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Women Should Speak Up and Ask for Raises, Promotions, and New Roles -- Here's How

Comments like Nadella's show it's time for women to take action on their own behalf, whether seeking pay increases, promotions, or leadership roles.
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a keynote interview on October 9th at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing came out with a zinger. When questioned whether women should ask for raises, Nadella was quick to respond that they shouldn't. His explanation: "knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along." And to round out his answer, he said that it's "good karma" not to ask for a raise.

That may be fine for him, since last year he received an $84 million dollar karma-filled pay package. It may be fine for many men, since in 2013 men in the US received 22 percent more in salary than women did. But it's not fine for women to wait for the "system" to reward them. Indeed, the longer they wait, the larger their pay gap.

Comments like Nadella's show it's time for women to take action on their own behalf, whether seeking pay increases, promotions, or leadership roles. In Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed, I suggest four ways women can successfully promote themselves in such situations.

First, adopt a bold mindset about what you deserve.
Think of yourself as a key resource (whatever your level), and expect to be compensated as such. When I received a 3-year graduate fellowship, I asked "Is everybody getting the same amount?" The answer I received was that "the men get more, because their fathers don't support them." I replied that I was on my own and needed what the men got. So they gave it to me. If I had taken Nadella's advice the system would not have given me fair pay. Women need to have that sense of what they deserve, and they need to boldly articulate it. Do your research and ask the right questions, and you will know what you should be paid.

What gets in our way? Too often women are grateful for what they have--even if it's too little. We are pleased that we have important responsibilities. We are happy to be of service to our bosses. We are reluctant to ask for more because we don't want to appear dissatisfied. So we silently surrender and accept what has been given to us.

Second, create a strong script for your pitch.
Take time to prepare what you're going to say. Write it down and learn it.

Your script should have a clear structure. Open with a positive grabber that shows your boss you appreciate your role to date. Mention the rewards of the job, the mentoring you have received, the opportunities you have had, and the satisfaction you've derived.

Next, move to your key message, and say that you are interested in moving your career forward, or feel you can support the organization in another role, or that a pay increase is in order given your contribution. State your message strongly, with words like: "I know that I am ready for..." or "My salary needs to reflect my accomplishments."

After stating your message, come forward with several proof points: three or four reasons why you deserve what you are asking for. To make sure your boss hears these points - highlight them with "First," "Second" and "Third." Make sure you don't undercut yourself with mincing language like "I think I deserve..." or "Perhaps you could consider." Keep your tone strong.

Conclude with a call to action, stating what you expect. For example, "I appreciate your consideration, and know that you will be fair to me." Request a time-frame: "When can I expect your decision?"

Third, bring vocal strength to your request.
When making your case, be sure you sound convincing.

Women often soften or sweeten their voices or sound excessively cheerful or nice when they are asking for something. Yet, this is exactly the time we need to sound more serious, more grounded, and more leader-like.

To do this, begin by developing gravitas, or vocal depth. This means that you let your voice find its lower registers, and stay grounded as you make your case. Maintaining this tone also means not lifting your voice at the ends of sentences in a pattern called "upspeak." This tendency to "lift off" at the ends of sentences is increasingly common and makes it sound as though the speaker is turning every sentence into a question. Not a good approach when you are seeking to instil confidence!

Finally, watch your vocal tone. It's particularly important not to get emotional. If you get angry or aggressive you'll weaken your case; if you get weepy, you'll only get pity. Instead, keep your tone strong and full of conviction.

Fourth, use the power of presence.
"Presence" is a much-admired quality on the stage, but it is equally important in one-on-one meetings. When you put forward your request, show by your body language that you are completely committed to the outcome you are seeking.

Make strong eye contact. This will show that you really mean what you say! And it will suggest you are confident in the outcome. Sit tall, take up your full chair, and keep your two feet on the ground (to emphasize that you are rooted in what you say). Your gestures should be open (folded arms display defensiveness or aggression). And make sure your face shows animation, but not a "smiley" expression.

These four strategies will serve you well whether you're asking for a salary increase, a promotion, or a new leadership role. As for Nadella's comment, he claims never to have asked for a salary increase. Remember this: Men don't have to ask, but women who ask DO get ahead.

For more information on Taking the Stage, please visit

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