They Did It and You Can, Too: Real Women’s Secrets to Getting Raises

Libby Kane

We’re told over and over again that women are too reticent, too lacking in confidence, too timid to ask for a raise.

But we are asking.

And we have proof. We found four real women who negotiated for raises, and got them. These aren’t career coaches or hiring managers–they’re just ambitious, conscientious women like we are, who made things happen for themselves.

Please note: Names have been changed to protect those who shared their successes—and prevent them from encountering any awkward situations at work.

Remember, if they can do it, you can, too.

Rosemary, Reporter

I was at my job in New York City for about a year when I figured it was time to prepare to negotiate a raise, so I started using sites like to find what people of comparable experience and qualifications were earning. I quickly realized that I was making less than the industry norm.

I got along well with my colleagues, so I asked in the spirit of solidarity: “I’m looking into pursuing a raise, and it’s good for all of us to know what we’re worth.” They were happy to share, and I quickly realized that a male co-worker who had been hired after me with the exact same credentials (down to the same journalism school!) but less experience was making 15% more than I was! To add insult to injury, it’s not that he had negotiated from the outset and I hadn’t: Neither of us had negotiated our first offer.

I wanted to be upset, but I had to get strategic.

I started asking friends who were attorneys about my situation, and they pointed out that my employer was likely violating the Equal Pay Act; I was the only woman in my office. My boss at that time was new, so hadn’t hired me and wasn’t aware of the disparity. When I pointed it out to him (as advised by my lawyer friends), he brought it up to the CEO and I was granted a 15% raise immediately.

Amy, Pediatrician

Medicine is different from other fields in that if you’re working in a private practice and making a salary, you can expect to have a conversation about becoming more of a partner around the five-year mark. Then, instead of getting a set salary, you share in the company’s profits with a proportional bonus each year.

In my practice of six doctors in Michigan, I’m both the only one who doesn’t have children and the only one who works full time. Consequently, I have ambitions to become a partner. After three years, I noticed how much more the owner of the practice did than his staff: He was dealing with angry parents, negotiating with health insurance companies, ordering vaccines, hiring new employees. Since I did want to become a partner one day, I started asking myself: What could I take on to get to there?

So I asked. I told him I was interested in learning more about how the business functions and how I could help, and asked how I could move up in the ranks. Not only was he appreciative that I noticed his work, but he told me I was the only one who had ever asked him how to transition to the business side of things.

He inquired how much I want to be making, ultimately, and we sat down and figured out how I would get there. We ironed out my responsibilities and pay raises for the next five years (it works out to 10-15% per year). By demonstrating my commitment to the practice and asking how I could grow with him, my boss was able to plan on my being around and reward me accordingly.

Being upfront with my dedication to his business made it easier for him to invest in me.

Susan, Editor

After graduating in a recession, I believed I would be lucky to have any job besides “unpaid intern.” So, when I got a paid internship, I worked my way into a staff position and then another–and with that second promotion, I asked for more money.

My company is a non-profit, so we’re all working for the greater good. In this kind of environment, asking for money can seem greedy and crass. Add to that the fact that I’m one of the youngest people to hold my position, and I was understandably reluctant. Until now, I had always seen my salary as how much money I had, not how much I was worth. And since I could pay my bills, my rent and my student loans, it felt like I had enough.

But then the woman whose job I was taking over told me I should negotiate–she was moving overseas, so I felt comfortable opening up to her about my salary, and she felt comfortable giving me an outside perspective on assets I didn’t realize were valuable: my experience in the field in college (I had been an editor at the college paper), my familiarity with the office culture, my willingness to work more hours and be connected 24/7.

After realizing how helpful it was hear an objective view of my value, I started gathering intel from people who were similarly non-competitive with me: I asked my former boss for his advice, and my friend who works in finance.

Between the two of them, I settled on asking for a 20% raise. Once I got past my worries about seeming presumptuous, the actual negotiation was easy. I brought notes into my meeting (on my friend’s recommendation) and went through the points about my worth. My boss took my suggested number back to the appropriate channels, and a week later, I had a new job and a higher salary.

Eva, Vice President at a Non-Profit

When I was offered my first job as a graduating senior, the idea of negotiating my salary seemed absurd. I felt lucky that anyone would give me a job, and also feared that negotiating my salary would be painfully awkward and potentially damage my relationship with my new company and boss. But after learning that women end up with much lower pay throughout their careers partially because of failure to negotiate, I decided I had to do it–if not for me, then to break the pattern!

When I called to respond to my job offer, I took a deep breath and squeaked out, “Is there any flexibility with the compensation?” My boss asked me how much I wanted to make, and I asked for $10,000 more than they offered. Two hours later he responded and I was given a 17% raise. My first thought was “Wow, it actually worked!” and my second thought was, “I wonder if I could have gotten more?”

Since then, I have always negotiated my salary, even if the starting offer is high, and have actually come to enjoy it. Before negotiating, I remind myself that the company wants me or they wouldn’t offer me the job, that the person making the offer probably makes a lot more than I am being offered and that my company will respect my ability to communicate clearly regardless of what happens.

Then, I take these three steps, always staying positive and energetic:

1. Not Waiting for a Call: When I am called with an offer, or a counter offer, I always say, “Thank you. I am incredibly excited about this opportunity and appreciate the offer. Can I call you back this afternoon to discuss some details?” It keeps me calm and makes me feel like I have control of the conversation.

2. Asking for at Least 20%: I normally ask for a 20-30% salary increase. I don’t know how I decided on this but it has seemed like the right amount to ask for. I want to make sure I ask for much more than I actually want, recognizing that their second offer will be lower than my request. I also provide a reason for ask for an increase (the cost of living in the city, the level of responsibility required, the average market salary) but don’t go into details.

3. Remembering It’s Not All About Salary: Because time and flexibility are very important to me, I also often ask for increased vacation time or other benefits, such as paying for a class or training. One job wouldn’t give me much extra salary, but I got an extra week of vacation every year and actually had my new boss apologize for not being able to offer more.

  • Suzanne / LYJ (Love Your Job)

    Wonderful stories. It’s so helpful to hear about women successfully negotiating salaries and how they did it. A book that I find useful and recommend to all women is, “Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. It includes valuable strategies and language to use.

    • Jenna

      Thanks for the book recommendation…I’m planning to check that one out!

  • Liz

    Can someone write an article on the topic where the bosses don’t respond well to you asking for salary increases? I work for a small business and this is the case–I ask and it ends up with an awkward “no”…then awkwardness around the office for a few weeks. I never have argued with this “no”..and wonder if there are ways to.

    • ranavain

       Check out Ask a Manager’s articles on salary negotiation. She’s had letters come in for every situation, and she’s just about the best column out there on job searching and dealing with workplace issues:

    • anon

      Amen, Liz! I am very happy for these women, but I’ve never asked for a raise and received positive feedback. Maybe I should read “The Secret”. :)

    • Michelle

       Very interesting idea. I’ve never even thought of this. I’ve had it go awkwardly before, and tips would be great! I’ll have to make a blog post on this soon.

    • Sheila

      I’m in a similar situation.  I asked for more money when I was initially hired and was told no because the salary they offered me was the same as a girl they had hired 3 weeks prior.  Well, I found out later that the girl hired 3 weeks before me was not a college graduate, I am, and I don’t know how to delicately say this, but she’s kind of an airhead.  She really isn’t very bright at all.  I’m more qualified than anyone on my team, but yet I only get a 5% increase.  They give everyone the same raise.  It’s frustrating because i put in more and have more experience than my coworkers, yet I’m not making any more.

  • ranavain

    I recently negotiated a salary bump for myself, and it was easier than I thought it would be. I definitely came in with notes about why I should get the maximum raise ($5,000), and I was offered $3,000.  After we talked, we settled on $4,000. It was awesome! Sometimes, it really is just a matter of being prepared and willing to ask. They’re not going to fire you for asking… the worst they can do is say no (and I guess be awkward, like for Suzanne below).

  • Tbarino

    It’s so funny that this article came out today. I have plans on asking for a raise this coming Thursday. I work at a boutique ( 2 man operation) firm and I haven’t had a raise in 4 YEARS!!!! But still, I’m completley nervous about asking for one even though I’m the one who gets all the work done. Any suggestions on how to go about this when it’s just myself and the attorney I work for??

    • Cindy S.

      Remember, you are operating from a position of strength! You can outline the proportion of work you do that impacts the company.  Be specific about strengths such as stellar customer service / client problem solving; completed large projects or reports on time with accuracy; key recommendations you made for improvements that were adopted, and any additional responsbilities you’ve taken on over the last 4 years since you were first hired.  The attorney really does know your worth, you just need to bring it to the forefront and be bold about getting his commitment.  No need to be nervous at all.  It should go great! 

  • Guest

    I work for a small company and just had my annual review last week. The review went well and I was offered a 12% raise. I was satisfied, but after a few stressful days at work I contacted my boss to see if we could discuss my raise in further detail. I went into the second meeting prepared with charts showing industry averages (national wide and region specific) and had thought out a variety of examples demonstrating how valuable I am to the company. Pulling out the graphs was a great way to deflect attention from myself (I was really nervous as this was my first time negotiating) and to my surprise, my boss threw out an offer that was even higher than the value I was planning on requesting! I didn’t even mention any of the examples of my achievements or contributions! It really was a best case senario and I’m so glad that I went for it!

  • Maria

    When I changed jobs six months ago, and started as a health consultant for and NGO, I did my research on salaries in this area before I even received my first offer. The first offer turned out to be in the average of the field and almost double my salary at the time. Still I decided it couldnt hurt to ask for more, just for the principle and the practice. So I did, and I got a raise! It is important to point out not just your qualifications, but also issues such as higher taxes and so on (especially for jobs overseas). I guess in the end the best advice I can give is this: when you quit seeing it as asking for a raise because you NEED or WANT a raise, and see it as asking for one just to practice the negotiation skills, and as a challenge to yourself, it takes much of the nervousness away.

  • Annon today

    I may soon find myself negotiating a job offer with a new agency. I work in the public sector so I find it’s generally not as easy to negotiate your salary as it might be with a private company.

    Does anyone have any salary negotiation advice for someone who might be moving from an expensive city (NYC) to a much more affordable community? The high end of the posted salary range is already $10,000 less than I’m making now, but I recognize it is a more affordable place. Both old job and potential new job are gov’t (state vs. local) 

    Also, has anyone had success in negotiating both higher compensation and additional vacation time? Public sector experiences especially welcome!

  • JS

    Although I always like these anecdotes, it’d be nice if there were more from women who worked in STEM jobs. I was pleasantly surprised there was a pediatrician in this article, but everyone else is a writer of some sort or an employee at a non-profit…as is the case with most of LV’s articles. Occasionally, we see articles with businesswomen, but what about the scientists, doctors, and engineers?!

    • Iroinic3500

       agree! i am a government contractor doing cancer research so i am with you!

  • Iroinic3500

    I would like to negotiate a raise at my current job (been there 1 year 3 months), but hesitate because have been unsuccessful in the past.

    I was offered a job in February 2011 for a company that seemed to be very excited about me- they spent 2 hours on the interview, just to chat with me and get to know me.  They called me two hours later with the offer and called me every day to ask if i accepted.  However, they offered me $40,000 and i looked up the national average was $57,000.  This job was in the DC/Baltimore area whose cost of living is higher than the US average.  i brought this up with the employer, and said that I am not asking for $57000 but i would appreciate if we can do something more.  I was told they’d talk to the VP about it, and the next day they called me saying they take back their job offer! I told them I’d accept the job at 40k since i was desperate to get out of where I was, but they said NO.

    It was all for the best, since the job i started 2 months later is much better and offered more than 40k.  However, after being here for 15 months and growing in my role, I feel I deserve more money.  But i am terrified of bringing it up since I still don’t understand what made the other company react so strongly to my request.

    • Shazzer4400

      Your experience is the #1 reason I will never, ever negotiate or ask for a raise. I think that all too often, especially in this current economy, if someone asks for something, the employer will just move on to the next person, especially since there are so many!

  • Janice

    These stories were excellent…all of them.  It really helps to read how other women have handled negotiating for themselves.  Thanks to all.

  • Pallavi B.

    I guess its very subjective and you can’t generalize one experience to fit all the cases as there are different people in different organizations. The only thing that I take back from this discussion is to have gumption to at least put your point straightforwardly without getting offensive or annoying. Rest all depends on your higher up authorities. 

  • Kharrold111

    All I can say is, you go girl! “Closed mouths don’t get fed” (source: someone smart)

  • Guest

    Perfect timing.  My review is coming up in August.  Now, I’m prepared to ask for the raise I deserve.  I especially appreciate that you included stories from women who work in the non-profit sector, as I do.  I’ve felt concerned that it would be bad form to ask for a raise during the recession.  Now I have more confidence.  Thank you.

  • Andreaharr

    What about hourly employment? Such as new grad Nurses?