For the past three months, I’ve been participating in a Lean In circle, a small monthly meeting with a group of female peers in New York City who are all interested in professional support and advancement. We’re following the curriculum provided by Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit organization, Leanin.org, which is based around the ideas in her best-selling book about women in the workplace.
One topic that Sandberg’s book discusses in-depth is that women often don’t ask for raises or negotiate well for themselves. A 2011 study by Carnegie Mellon University found that men were four times more likely to ask for a pay raise than women. Women were more likely to wait until a promotion or assignment was offered, rather than asking for it in advance. I can definitely relate to this—I’ve always been incredibly nervous to ask for raises, and in the past when accepting new jobs, I’ve taken the first offer rather than negotiating for a higher salary.
In the tiny sample size of my Lean In circle, there’s some anecdotal evidence that Sandberg’s message is working. In the past two months, three of our seven members have asked for raises; two were successful, and the third is waiting to hear back. Each went about it in her own way: One woman who works for a nonprofit with a fixed budget knew she was up for a midyear salary increase. Rather than accepting what they were planning to give her without question, which she would have been more naturally inclined to do, she instead met with her supervisor and made a case for how her roles and responsibilities had expanded. “I think the important fact is that I knew the answer would probably be no, and I asked anyway,” she told me. “I just wanted to voice that I expected to be paid more. So the lesson I learned was that even in an organization with limited resources, asking is a huge deal.” And it worked: After initially saying an additional salary increase was unlikely, her boss came back a week later and gave her the raise.
Another woman who works in sales training asked for a salary increase at the same time as proposing a larger role for herself. The company is considering that expanded role, but in the meantime, she got the raise. The third woman, who still hasn’t heard back and whose organization is in a state of flux, says that regardless of the outcome, she’s proud that she spoke up for herself and made a case to her boss for why she should be better compensated.
All three women credit either Sandberg’s book or our meetings with inspiring them to ask for more money. I think we’re off to a good start.