October 16, 2014

Don’t Count on Karma - Ask for a Raise

Last week Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, won’t soon forget an interview he gave at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference.  Maria Klawe of Harvey Mudd College asked him how women should ask for a raise. His answer was:

"It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along. ...  And that might be one of the initial super powers that quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have. Because that’s good karma."

Nadella’s answer was so widely criticized he soon posted a statement retracting his answer on Microsoft’s web site:

"I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. ... If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."

Common wisdom fits nicely with Nadella’s answer.  The assumption is that people, including women, automatically get paid what they are worth. Company pay is based on knowledge, skills and experience.  Right?  So if women make less they must be worth less.  Right?  So they should just wait for karma to get a raise. Really?

Women make 77% of what men make in comparable positions.  According to the National Organization for Women, "If women received the same wages as men who work the same number of hours, have the same education and union status, are the same age, and live in the same region of the country, then these women’s annual income would rise by $4,000 and poverty rates would be cut in half. Working families would gain an astounding $200 billion in family income annually."

Fear of asking for higher offers or for a raise is an affliction shared by many people regardless of gender. Taking risk is part of living. You gain nothing by sitting on the sidelines and watching others paid more when you know you are contributing at the same level. Many fear offending their boss.

So how do you get what you are worth?  Just like you get anything.  You ask.

Do some research and develop a plan.

  1. Research pay for people in similar companies and jobs with similar experience;
  2. Make a list of your assets; Know your value!
  3. Ask for what you want and back it up with why you are worth it;
  4. Practice how you will ask for a higher offer or a raise. Don’t be afraid to ask!

Leverage your offers. Get out there and get multiple offers.  Then ask: “Will you match the higher offer?”   Nothing motivates like fear…   If they can’t afford to lose you they are going to meet your demands.

One young woman who received a substandard offer at graduation after interning at the company decided to call her employer’s bluff.  She asked for $60,000 and they said $40,000.  She said goodbye- she had other offers.  It took about 24 hours for the full impact of their mistake to set in.  She had a master’s degree in civil engineering and was the only engineer in the company who spoke French.  The company had considerable business in France and they needed her.

It is not just about pay.  It is also about life.

A second young woman who wanted to work fewer hours went to her boss at one of the largest international accounting firms and asked to adjust her hours. They said no.  She said fine I’m leaving.  It took all of 3 minutes for the lead partner of the firm to figure out he’d made a huge mistake.   The deal cut was beyond what she was asking for.  A partner/mommy track was hammered out.

You are actually making employers compete for your services.  That is what athletes do and that is what you need to do too.  Athletes have an agent – you have to do it yourself.  You have to know your value and ask for what you are worth.  You also have to know what you want in life and what will make you happy.

Don’t count on karma.  Ask for what you want.