Six Steps to a Raise or Promotion

Will Marré

April 10, 2017

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Yesterday was Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day raises awareness of the gender pay gap and symbolizes how far into the year (3 months) a woman must work to earn what her male counterparts earned for doing THE SAME JOB in the previous year.

If you're a woman you're almost sure to be underpaid. The vast amount of pay equity research over the last decade consistently confirms that equally qualified women are paid anywhere from 44% less to 4% less than men doing the same job.

The average is 20% less.

What new research is uncovering is that opportunity inequality creates even more unfairness. The promotion pace of professional women is 33 to 50% slower than professional men.

The pay gap is directly a result of bias. It is not because women do not work as hard or as long as men. It is not because they have children. It is not because they're less committed to their careers. And it is definitely not because they're less qualified. The reason women are paid less than men is primarily because they are women.

We know this because when the gender of candidates for higher paying jobs is unknown women are twice as likely to be selected than if the recruiter can distinguish between men and women via their resume.

Last year the Columbia University school of Public Health released research showing that women were four times more likely to be depressed by work related stress than males. But they also found out the cure to the depression was equal opportunity and equal pay. It's true...what they discovered was depression rates among working women who knew they had reached pay equality was no greater than males. So it's not that women are more emotionally fragile than men. Rather, women are stressed by work when they're not treated fairly.

So, I have defined the problem. But the solution may not be what you think it is. Often women are told that they don't get raises because they are not aggressive enough in asking for them. But simply asking for a raise is not likely to solve pay inequality. That's because when women advocate for themselves research reveals that it backfires. Women who ask for raises are frequently labeled as whiny, unrealistic or demanding. They may be labeled as difficult to manage which becomes a career killer. So you might get a raise, but lose the opportunity for the next promotion.

Brain science actually gives us clues to the "SMART" approach to getting paid what you deserve.

Simply...Turn negotiation into collaboration.

Gender research confirms that most men are competitive. So negotiating with a man is a psychological contest. Most negotiators want to feel like they won the negotiation. When I worked with Stephen Covey, we taught win-win negotiating as Habit 5 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Then for decades, I used the win-win principles to help clients negotiate high-stakes agreements with oppositional groups. What I consistently found is that most men wanted win-lose outcomes. For many people it isn't enough for them to get what they want. They also enjoy the feeling of you getting less than what you want. It's the primal competitive urge of domination. And many men are still driven by the psychological payoff of dominating women. For many men the last thing they want to feel is that they lost to a woman.

So don't try to negotiate for a higher salary. Instead, collaborate.

Collaboration occurs when people share a common goal and agree to solve common problem. One goal of every good employer is to have highly productive employees. They may not care if employees are happy but they should care about creating conditions in which employees are committed to do their best work. In human resource language this is called employee engagement. But it's kind of a soft, squishy concept for male business leaders. Generally, what I have found is that most leaders are interested in their employees being focused on producing results that matter.

Recently Bain and Company found there is a 300% productivity difference between a dissatisfied employee and an inspired employee. They also found the dissatisfaction with pay was a critical productivity killer. Very few people are productive when they feel exploited. People actually reduce their effort to achieve psychological fairness when they feel their efforts are not being fairly rewarded.

When I am coaching women to create a collaborative, problem-solving discussion these are the SIX STEPS I TEACH THEM TO HELP GET A PROMOTION OR RAISE:

  • Use a salary estimator such as Glass Door or Know Your Worth to give you hard data on what your job should pay. That is your target.

  • If possible, start applying for better jobs with equal or better employers. When you have alternatives you increase your psychological power.

  • Calculate the business value of your position. What is the value you really create for your employer? Can you estimate the positive financial impact of your productivity in either saving money or driving growth.

  • Confirm that you are capable and committed to making an even bigger impact on your team or organization. Advocate for yourself so you can do more for the company.

  • Share success stories of situations in the past year in which your contribution made a big difference and emphasize that you would like to do more.

  • Ask for an increase in quality-of-life compensation such as flex time, telecommuting, less travel, or a childcare allowance IN ADDITION to a higher wage.


    As I mentioned earlier, most men hate to lose, but many men love being "knights in shining armor." This primal drive doesn't require you to become a damsel in distress. Rather it gives you an opportunity to present practical problems that giving you raise or a bonus might solve. For instance, if you are saddled with student debt or have a change of circumstance in which you need more extensive childcare you can establish a problem-solving discussion by making the solution the key to unlocking greater productivity and contribution to the enterprise.

    A successful, bright woman I recently coached was able to DOUBLE her sign-on bonus because she told the male recruiter it would completely pay off her student debt. Solving her problem became the recruiter's goal. She simply asked, "Is there any way I might be able to get a bigger sign-on bonus because it would make my decision final."

    To make this problem solving strategy work, tell your boss you need a raise. Don't tell him what your personal problem is, just that you need to make more money. Ask him what can you do that would bring more value to the company that would justify the raise you need.

    Some bosses will want to know why you need a raise. However, answering that question can be tricky. If your boss is highly analytical and judgmental, it would be best to keep the reason private but emphasize it is urgent. If your boss has more of a problem-solving, empathetic personality he might derive great satisfaction in helping you help yourself. The critical issue here is to retain your power and keep your dignity. Never fall into the trap of manipulating your boss by trying to get his sympathy to bail you out. The frame for every successful collaborative promotion or raise, is that you want to earn more by creating more value.

    With the SIX STEPS TO A PROMOTION OR RAISE, I've also found there are SIX STEPS TO AVOID.

  • Don't apologize for asking what it would take to get a raise or bonus.

  • Don't expect for your work to speak for itself, it never does.

  • Don't use negative words to challenge the fairness of your boss or company.

  • Don't manipulate your boss or company by trying to gain sympathy.

  • Don't ask for what you think you might be able to get. Instead ask what your contribution is worth and how you can make it worth more.

  • Don't accept any offer in the moment. Give yourself a chance to reflect.

  • The bottom line.
    Unless something dramatic happens, pay inequality is likely to persist for another 50 years. So...

  • Be proactive - set a goal and make a plan to achieve it.

  • Educate yourself on what you deserve.

  • Ask for a promotion so that you can do more for your employer.

  • Your current job is not your career. Loyalty to your employer is overrated. The highest paid people job hop. Create options.

  • Take control of your financial future.

  • I challenge you to use these SIX STEPS to become great at what you desire to be great at and get paid for it.

    Here's to many promotions and raises in your future!


    Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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