It was 5:15 pm on a busy Wednesday. Most people were clearing out of the office, but I was just getting back to my desk after a crazy day of back-to-back meetings and had a pile of work to do before I could get out the door. At the time, I was the leader of a major corporate sales team—and we were missing our targets, which meant that I needed to make budget cuts.
Out of nowhere, one of my direct reports dropped by my office and sat down in the chair opposite me. Without preamble, he said, “I’ve been meaning to catch you. I need a raise. I’ve been working really hard, and I haven’t had one in two years.”
Needless to say, I erupted. I was hungry. I was tired. And I was not in the mood to talk about it, at all.
What my employee had unfortunately failed to grasp here is one of the most essential rules for asking for a raise: It’s not only about you.
By failing to consider, well, me, when choosing the “when and where” of his ask, my employee had not only committed a timing gaffe—he also set up the exchange to be a one-sided one, something only further cemented by his word choice.
The words leading off his ask, “I need,” immediately framed the conversation as a transactional one. He had been working hard, it’s true. But by pinning his word choice to his needs, instead of to the specific ways the company had benefited from his performance, the value of his contributions immediately shifted (read: lessened) in my perspective. And the reality is that your manager’s perspective of your contributions can be more important than the contributions themselves.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe that employees should ask for raises. Today, as the co-founder of Fairygodboss, a women’s career platform dedicated to advancing workplace gender equality, part of me wishes more women would embrace some form of the blustery confidence of this former male employee. He misread the situation, to an inane degree, and ultimately missed his mark. But he did ask.
The more women ask for raises, the more we’ll get paid, and the narrower the pay gap will get. Period. So if you’re a woman reading this, please, go ask for a raise. But also, please also increase your chances of success by understanding your boss’s perspective.
Before you show up in your boss’s office, have a grasp of your company’s budget cycle and financial performance (most managers don’t have coffers full of money to allocate, as annual budgets don’t really allow for discretionary salary increases mid-cycle) and approach your manager at the right time. Have a solid business case for what you’ll deliver in the next 12 months, in addition to your past accomplishments. Understand what your manager cares about and how can you make his or her life easier. Don’t forget that managers truthfully have a lot to lose when advocating for you; remind them of what’s in it for them.
Finally, expect to hear the word “no.” Any smart manager will turn down your request the first time. Before going to bat for you, he or she will check to see just how important this raise is to you. So if after hearing “no,” if you drop the topic, you can be sure you won’t get your raise.
When men on my old team were looking for a raise, they would ask monthly—like clockwork. I urge women to do the same. Ask your manager for milestones: What do you need from me? What would you need to see from me to ask for a raise next month? Engage him or her in the process.
By taking these steps, and avoiding my former employees’ pitfalls, you can ensure you’ll be paid what you’re worth—and help close that pesky pay gap along the way.
Romy Newman is co-founder and president of Fairygodboss.