Welcome to Refinery29’s new career column Advice From A Nice Girl. Each month, readers will be asking Fran Hauser, bonafide boss and author of the book The Myth Of The Nice Girl, their hardest career quandaries, from managing your overly emotional boss to overcoming your biggest work fear. But this advice column comes with a twist — the reader has to take Fran’s advice and report back.
This month, a 29-year-old Silicon Valley product manager has a tough question about asking for a raise.
Question: I joined my company two-and-a-half years ago as a marketing associate. I was making a career pivot, and I had no experience. I didn’t feel like I had any room to negotiate, so I accepted an offer that was well below market value.
But I was really excited about the future of the company and grateful to gain new skills. I’ve since worked my way up to senior product manager, and I have significant responsibilities. I love my company, my team, and my role, and I’m really good at what I do. But I’m still being paid almost 40% below market value despite getting a raise.
Until recently, there hasn't been a formal review process so there wasn’t an opportunity to ask for more money. When I did ask for a raise in December, my boss said he would talk to the CEO. In January, I followed-up with the CEO, and he said he’d get back to me after talking to the COO. I haven’t heard anything since.
To make things more complicated, there was an issue at work where I was sexually harassed. Things turned out okay — the company has handled it well — but it’s made me feel really shy about asking for more money after causing the disruption.
Our executive team is finally instituting formal reviews — and by all accounts mine should be positive. I thought it could be a perfect time to revisit my raise. But I’m nervous. I was hoping you could give me some advice on what to do!”
Fran's advice: First, I’m sorry you had to experience sexual harassment at work. And I completely understand how the incident made you feel uneasy and shy to ask for more money. It sounds like you addressed the issue and things turned out okay, so don’t let that hold you back from asking for a raise. In your head, you need to separate one from the other. If anything, be proud of finding the confidence to speak up and let it embolden you as you approach the negotiation.
When it comes to making your case, the most important thing is to take the emotion out of your ask. Being armed with concrete data and evidence allows you to present the facts (not your feelings), and it’s really hard to argue with facts. Do your research and substantiate the 40% below market value rate you reference. Did you talk to peers, recruiters, do online research?
I know this sounds like you’re going up before the Supreme Court, but think of it this way — the CEO and the COO will make a decision based on business goals and the bottom line. You want to prove how vital you are to both. Think about the value you bring to the company. Start a list of your accomplishments or ways you’ve contributed to the company — be as specific as possible, like X social media campaign garnered attention from the media and earned the company a new client or your work on X project drove this much in revenue. By simply writing these down, it will remind you of the power you hold.
Also, studies have shown that women who negotiate communally, meaning with an eye toward what is best for the organization instead of just what is best for themselves, have a better chance of success. Based on your list of gold-star moments, choose three biggest talents you bring to the table in terms of creating value for the company. They could be an authentic voice on Twitter or the ability to get clients to quickly sign off on ideas. When it’s time to ask for a raise, these examples will remind you of why you deserve one and will serve as proof points during your conversation. The most compelling requests for raises I’ve received focus on the person’s impact and the concrete results she’s achieved.
If you’re nervous, research tells us that women actually outperform men when negotiating on behalf of someone else. Think about how you would approach the conversation if you were representing your best friend or your sister instead of yourself. What would you say to advocate for one of them? Then, take that confidence and conviction and apply it to you!
Think about how you would approach the conversation if you were representing your best friend or your sister instead of yourself.
Finally, take the fear out of no. What’s your backup plan if you don’t get the raise? Is there something else you can ask for? Have you been wanting to go back to school or start a side hustle? Make a list of alternative asks, whether it’s tuition reimbursement or the ability to allocate time to your passion. If they still say no, ask for a concrete timeframe for when your compensation will be reviewed again. If you’re getting the sense that you’re being ignored and not going to be brought to market rate soon, it might be a good time to start looking for a company that appreciates your value and pays you what you deserve.
Follow-Up: Crazy timing… the day after I reached out I was offered a raise. While I am happy to have received more money, it definitely was less than I expected (and still below market rate).
I asked my manager if it would be appropriate for me to negotiate for more compensation. He told me that it was up to me but 1) he hasn’t asked for a raise because he wanted to be respectful to where the company is (raising series A, trying to be lean), and the extra money wasn’t important to him; and 2) it would put him in an awkward position because he would have to go negotiate for me. He did say that if I chose to ask for more he would support me, but I should think about if that was important to me.
Now I am a people pleaser: I hate when anyone is disappointed in me, especially my manager. Additionally, I take my reputation in the office very seriously (especially after the sexual harassment issue and as one of three women in a 25-person office) therefore it made the most sense to drop the issue.
Your advice makes me realize that I should have handled that conversation completely differently. I was unable to articulate why I thought compensation was important, and I let my manager make me feel that asking for more money meant I wasn’t a team player. I didn’t come to the conversation armed with statistics or tangibles. And I definitely wasn’t confident! I have had imposter syndrome my entire product manager career, especially given how I started and the fact that I don't have a technical background. In my head, I was thinking that maybe I didn’t deserve more money because I wasn’t good enough.
After receiving your advice, I ended up taking some time to write down all the ways I add value to the company and talked with a couple engineers I work with about my strengths and weaknesses. I realized that I do add a lot of value and a unique perspective. In our next 1:1, I am going to talk to my manager about a timeframe when we can discuss this matter again and next time, I will be ready to make my case.
Update: I recently walked into a meeting with my CEO armed with your strategies and walked out with a huge increase in salary. We are still negotiating the final terms, but it's looking like a 30% bump which puts me at average for my role/experience (finally!)