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Advice From Women About Negotiating For A Raise: Just Ask

Many of the women who told us their stories said they didn't negotiate terms for their first job offers because they didn't know they could.
Thomas Barwick
Getty Images
Many of the women who told us their stories said they didn't negotiate terms for their first job offers because they didn't know they could.

Twice Juno Schaser asked for a raise. Twice she was turned down, she says. If her group of female friends is any indication, it's a common experience.

" 'At least they'll respect you for trying,' " a friend told Schaser, a 23-year-old museum publicist.

"I think I'd feel more respected if I was paid at the same level as my male co-workers," Schaser says.

The evolving discussion about women and negotiating has been filled with buzzwords, stats, meet-ups and must-reads. These are useful ways to have a discussion, but what about the in-the-trenches daily experiences of women asking for higher salaries?

We put out a call on Facebook asking for your stories. More than 300 people responded via a Google Form (thank you!). Those who replied were between the ages of 20 and 70, though most were women in their 20s and 30s working in a range of industries, from the medical field to academia to IT to the nonprofit world.

A few common themes emerged: A good number of the respondents cited encouragement — moral support and specific tips — from male mentors, husbands and boyfriends as motivation to ask for more. Also, many of the women who wrote in hadn't negotiated the terms of their first job offers because they didn't know that they could.

A lot of the respondents were motivated by the very knowledge that women tend not to ask for more. Kelly MacNeil, a 32-year-old who works in public relations, had this experience:

"I've negotiated two times. When it became clear I was taking on tons of responsibility at the station where I worked, I asked for a $5,000 [20 percent!] raise to bring me to the salary level of a male colleague who didn't have as much responsibility. I made my case and I got what I asked for. And when I was offered another job with a much higher salary, my instinct was to take it gratefully, but I remembered that women tend not to negotiate, so I asked for 5 percent higher starting salary and got 3 percent more."

Many assumed that a lot of companies expect negotiating to be part of the offer process: They lowball a figure, you highball a number, you meet in the middle. Katie Burggraf, a 25-year-old health researcher, also understood how to phrase her ask:

"I was nervous to try and negotiate but spoke with a career counselor, did my research and practiced what I was going to say. In the end I was successful, and here's why I think that was the case: I researched salary ranges for similar jobs in the area, I quoted a number that was reasonable but also higher than what I was willing to accept, and also phrased it in a cooperative and nondemanding way. ... My approach to it was to say, 'I was wondering if we could bring the salary closer to X amount.' I think that kind of language, the 'we' instead of the 'I,' is a lot more approachable. ... The employer ended up meeting me halfway (as I expected)."

Knowledge can make all the difference, including knowing what your co-workers make. Armed with this information, Louise Nelson, a 51-year-old working in higher education, went to her director:

"In 2004 I was managing an IT group. There were three other managers at the same level with groups the same size. Our salaries are public information. Two of the other managers were more senior than I was, so it was not a surprise to learn they made higher salaries. But the fourth manager was younger than me, less senior both at our institution and in the management position, and male — and he made about 5K more than me. I approached our director and said, 'I noticed G. makes more than I do. Help me understand why, since our responsibilities look the same to me.' The director [a male] investigated and agreed with me and he processed an equity raise within a month or two. I now make at the top of the range for my title."

Ashley Perry learned too late how government raises are limited:

"Shortly after my college graduation, I spent weeks searching for an entry-level job on Capitol Hill. I finally received an offer from the congressman for whom I had been interning for free. I was happy to get any offer so I could start paying my rent, so I did not think about negotiating. I just wanted to start getting a paycheck! ... Several months into my job, a publication for policymakers published the salary of every Capitol Hill employee on their website. This gave us an opportunity to see how we measured up to our colleagues. ... I earned much less than my colleagues both in my office and in comparable positions in other offices. Yet I chose to not bring it up. I was concerned that I would be perceived as self-serving. Years later, after completing a master's degree program, I applied for and got another job with a state government agency. This time I decided to negotiate my initial offer. During the process, I learned that the state's policy is to allow a government employee to earn only a certain percentage above their previous salary, with a small bump for additional degrees earned. If I had negotiated the initial offer for my first job and/or asked for a raise to bring me up to a level comparable to my colleagues, all of my future earnings would be higher. As long as I remain in government employment my earnings will be suppressed because I did not negotiate."

Bethany Goins, 31, asked for a better salary, as well as a signing bonus and health coverage for the gap in time between her OB-GYN residency and when she would start an academic job — all while something else was also on her mind:

"The contract review was actually everything that I wanted. If I described my dream job, they had it on the table for me. ... I know that women tend to be paid less and they don't get things just because they negotiate up front. ... He happily agreed to all my points, which I was shocked. It was pretty easy. The hardest part was actually initiating the conversation. ... One of the more difficult conversations I had at the time — plus being 35 weeks pregnant!"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jessica Glazer