On a global basis women are paid 15‐25% less than men. On average the gender pay gap is 16.4% in Europe, 17.9% in the USA, and up to 36.6% in South Korea, according to the latest OECD report.  Clearly discrimination accounts for much of this huge gap. However, I believe negotiation also plays a part.


When was the last time that you asked for a raise?


Most likely, quite a while ago. Perhaps you have never asked.


In career negotiations, two things in particular seem to disadvantage women: they ask less frequently than men and when they ask, they ask for less. One study found that men initiate negotiations twice as often as women. Another study showed men negotiate nine times more frequently! Women ask less often because they tend to rely more on bosses to recognize their good work and treat them fairly. In addition, they worry more about the impact that a request for money might have on their relationship with the boss. The combination of these two factors may explain why 20% of women have never negotiated for a raise, or promotion, etc. throughout their entire career. In addition, when women do ask for a raise, they ask for less because, at parity of qualifications, they tend to value themselves lesser.


So while there is a need to reduce discrimination there is also room for women to learn to successfully claim what they deserve.


Here is a four‐step approach that can make it less stressful and more effective when asking your boss for a raise:


1)  Know your worth. Women are less effective in career negotiations when faced with uncertainty about their market value. The more you build a good and factual understanding about the market, the more likely you are to effectively manage the discussion with your manager. We recommend that you do some research to find out how well you are compensated internally (compared to both male and female colleagues), as well as externally. To get some benchmark information on your internal compensation, you may want to talk to a senior mentor and/or with some former employees. To find out more about your worth in the external market, check the web (e.g. www.glassdoor.com), talk to friends, to head-hunters and/or explore external jobs.


2)  Establish the right relationships. In most companies, especially in larger corporations, the decision to give a raise has to be approved by more than one person. Who are the key decision makers? How is your relationship with them? Are they aware about your competencies and added value? Would they support a request for a raise? If you are not sure about the answers to these questions try to think how over the next few months you can bridge any gaps. Research from Herminia Ibarra (INSEAD) and Daniel Brass (University of Kentucky) indicates that women tend to be less connected than men. In particular, women are more likely to have a women‐only network and this may limit access to senior management. Furthermore, women are more likely to focus on performance and underestimate the importance of visibility. According to Ed Burghard, professional success is a combination of four factors: 30% Performance, 30% Exposure, 30% Image, and 10% Luck. Women need to make sure they are working on exposure (having access to decision makers) and image (being perceived well by colleagues and customers) as well as doing their formal job effectively.


3)  Choose the right time. This may differ from one company to another. As a hint, for most companies the right timing is NOT the official time when the company is considering compensation pay‐outs. Most likely, the best moment to ask for a raise is after a promotion, an award, new responsibilities or assignments, after a stellar performance, when the company needs you the most. For more ideas on timing, you may want to read our past article on “The Art of Timing in Negotiation”.


4)  Apply an effective methodology. Women are more likely to achieve their goals by using a collaborative approach in their negotiations. This is particularly important in an on‐going relationship like the one with your boss. As you prepare your request for a raise, you may want to keep five elements in mind:


  1. Start positively. For instance, you may want to start by thanking your boss for the learning and growth opportunities he/she has offered you.
  2. Provide evidence of your achievements. Prepare a factual list of what you have achieved and how you have created value for the company. Be careful to talk about results and outcomes that you know your boss values. It is often a challenge for women to brag about their successes. Make sure you overcome it!
  3. Ask for the raise. The logical conclusions of all your hard work is that you indeed deserve a raise. Give a specific number. Aim higher than what you really want so that you leave yourself room for negotiation.
  4. Prepare for objections. Very likely your boss will not agree with your request on the spot. Make sure to prepare in advance on how to handle obvious potential objections to make sure that the request goes forward.
  5. Develop “yes‐able” alternatives. The discussion around the raise will probably take a few weeks and more than one meeting. If at the end of the process the company is not prepared to give you a raise, have a few “yes‐able” alternatives in mind. What will make you happy and satisfied at work: more responsibilities (so that you are ready for a promotion and raise soon), flexible working hours, working from home, training, more/less travel, …? Identify any item that is of low cost to the employer but which might be of high value to you. Make sure you get something in return for your hard work and as a reward for having had the courage to ask for it.


Once you have completed these preparations, practice with a partner. You need to know how it feels to speak the words out loud and deal with any objection before you are confronted with the real situation.


Convinced about the benefits of this approach? Let us know your success stories or if there is something that is still preventing you from asking for what you want or need at work. Please leave a comment below.


In the next article we will talk about negotiating your salary for a new job.


Interested in Negotiation?

You may want to join one of Giuseppe’s forthcoming workshops:



About the author:

Giuseppe Conti, “The Creator of Master Negotiators”, is a recognized expert in the field of Negotiation and a regular lecturer at top-ranked European Business Schools, including BMI, ESADE, HEC Lausanne, HEC Paris, IMD, INSEAD, Oxford, RSM, SDA Bocconi, and University of Geneva. Managers from over 90 different countries have attended his highly interactive and hands-on workshops. He is a seasoned negotiator combining academic content with a rich practitioner experience from his senior procurement and commercial leadership roles with blue chip multinationals (Procter & Gamble, Novartis, Firmenich, Merck). He runs custom negotiation workshops for leading corporations in Europe and Asia as well as open enrollment programs in English, French and Italian in Geneva (Switzerland), Zurich (Switzerland), and Milan (Italy). Please visit his website at www.cabl.ch for more information.