top of page

Ask for what you want

Written By: Jillian Climie.

I was recently sitting in an airport, and overheard a woman having a conversation with someone on the phone: “You don’t need to pick me up from the airport, I don’t want to impose, I’ll just take an Uber!” It struck me because with the vast majority of our clients, I hear this mindset over and over again – they don’t want to impose, or struggle immensely with asking for what they want. After working with all different kinds of women, I can now say this same mindset occurs with new university grads to senior executives. It impacts women in all industries, from university professors to investment bankers to engineers.

Why is this?

There are many biases that women face in the workplace, and the one that I see most often impacting women when negotiating is the likability bias. On one hand we’re supposed to be seen as nice and agreeable to be liked, which impacts how our performance is assessed. On the other hand we’re supposed to be assertive to be seen as a leader and move up in an organization. Women are constantly balancing these conflicting demands, which are very tough to navigate in the first place. And then when we add negotiating pay into the mix, a lot of women choose not to negotiate because they don’t want to tip that balance too far to the “aggressive” side. This is fair. These are real expectations that are set for women, and the vast majority of us feel them, whether we explicitly realize it or not.

We see this more broadly in the way we are socialized to not inconvenience others, and to focus on others’ needs above our own (as outlined in much of Linda Babcock’s research). As awareness around this research grows, more women are starting to push against these norms. However, in practice I still see it guiding many decisions. Just like not wanting to ask for a ride home from the airport, asking for more money goes outside of our comfort zone and how we typically operate.

Even when we do ask, we ask for less

Even when we do ask, women expect and ask for lower compensation than men do (Harvard Business Review, 2018). This is important to know – if you’ve been stressing over asking for that additional $10,000 in your salary, know that your male counterpart may be asking for more. I find the vast majority of our clients undersell themselves on what they’re planning to ask for in a negotiation. So before entering a negotiation or performance review, think about pushing yourself a little more on what you want.

How can we help ourselves ask for what we want?

Know that asking for more money doesn’t have to be an aggressive or negative conversation. It can be a positive, productive conversation. Your compensation is part of your relationship with your manager – you’re going to have to eventually talk about it, so avoiding it is not the solution. Coming to a conversation prepared, demonstrating you understand their perspective, and confidently articulating your value can be a positive step in your relationship. This allows for honesty, mutual respect and understanding. Avoiding these conversations can harbor negative emotions that negatively impact a manager-employee relationship (and the quality of work).

Normalize the conversation. First of all, know that it’s tough for anyone to ask for what they want when there is a power imbalance – which is most often the case when you’re negotiating for more money. Know that nerves are normal. But also know that these conversations happen all the time. As someone who’s spent their career inside HR and compensation teams, I can confirm they are often a daily occurrence. I promise, you’re not the first one to ask for more money, and you will not be the last!

Leverage support and data. I'm someone who likes to be fully prepared before I go into any sort of important conversation. I’ve realized this is the same with our clients. Equipping them with the understanding of how compensation works within companies, knowledge of what elements of compensation to be pushing on, and confirmation that what they're asking for is appropriate, is invaluable for their confidence. And confidence is so much of the game in negotiating. Leverage the support networks around you so you feel as prepared as possible – this can be mentors, women’s organizations, friends, colleagues, family, etc. If you need external support, watch our compensation negotiation 101 course or reach out to us for a one-on-one support session.

Start small. You don’t have to ask for a $60,000 pay increase on your first negotiation. It can be something as simple as asking for a sign-on bonus or more vacation days. Starting small can help you build up confidence towards asking for the bigger things. The more you practice at negotiating, the better you’ll get. And know that getting even a little bit more can have a big impact. Studies have found that a difference in $1,000 in your starting salary can have an impact of over $500,000 in your full career.

Give yourself space. Give yourself the time and space you need to feel good about going into the conversation. You will always have nerves, but if you have the back-up analysis, you’ve prepared, you’ve thought through different scenarios, and you’re well slept, the conversation will go well. Even if it’s not the exact outcome you want, you'll be happy that you asked. If you need help with this, please reach out to us at Our clients feel genuinely empowered after working with us (and we also help them get on average a +25% increase in their compensation packages).


bottom of page