Want To Boost Your Pay – Change This One Bad Habit!

I don’t know about you, but over the course of my career, I have certainly had the occasion to realize I was underpaid for the work I was doing. In fact, the first time I was offered a job out of school, doing sports public relations, the salary they offered was abysmal. I tried to figure out how I could possibly make it on that salary, but the only way I could get by every month on that salary was for my parents to subsidize the company’s pitiful offer. I hadn’t gone all the way through grad school to have my parents paying some of my bills. It didn’t occur to me to tell the company I’d come to work for them if they paid me more money, so I simply turned the job down. I shake my head just thinking about it.

If you watched the recent State of the Union or saw any of the resulting frenzy of discussion about women getting equal pay for equal work, you’ve heard the statistic that women earn on average about $.77 for every dollar a man makes. It is a disturbing trend indeed.

Under-earning is the distinct condition of being paid less money for doing exactly the same work that someone else is doing for more money. It is often presented as purely an issue of sexism. But the issue is deeper than that. It is something I talk about in my latest book Happy Women Live Better in the chapter on the happiness trigger I call it “financial savvy.”

The issue is this: Too often, women don’t ask for more money. Men do.

Consider this excerpt from the book:

One of the rarely discussed reasons for the persistent pay gap between men’s and women’s pay could be the fact that men are much more likely than women to negotiate. In a study of almost 2,500 job seekers by the National Bureau of Economic Research, it was found that when an employer does not explicitly state that wages are negotiable, men are more likely than women to negotiate.  So the pay gap between men and women is significantly more pronounced in jobs where wage negotiation is ambiguous.

There are certainly gender disparities that are rooted in institutionalized prejudice and the devaluing of jobs that are traditionally held by women. However, successful women think differently. They don’t just focus on problems beyond their immediate control and see themselves as victims. They ask, “What do I have control over that can positively impact my situation?” You control whether or not you negotiate. You control whether you speak up and ask for more. You control whether you settle for less than you deserve, or have the courage to pursue opportunities that will boost your income. Not asking is a bad habit – one you can change right away.

I’ll never forget the moment a business owner who’d spent years booking speakers told me I could charge double what I was asking. I looked at him, stunned. “You’re already there,” he said. “You just need to ask for more.” The idea of asking for twice what I’d been charging felt both exciting and scary. “Was he sure?” I thought. But I knew the answer. He’d booked hundreds of speakers. He knew what he was talking about. And I’d seen the speakers who were making more. They weren’t better speakers than I, just better negotiators!

I went away from the meeting and halfway took his advice. Not yet bold enough to ask for double, the next time a major company called, I quoted a rate that was 50% higher than my previous fee. The decision maker didn’t bat an eye. Just like that, a 50% increase for doing exactly the same work!

A year later, I made the leap he suggested and doubled my fee. Clients didn’t flee. In fact, I got more speaking opportunities than ever. Raising my fee also led me to upgrade my marketing, and work harder to provide even more value. It was a turning point for me personally, professionally and financially. Today, perhaps you are reading these words because it is time for a turning point of your own.

My challenge to you:  Ask for more.

Coach Yourself:  In what way is it time to ask for more? What are you afraid will happen if you do? Despite any fear, will you just go ahead and ask anyway?

If you didn’t get this blog post delivered directly to your inbox as a subscriber to my weekly newsletter, be sure to subscribe. Just enter your email address in the subscription box in the top right corner of this page.  Are you guilty of not asking more? Have you mustered the courage to ask and boosted your income? Leave your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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  1. Sherilynn says:

    This is a very timely post. I recently started working as an Independent Contractor. It has been very hard asking for the rate that I know Is necessary to grow my business. I did negotiate with one male client who was impressed that I was not willing to take his first or second offer and was willing to decline the offer because it did not meet my needs. I am becoming more confident in negotiating and looking forward to moving forward with this enhanced skill.

    • valorieburton says:

      Sherilynn! This is great. I’m so glad you stood up for yourself and your needs, and asked for a rate that reflects the value you bring as well as your needs. Negotiating is a skill. The more you practice, the better you become! It looks like your finances and career are looking up! :)

  2. kesina Gray says:

    I needed to hear your message this morning!! I am graduating with my second masters degree and looking for jobs to relocate to New York. I just had a great job emailed to me for a counseling position at Columbia. Only problem is the salary. I exceed their preferred qualifications but the pay is not enough to afford my loan payments and living expenses! It never occurred to me I can always apply and ask for more money!!! After all, I went to school to earn a better salary doing what I love to do! Thank you for reminding me I am worth more and it is okay to ask for it!!

    • valorieburton says:

      Yes! The worst thing that can happen is they say, “no.” And you’ll be no worse off from hearing “no” than not having the opportunity at all. You never know who you’ll meet in the process or what other doors could open by applying. Also, consider that there may be other paths to using your skills in a setting that pays more. Explore all your options, not just the obvious career paths. I’m not sure where you live now, but New York requires a lot more income to live comfortably than most other parts of the country, so negotiating for the best possible salary in whatever job you land will be critical to your financial well being. Congrats on your master’s degree!

  3. Yudelka B. says:

    Hi, I read you every Sunday, this particular one 02/09, I just finished to do it; and sincerely I don’t agree with you, for years I am been asking for more increase in my different jobs, never accomplished. I really don’t know what I am doing wrong.
    All my bosses said I am a good worker, smart, dedicated, punctual, all good words, so can you tell what I am missing.


    • valorieburton says:

      Hi Yudelka,

      That sounds very frustrating, so I certainly understand your disagreement here. However, I didn’t say “not asking” is the reason every woman doesn’t make more money, but that “not asking” contributes to the gap between men and women’s pay for doing the same type of job. Without knowing what you do for a living or the salary range for the type of work you do, it is difficult to answer your question. Men in your job may make exactly the same amount because it may be a job where there isn’t much negotiation room. Some jobs don’t offer much opportunity for pay increases. They simply pay what they pay. If that is the case in your situation, and you are committed to earning more, you may need to step back and take a look at your overall options for a more lucrative career path that offers an opportunity for income growth. Additionally, sometimes increasing your income requires risks or sacrifices – the company may want you to take a position in a different division in order to gain valuable experience in a new area, or you may have to relocate, for example. Employers pay for the value your work brings, and the impact it will make on their overall goals. If you are unable to do the types of things that will bring you more money through the company your work for or a new company, then you may want to consider generating supplemental streams of income through a part-time business, freelance work, etc. I wish you the very best! The first step is the one you are taking – asking the question, “What am I missing?” There is an answer. Making more is possible – not necessarily simple, but certainly possible. ;)

  4. This is very true. In my case I have failed to be my best advocate but I’m working on it. I had a friend/mentor tell me that I had to recognize what I was bringing to the table and ask for what that was worth to the company I was interviewing for. I’ve since turned down a couple of opportunities that truly would not put me in a better position.

    At first I felt a little guilty that I dared to ask for more or say no. Now I know I would have been miserable if I had say yes, so I still believe I made the right decision. Instead of feeling sorry for my self I’ve worked on improving my skill set so I am ready for when the right opportunity does come along.

    Thank you Valorie for the daily and weekly inspiration you share with all of us!

  5. Hello Valorie. I am a big fan of yours. Have read two of your novels to date and am waiting to purchase the next one from the book store. I liked your article. Specifically I liked that you said: “Under-earning is the distinct condition of being paid less money for doing exactly the same work that someone else is doing for more money” – See more at: http://www.valorieburton.com/2014/02/want-boost-pay-change-one-bad-habit/#comment-2460. I agree with that because I can do the same job you do and get paid less. Because you have a diploma where I don’t. I think though that we should ask about our pay raises when they are due and also how much money we are getting. Point of fact, I did that at a job for the first time. Most times I would wait for them to talk with me; but I asked this time and also asked how much I was getting and was thinking of suggesting a hire salary but I didn’t have too. He gave me what I thought I was due. So I didn’t ask for more than that. But I think women have to ask about their money and keep track of it. We are responsible for our own households, our children, our bills, our health care. I now have to have my own insurance outside of company insurance due to what the government has stated. I do not work so therefore have to pay. I have found several sources for health insurance. One is specifically for writers. However, I don’t qualify yet to become an active payment member. So that insurance is not yet available to me. The other insurance is through the government. I am hoping to get it soon. Barring that, I have to talk with the people who have the health insurance information.

  6. Hi Valorie! Great post, and a topic that I don’t think is discussed enough. I whole-heartedly agree with asking. Every single raise I’ve ever been granted was because I asked for it. And I’ve rarely been turned down. I usually outline my accomplishments or demonstrate the amount of value I’m adding, with savings or revenue generated. Companies care about money and profitability. Which they should, it keeps us all employed! My one frustration is the considerable pay gap between men and women. One year into working for my current employer a man was hired and they paid him $30,000 more than me, same degree, same responsibilities, but I had been practicing in our profession longer. I wrote an objective memo to my boss, stating how much I enjoyed my work and serving my clients, but that I needed a raise to match that of my male counterpart, consistent with the Fair Pay Act. Within a month my pay was raised $25,000 and I was told that was “the most the Executive Office allows at a time (20%).” I stayed at the job for other reasons–my career enhancement, retirement benefits, etc.–but in six months I vest in that same retirement. When I do, they will lose me as an employee. But I have to have confidence that I can do more with my career and achieve real financial success elsewhere. That’s why I picked up your book in the airport “Successful Women,” and now carry it around to keep my motivation up. Thanks for the timely and under spoken-of post.

    • valorieburton says:

      Go, Tricia! Go, Tricia! I love your comment. I love that you are bold and courageous enough to ask. This is just what I am talking about. Most people would say that your outcome was impossible – what company gives $25,000 raises? Apparently, yours does! The truth is, until you ask, you don’t know. Very smart. They knew they couldn’t justify leaving you at a salary so much lower than a counterpart with less experience and no more education or responsibilities. You made a compelling case, and you understand that “adding value” and impacting the profitability and goals of a company will influence that company to want to keep you on board and keep you happy. Thanks for posting your comment.

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