found having another job offer valuable in getting a raise.

"The immediate response was like, 'What can we do to help you stay?'" says Kiersten. "When I had another salary offer, they were able to find money and find new responsibilities that would challenge me."

She found the practice of interviewing externally empowering.

"I would suggest this tip, especially for women of color: you need to practice, you have to get used to [hearing no] and to have options in case there's a no," says Kiersten, who is Black. "If you are feeling overlooked and undervalued, then you need to be prepared to leave. You need to have a plan and a strong resume and great interview skills to go somewhere else."

Show Them Your Value 

Julien, 40, learned never to think that his work would speak for itself.

"I was under the assumption that surely they saw all the hard work that I was doing and that I was coming in early and staying late and that I was nice and they were going to get me a promotion," says Julien.

"But what I learned is that senior leaders are so busy, they don't have time to think," he continues. "So you shouldn't assume that they saw or even paid attention to the things that you're doing, because if you're busy, they're probably 10 times busier than you are. And so the goal is to make sure you know how to show that you stand out."

Before talking to your boss, write down in specific terms your accomplishments and how you helped the company's bottom line in the last year. Did a client, vendor or your boss send you an email with accolades such as "great work, keep it up" or "I don't know what I would do without you"? Did you have a spectacular last quarter in sales and generate x amount of revenue for the company? Do you train new employees?

"Anytime you can get quantifiable in terms of money that you saved the company or money that you brought into the company, include it," says Salemi.

Set Up a Meeting

"You definitely should not ask for a raise over email because you need to come across as authentic," says Salemi.

For those nervous about bringing up the topic of a meeting, it might help to email your boss. In the subject line, simply write, "Meeting." In the text of the email, be brief and say you wish to check in on a few things and ask if they have 15 minutes available on their calendar in the next week or two.

"You don't necessarily need to say, 'I want to ask for a raise,'" says Salemi. "It could feel terrifying, but do it anyway — your future self will thank you."

Ask the Right Person for a Raise

Kiersten says having supportive white allies — who were aware of the diversity gap in their company and willing to help — was important for her success. This is particularly important since research has shown that Black job seekers contend with racial bias.

"I think the social risk [of asking for a raise] is one that's pretty well known within people of color, that you become branded as ungrateful if you ask for more and the answer is no, and that you should just be happy to be there," says Kiersten. "That shouldn't be the case."

Kiersten recognized her allies as the women who would make sure to bring her name up during a meeting, or direct questions asked of them to her "because I was in a position to answer it," she says. "They also wanted to show that I was receptive to feedback and that I could listen and grow. It was really helpful."

Kiersten and Julien Saunders
Kiersten and Julien Saunders
| Credit: Kiersten and Julien Saunders

Practice Before the Big Ask

You need to come across as authentic, and practicing what you are going to say with a friend will help with jitters. Highlight two to three things that you've done or two to three ways you've saved the company money and boosted their revenue.

Without apology, say something like, "Looking at my annual salary, which as you know is X amount, it seems that based on my research I'm being underpaid," says Salemi.

Follow up by asking your boss to consider giving you a raise and if it is a possibility.

"You're not expecting a yes or no necessarily in this conversation," Salemi says.

Feel the Fear — and Ask Anyway 

"Agreeable" women at work are paid significantly less, according to a 2016 study in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, yet even the most assertive of women earn less than their non-demanding male colleagues.

"It was scary [to ask for a raise] until I realized that my current salary wasn't going to get me to my financial goals," says Kiersten. "The idea of continuing to live paycheck to paycheck was scarier than asking for more money."

Look at 'No' as Your Plan B Pivot

In spite of your hours of practicing the perfect presentation on why you deserve a raise, the answer might be no. What's next?

  • Ask for compensation in other ways. Can you ask for additional time off, a year-end bonus, stock options? Maybe you want to continue working from home after your office reopens or seek tuition reimbursement for that MBA you've pined for. "Research what you're going to ask for," says Salemi, "and prioritize them."
  • Look elsewhere. Now that you know your worth and have outlined your accomplishments, you've laid the groundwork for an external job search. "You can go to go into a next salary conversation with even more confidence," says Salemi,  "that this is what you're entitled to, and this is what you deserve."