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Forget karma. Women should ask for a raise

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about karma.

It's a concept that has always appealed to me. I like to believe that good deeds will have pay off in the long run and that those who misbehave will eventually receive their comeuppance, if not in this life, then the next.

Unfortunately, the term has some people rolling their eyes, ever since Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella told a conference this month celebrating women in technology that rather than ask for a raise, women should sit tight and wait for karma to reward their hard work.

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Mr. Nadella's karma reference quickly drew ire. Karma, as several commentators pointed out, doesn't pay the bills and waiting for a raise is never a solution, for men or women alike.

To his credit, Mr. Nadella did issue a quick apology, acknowledging a thing or two about the wage gap and the prevalence of unconscious bias toward women in the work force. But in case he missed it, a couple of recent studies reinforce some of the many challenges working women face.

When it comes to negotiating a raise, women are perceived to be easier to deceive and mislead, according to a recent study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Both men and women used negotiating with women to their advantage.

These and other factors contribute to unequal pay, which nearly four in 10 Americans cite as the top issue facing working women in the United States.It's a sentiment shared almost equally between the sexes, with 41 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men rating it the top issue. The topic is more important to both men and women than job availability, work-life balance, and access to child care and health care benefits combined.

So rather than continue to rake Mr. Nadella over the coals, let's examine how he should have answered that question. (Hint: It has nothing to do with karma.)

According to Katherine Alexander, principal of Kilberry Leadership Advisors in Toronto, persistence is key.

"Whether you are a man or a woman, asking for a raise is often met with 'not now.' The difference is that men will take this as a 'strong maybe,' whereas women hear a resounding 'no.' If you were turned down, ask your boss when would be a good time to revisit the topic again. Be prepared for this to be the first conversation of many," she said.

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Another important tactic to landing that raise is keeping track of and bringing up your contributions.

"Women often second-guess themselves when asking for a raise when they don't have any hard evidence to back it up. You know you have been working hard and doing exceptional work, but aren't sure if anyone is noticing," Ms. Alexander said. This is why it's important to keep track of your contributions and meet your manager armed with evidence of ways you have improved the operation.

"The key here is to be as specific as possible. Vague statements simply aren't as convincing," she said.

Karen Ewing, senior marketing director of North America for New Zealand-based software company Orion Health, agreed that the best way to win a raise is to demonstrate how you have had a positive impact on business operations or how your workload has increased since your last performance review.

"I've asked for a raise but only after developing a business case. I showed the facts of the situation of my job, provided specifics on how the position has changed and my scope has increased. My raise was about a return on their investment in my skills," Ms. Ewing said.

It's a tactic that worked well for Jessica Lefebvre. The 32-year-old sales analyst in the electronics industry in Montreal said that she laid the groundwork for a raise a month in advance . She started by booking a meeting with her boss, then put together a checklist outlining why she deserved a raise, and finally practised her pitch.

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In her conversation with her boss, she reminded him of all she had accomplished in the past that benefited him and the company. Sensing her discomfort with the process, he told her not to be shy about promoting herself. She walked away with a 9-per-cent raise. Her confidence boosted, she later accepted a finance role in the aviation industry, which increased her salary a further 16 per cent.

"Asking for a raise can be tough, but it's so important. You have to get over your discomfort," Ms. Lefebvre said.

Practise, build a business case and demonstrate value. These are among the many ways experts and professionals land that bigger paycheque. At the root of it is one simple tactic – asking. In other words, create your own karma.

Leah Eichler is founder and CEO of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. Twitter: @LeahEichler

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About the Author
Future of Work

Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) is founder and CEO of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. More

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