Many of us need to rethink the way we ask for promotions and raises, because when we do ask, often it ain’t pretty. Just listen to the answers I hear when I ask, “Are there differences in the way men and women ask you for raises and promotions?”
“I know you’re busy, I know you don’t have time…”
Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett has been the boss in a variety of workplaces. When I ask whether she sees a difference in approach between men and women when asking for raises and promotions, she says, “Amazingly, men are almost detached from it emotionally. They’re really comfortable . . . Women are much more timid and appreciative and polite. Men are very matter of fact, businesslike, unemotional. It isn’t really personal.”
“Women are emotional?” I ask.
“Emotional in the sense of apologetic . . . I remember one woman in particular who started with, “I know you’re busy, I know you don’t have time . . . ”
“Basically saying, ‘Don’t give me the raise’?”
“She backed into it badly, is the way I would say it.” Valerie tells me.
“Apologetic” and “tentative” are two adjectives I heard over and over. The editor-in-chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Tina Brown says women often start to apologize with their body language before they even open their mouth. Then they’ll begin by saying, “Well, you know, I’ve been here for a while and I’ve been thinking a lot about this . . . Men come in and they just say, ‘Hey, I’m not doing this anymore unless I get X.’ And you think, ‘Of course, of course, of course,’ you know, you must take care of Joe, Fred, whomever. But women don’t do that. They just come in and they look sad . . . And we can’t do that!”
“I didn’t really want to come to you with this…”
I ask Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, “Have you ever had a woman ask for a raise and apologize for imposing?”
“Oh, absolutely,” she says. Bartz trots out a few she’s heard: “‘I didn’t really want to come to you with this, but, gosh, do you think my bonus percentage could be higher?’ And, ‘Gee could you just think about it?’ When they say, ‘I don’t know if you’ll consider,’ right away they are giving you an out. Of course I wouldn’t consider, you just told me not to consider . . . when somebody gives you the reason you can say no, it just makes your job easier.”
Men will say ‘”I believe I’m undervalued here,'” Bartz tells me. “And that’s always code for ‘I’m going someplace where they value me, and it’s for these reasons.'”
“When men ask for raises there’s always some cost,” ad exec Donny Deutsch says. “It’s always ‘because I did this’ and ‘if I don’t get the raise . . . ‘ There’s always [an imaginary] gun to the head, some gamesmanship. First of all, women don’t ask as much. And when they do ask, it’s not ‘Give it to me or else.'”
When you combine my experience with what I heard from the bosses above, I have to say we women stink at this. Just look at our best opening lines:
“I know you’re busy.”
“I don’t know if you have the time.”
“I don’t know if you’ll consider . . . ”
“I don’t know if this is possible . . . ”
“I hate to do this.”
“I don’t know if there’s room for this in the budget.”
“I’m sorry if the timing is bad.”
I think I’ve managed to use everyone of those phrases in my attempts to get a raise. Of course, I used an additional strategy, too — what More editor Lesley Jane Seymour calls “playing the victim card.” Seymour says women “present their personal challenges, saying things like, ‘Well, I have this situation’ or ‘I have that burden’ or ‘My mother is ill and I have to support her’ or whatever. Women present their cause, and you have to realize it’s not a manager’s job to support your causes, whatever they might be . . . The companies can’t say, ‘Oh, I feel sorry for you.’
Mika Bzezinski, author of Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth, is a co-host of Morning Joe, an MSNBC anchor and author of All Things at Once. She is also co-host of The Joe Scarborough Show on Citadel Media. She is the mother of two daughters, Emilie and Carlie, and has been married for fifteen years to an investigative journalist at ABC.