Asking For What You’re Due

Posted by: Emma Hickey, Senior Content Contributor

It’s not easy to ask for what you want, and it’s even more difficult to ask for what you’re due. Whether it’s asking for a raise, a title change, or a much-needed vacation, it can be a challenge expressing to your superiors what you feel you deserve in a way that will get results. There are internal factors to consider, like the fact that it’s simply uncomfortable to ask for what you want. Many of us were taught from a young age that it’s rude to directly ask for something, and women in particular are coached to avoid seeming aggressive by making any kind of demand, no matter how reasonable it may be. There are also external factors at play that are a bit harder to overcome.

Power dynamics in the workplace contribute greatly to the difficulty of asking for what you’re due. Entry-level employees may feel less empowered than their more senior colleagues to ask the same managers for a title change. Women may feel less empowered than men. Research shows that women are actually four times less likely than men to ask for a raise. In their 2003 book Women Don’t Ask, authors Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever examined the starting salaries of students graduating from Carnegie Mellon University and found that just 7% of female graduates negotiated their salaries, as opposed to 57% of male graduates. More recently, a 2016 study out of the University of Warwick argued that women do ask for raises as often as men, but are less likely to actually receive those raises. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research states that white women won’t receive wages equal to the median wages of men until 2056, Black women until 2124 and Hispanic women until 2248. These figures may not instill much confidence, but there is one thing you can do to combat these forces—try anyways! Take action, fortify yourself with a plan, and ask.

What are you due?

It may start as a gut feeling. You get a hunch that, hey, maybe you should be making more money. Or, after a particularly long day at work, you start to list off the many contributions you make to your team before you realize most of that is outside the scope of your role and maybe it’s time for a title change. Listen to your instincts, but don’t rely on them. Take your gut feeling and channel it into research. By comparing your salary, or your title, to that of others doing work similar to yours, you can pin your instincts to facts.

Utilize resources like Glassdoor to find salary ranges for your role, for your level, and for your location.  Remember that the standard in Cleveland won’t be the standard in San Francisco. Use job sites like Indeed and AngelList to research the titles held by people who do the same work as you. The goal of this research phase is to back-up your wants with numbers, facts and industry standards you can share with your manager. They’ll help frame your request in the larger world, rather than the immediate world of your office.

How do you ask for it?

Great, you now know without a doubt what you’re due; next you have to ask for it. Before you head into a meeting with your manager, it’s helpful to give them a heads up about what you’re planning to discuss. If you catch them completely off-guard, they’ll be less receptive to making the necessary changes you’ve requested. The best way to do this is to email your manager in advance and say something like:

Hi there, I just wanted to give you a heads up that in our 1:1 today, I’d like to talk about my role here and how we can best match my title and salary to the work I do. Looking forward to chatting!

If an email feels a bit too formal for your workplace, or for your relationship with your manager, at the very least make mention of what you plan to discuss with them at lunch, in passing, or through an instant message. An email is the strongest way to pre-wire your conversation, but any step you take to remove the element of surprise is better than nothing.

When the time comes for your actual one-on-one conversation with your manager, start by making sure you’re both on the same page. Is there a chance they don’t know your salary? Are they aware of all the vital duties you’ve taken on beyond your job description? Don’t leave room for misunderstanding. First, ground the conversation in your reality by providing your manager with necessary context up front. Then, make your request and back it up with your research. In a perfect world, your manager will have your best interests at heart and once you’ve opened their eyes to the fact that you deserve more, they’ll readily give it to you. Unfortunately, this won’t always be the case, but remain firm in your request because a sound argument backed with well-researched data is hard to disagree with, after all.

Now what?

Consider emailing a recap of your conversation to your manager so that there’s a record of what you two discussed and of any changes you both agreed upon. Getting everything into writing will help eliminate miscommunications down the line and reduce the risk of any backtracking. Then, take a deep breath, because you have done a difficult thing! If you’re still not feeling quite ready to take the plunge and ask for what you’re due—or if you know you deserve more but you’re not quite sure what more means for you—Poros can help. Send us a note and together we’ll figure out what you deserve and make sure you get it.

Why you should join a nonprofit board to advance your career

Managing in the #MeToo Era: Our Responsibility to Our Teams