How to ask for a raise without peeing your pants…or crying

Well, the crying part I can’t fully guarantee, but you may be able to make it through most of the conversation without a sob and hold the tears for the bathroom stall on the way out.

I’m a grown up woman, I’ve lived a few decades, raised children, owned businesses, climbed mountains, battled demons and faced many a hardship but my recent experience of asking for a raise, from my male boss, in my non-gender balanced workplace brought up a lot of fears and resistance that I wasn’t expecting, it was a huge eye opener for me.

First, there are the money issues.  In general, working women don’t speak up and don’t ask for what they deserve and so, they aren’t paid it.  It’s logical and simple, we can read the facts, feel the imbalance but still when crunch time comes to ask for what we’re really worth – we get blocked.  Or at least I did.

I was working in a technology company, a startup software company that was mostly men (2 women in an office of 20) and to top it off, the men were not the typical millennial men raised by forward thinking North American momma’s hell bent on creating equality and erasing gender norms, but rather the leadership in the office were all Persian men.  Not that I have anything against them, they had beautiful souls and were nothing but kind to me but I will say, they come from a culture where women have less of a voice in the workplace and it’s less common to see a woman working outside of the home.

So, picture this environment, me working in a job after many years of being an entrepreneur and business owner and then being faced with the need to ask for a raise after a year of working well below industry standard for what I was doing.

The build up to the ‘ask’ was extreme.  There were the pep talks with my husband, who continually just didn’t understand why I could work so hard, and put so much energy into my job, knowing the value I provide and accept such low pay,  there were my own conversations in my head about what I should ask for, what I think my boss would ask, if he would agree, how to prove my worth and then the inevitable question, am I worth it really?

I started to do a little extra research, in my ‘stealthy’ womanly way and started figuring out what the other guys in my office were making.  That actually made me get a little pissy – if they were making more than me and knowing their experience level and actual contribution to the company, I knew I definitely deserved to be paid at least what they were being paid.  That started being my fuel because if you don’t have enough self-worth to push yourself, a little anger is a heck of a motivator.

Next was the plan of action, I built up my research portfolio.  I listed my contributions and work, industry standards for my position, and also nailed down the exact number I was looking for.

After getting that down, and feeling confident in my asking position – as timing would have it, I ended up at a women’s entrepreneur group meeting that night and was given some great advice – pump up that number by at least 10% so you have some bargaining power.  They probably are going to want to offer slightly less just to try and keep in control of the conversation.  Advice heeded, I pumped my number up a little for wiggle room, and it ended up being perfectly correct advice, as you’ll see later.

Pumping up the courage volume, I set a meeting with my boss.  I agree – it was slightly strategic in being a Friday afternoon meeting when I knew he would be in a more relaxed and reflective state rather than the Monday morning power-production- “slay-the-dragons’ approach that comes after a weekend of worrying and getting inspired (typical of most startup founders in the bi-polar zone between break or bust).

What struck me most on the day of my actual ‘ask-my-boss-for-a-raise’ meeting, was how my body reacted.  You can tell yourself how confident and ready you are in your head over and over, but the honest situation of how you really feel shows up in your body like nobody’s business.  Elevated heart rate, shakiness, hyper awareness… a growing heat climbing from the base of your neck and then a slow clammy cool sweat gathering on my forehead (at least that’s how anxiety shows up for me!) and as the minutes ticked toward the time I had to continually look at my research and repeat my mantra to keep cool and collected (or try to).  Now my boss was not an unapproachable person at all, I’d had many a meeting with him and the conversation is always relaxed and respected.  This fear was all about my own self-worth and money issues.  Crazy eh?  (yes, I am Canadian, and eh is in my self-talk vocabulary!)Here I was

Crazy eh?  (yes, I am Canadian, and “eh” is common in my self-talk dialogue )

Here I was, with all the data to prove it, a full year of experience in the company proving my worth and feeling the impostor syndrome in full force.  Those demons showed up from years of programming, maybe even back to my youthful religious days when I was taught that a women’s place is in the home, and earning money as a woman is in some ways disrespectful and “sinful”.  Whew – that got heavy fast.  But, you can’t ignore when your body speaks.  As much as I wanted to put on my big girl panties and just ask with confidence for exactly what I deserved, my body was in revolt status.  My incongruency of inner worth vs. intellectual worth was highlighted.

I bit my tongue, stepped in and asked.  The problem was, because of this incongruence in me – I know the energy behind my ask had a slight doubt in it.  My boss could sense it (unconsciously) and we then went into a 3 meeting conversation requiring me to send him proof of my worth as well as a plan showing my complete responsibilities and updated responsibilities if I were to get this raise.  I honestly believe if I had slayed the “self-worth” dragon before the meeting, we wouldn’t have had to have the proving time.  It was my asking in the state of slight doubt, that created the environment for him to ask questions.

When we truly stand in our truth, know our worth and ask for what we need with conviction, our security creates the reactions in the people around us.

I eventually did get the raise, it ended up being a bit more data and paperwork required including a conversation with my boss about why I was frustrated with this process.  I was 2 steps away from quitting as I was ready to blame him for not seeing my value.

*Side note fact, do you know how many women would rather quit a job that they feel like they aren’t getting paid their value, rather than ask for a raise? A LOT.  How can companies create a more environment for these conversations instead of losing extremely valuable employees?  And how can we help more women to ask without fear?

That’s what the mirrors of experience are for.  We can’t blame others for not seeing our worth.  It’s in these times that we’re challenged that we need to dig deep, find it for ourselves and step over the threshold of not asking, but showing our worth.  When we come from that place, it’s so much harder to be denied.

I admit, after that first meeting, where I asked and then was told to go back to my drawing board and give more proof and take on more responsibility – I was miffed.  After all the build up, the process wasn’t over and my emotions were in high gear.  I did head to that quiet women’s bathroom stall (benefit of working in an office with no women) and cried my frustration out.  I had put so much expectation into wanting my boss to see and validate my worth that I had forgotten I needed it for myself more than ever.

I had put so much expectation into wanting my boss to see and validate my worth that I had forgotten I needed it for myself more than ever.

Long story shortened, I did get the raise, minus the “wiggle room” and I started to breath easier, work continued and the office dynamics didn’t change much – I just felt better in my own skin.

The real value of the whole experience, of asking for a raise, didn’t come from the extra dollars that it put in my bank account every month, but rather in the awareness of my own personal money issues, the experience of breaking through my self worth barriers and the confidence that came from facing my fears and following through.  I’m sure there are many more layers to reveal in my self-worth, money making, truth-speaking journey but as I “Lean In” and step up, the more juice I’ll have to truly create my reality rather than ask for validation.

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