Asking for a Raise… Are You Worth It?

Recently there has been much talk about Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella’s comments about women and raises. He has apologized profusely for “projecting” his experience on more than half the population… good for him!
As the dialogue has unfolded, it reminded me of a lesson I learned at the first company I joined after college…

I graduated with an engineering degree from a highly respected college (Lafayette). However, it was a recession and it was before the days of internships so I did not have “relevant” experience. I was fortunate to be offered an entry-level job at $5.00/hr. That’s right, engineering degree and $5.00/hr (minimum wage at the time was $4.88)!
It was a high-tech manufacturing firm that provided me with great experience. I worked for one year and chose to leave to head south. As I was telling the CEO that I was leaving, he asked why. I told him that since he didn’t pay me very much it wasn’t worth staying and I was moving to Florida with a friend. What he said to me next, I have never forgotten. He said, “you never came to me and said you wanted a higher salary. If you don’t believe you are worth asking for it, why should I believe you’re worth it.” He was right!

If I believed my talent and contribution was worth more, it was up to me to speak up and say so. It is not the most progressive way to advance my career to just sit back and wait to be recognized, “knowing and having faith that the system would give me the ‘right’ raise as I went along” as Nadella stated. As a woman in a male-dominated engineering firm after college, I was timid and not sure of my worth. There was a bias then and, unfortunately, it still exists in many areas today. However, I do believe it is up to each individual to decide for themselves how much of a contribution they are making and whether their salary is fairly compensating for that contribution.

From a leadership perspective, waiting for your boss or the CEO to recognize your contribution and “systematically” give you a raise is acting a bit like a servant, not a leader. Taking responsibility for your role and the contribution you make includes speaking up for a raise when you believe you are worth more. It’s not easy, believe me… I have had challenges in doing just that over the years. However, what I now know is that it is now, and always was, my choice to allow frustration and resentment to build by not speaking up when I believe I deserve more. We are fortunate to live in a country that practices Freedom of Speech… at any moment, I can choose to find my voice!