How to Ask for a Raise and Get It: Beating the Gender Pay Gap

By Jackie Beck   Updated 05/05/2021 at 9:18 am

Are you a woman who wants to make more money at your job? If so, it’s time to learn how to ask for a raise and get it. Because you can beat the gender pay gap.

But before you can talk to your boss about a raise, you’ve got to do some prep work. So first let’s talk about what your male coworkers are likely making. Why?

Because getting a raise starts with talking salary — and not just here. You need to do it in your regular life too.

(If you’re curious, being told to keep your salary a secret is often illegal.)

So you DO talk salary with the other employees at your job, right?

No? You’re not alone, but I highly recommend changing that.

Because if you’re a woman…

Chances are you’ll find that you’re making less than your white male counterparts. How much less?

Well, that depends on your race, because there’s a racial pay gap too, which is an even worse issue.

But as of 2018, the breakdown goes something like this:

Asian women earn 6% less than white men
White women, 18% less
Black women, 35% less
Latina women, 38% less


And if you’re a man, I hope you’ll want to change this too. You can help by sharing your salary numbers with your coworkers and others in your industry.

(Only Asian men earned more than white men, based on median earnings estimates. These numbers are based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

The pay gap starts early.

The difference in pay between men and women starts early. Sometimes even with people’s first jobs. For example, here’s a recent conversation I came across online where people were talking about this article on salary transparency. The conversation went something like this:

Person A: My son just got his first job. He started at the same time and in the same position as a couple of women. They’re all age 18 or 19. They talked and found out he makes $1/hr more than them.

Person B: Any chance your son asked for more money after the original offer?

Person A: No. He didn’t negotiate.

Get that? He didn’t ask for more money. He hadn’t been there longer, and didn’t have more experience.

He was offered more money by default because he was male.

Basically, this (unnamed) company thought it was good to start the only male in the group out at $1 an hour more than the women. His gender was literally the only difference between them. It can’t be the only company that operates that way.

But if you don’t know what’s going on, and you don’t compare salaries, you’ll assume your lack of a raise or decent pay is due to other things. (More on that later.)

For now, know that if you are a woman, getting better pay starts with you.

If you want to get paid fairly (and well!) you’ve got to take action. That starts with asking for a raise at your job.

Because sure, there are lots of “reasons” women may make less over time. For example, we take time out of jobs to take care of the kids, help sick parents, support our spouse, deal with health issues, etc. Unpaid years of hard work out of the paid workforce mean missed opportunities for raises.

That is a problem, on several counts. But when you’re starting out behind just because you’re a woman — that’s an even bigger problem.

You’ll also read that women don’t negotiate: That we don’t negotiate when starting jobs, which puts us further behind, and that we don’t ask for raises.

I don’t buy it. And there’s at least one study (described here) that shows that women ask for raises as often as men. We just don’t get them.

If you ask me, the real reason women make less than men is because of hundreds of years of deeply rooted prejudice against women. Companies can get away with it, so they do. And corporations do not have the best interests of people in mind.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

So how do you ask for a raise and get it?

The typical advice goes something like this:

If you want to get a raise, first compare salaries. Ideally compare with people doing similar work at your company who have similar levels of experience. If you can’t do that, use sites like Glassdoor or to see what others are making in the field.

Next, set up a meeting with your boss. (You want to have this talk face to face, not over email or text.) Go in armed with a list of your accomplishments, and show how your work benefits the company. Make a strong argument that your salary should be higher.

Directly ask for the raise.

If that fails, set a goal with your manager and try again in 3-6 months.

In theory, that’s good advice. And I definitely agree with the compare salaries part, because I hope it will get you fighting mad.

But there are a few problems with that style of advice.

What’s wrong with that way of asking for a raise? Nothing really, if it works. But what if it doesn’t?

In that case, there are a few problems with that style of advice:

  1. Basically, the advice is to prove that you deserve to be paid more.
  2. It does not approach things from a position of power.
  3. If you hear no, it offers no suggestions beyond “try again”.

Let’s talk about each of those in turn.

Proving you deserve to be paid more.

You know what? Women deserve equal pay for comparable work! Period.

If you’re a woman doing equal (or better!) work than the men in similar roles where you work, you shouldn’t have to prove to yourself that you deserve equal (or better!) pay.


So start from that point of view.

(I’m assuming you’re not a slacker. That you work hard, come to work on time, get great reviews, etc.)

So if you ask for a raise and hear no, do not tell yourself things like:

  • you haven’t been there as long
  • business is bad
  • the economy is bad
  • money is really tight right now and the company can’t afford to give you a raise
  • it’s not in the budget
  • you didn’t ask for a raise at the right time, or negotiate hard enough
  • the company has a policy of only giving cost of living raises
  • you have a lot of perks
  • you have a flexible schedule

And do not accept them if that’s what you’re told. While all of those are “reasons” you might be told no, NONE of them are reasons you need to accept making less.

If you’re doing the same work, at the same or better level as a man in a similar role, but you’re getting paid less, YOU DESERVE TO MAKE MORE. End of story.

Those “reasons” are just excuses to say no, when there’s a gender pay gap. Companies want to make a profit. When you pay your workers less, you make more of a profit. They have no incentive to pay you more unless you make them.

Sure, do go in with data showing how you’ve helped the company, and highlight the good things you’ve done. Highlight your value on a regular basis, every time you have a one-on-one with your boss, or in quarterly emails if you don’t have those.

But when it comes time to ask for a raise, start with the assumption that you deserve equal pay for equal work.

Know that you deserve a raise, and fight to get it.

The best way to ask for a raise is to approach things from a position of power.

Starting from a position of power may mean doing some awkward things. For example, while you know you deserve a raise, you need to make the company you work for realize they need to give it to you.

While I work for myself now, I’ve had more than one employer in the past. And I got raises from all but one of them. Even after being told no. (The only one I didn’t get a raise at was a temp contract job. I didn’t ask in that case, because I was well paid for a short period of time.)

I never asked for a raise the “right” way either, if the right way includes the steps shown earlier. Instead, I did it the effective way.

Here are the steps I used to ask for a raise:

  1. I did a great job.
  2. Found out what other people were making, both at that company and at other companies.
  3. Decided what I wanted to be making.
  4. Set up a meeting with my boss.
  5. Told my boss that I asked for the meeting because I’ve been doing a great job, I’m underpaid, and that I want a raise to $x amount. (That’s pretty much word-for-word what I said. In a few cases I also added that my coworkers also wanted a raise to that same amount. And yes, they got one too.)
  6. Then I sat there in silence until they responded.

That’s it.

Typically their response was that they’d have to get back to me about a possible salary increase. So I’d say ok, ask when that would be, and then I’d set up another meeting if they didn’t get back to me by that time. I told them I was following up on the pay increase, and then sat in silence once again.

The result? I got the raises I asked for right away, except once when I heard no at first. In that case, I got an even bigger raise not too much later. (More on that later.)

There was no groveling, no proving anything — because my previously highlighted work and their pay spoke for themselves — and no trying again. There was just more money.

That’s what asking for a raise from a position of power looks like. You know you deserve it. Act like it.

What if you hear no when you ask for a raise?

So…what if you follow those steps, and your boss gives you one of many excuses? In one case when I tried to get a raise, they said it wasn’t in the budget.

Well, that’s where you do your best to make them give you a raise (if you truly want to keep working there) or you get a raise by going elsewhere.

Either way, the step is the same: You find a better job somewhere else for more money. Ideally for a whole lot more money.

That’s it.

Even if you like where you work, it’s close by, you have a lot of flexibility, blah blah blah. You may be able to get those things other places too, and you may end up staying at your current job — just with more money.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to find the perfect job to do this. If your goal is more money, you have to find one that pays more.

(Related: Here’s how to slay job interviews like a job hopping fiend.)

That means you may need to do some things you don’t like.

For example, you may need to spend a lot of time job hunting, be willing to move, work remotely, drive further, work different hours, do a job you don’t love, etc.

In my case, the “better job” I found elsewhere after sending out many resumes and interviewing multiple places was better in only one respect: They paid a lot more. Nothing else about that job was anything I wanted.

It was further away than I wanted to go, in the kind of silent, inflexible corporate-y environment I hate with the fire of a burning sun, doing work that would probably would have bored me to tears, with hours I didn’t want. I’m guessing it would have been torture for my personality. The person interviewing me seemed nice, but that’s about it.

The main thing though? It met my goal of making more money, so I took it.

If I had actually ended up working there, I would have done a good job while continuing to try and find something that met my other requirements too. Luckily, the next step in my quest to get a raise was successful.

Once you have an offer, hand in your notice.

If you want to keep working at your original employer, mention that you enjoyed working there but only are leaving for better pay. Tell your boss that you’ll reconsider staying if they will match (or beat) your new offer.

If the raise truly wasn’t in the budget, they’ll wish you well and you can part on good terms. (Always do your best not to burn any bridges.) Then you can look for the job you really want, if what you found wasn’t that.

But, sometimes they will FIND it in the budget. (Maybe the money was available all along, or maybe they cut back somewhere else to find it.) You might be surprised. That’s exactly how I got a 5-figure raise after being told no. It darn well wasn’t by waiting 3-6 months and trying again.

Either way, you end up making more money. And they get an employee they value more.

How to ask for a raise and get it. Beating the gender pay gap.

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