Asking for what you’re worth is NEVER cringeworthy

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We know how I feel about why you should ask for a raise.

So I bet you can imagine my reaction when I saw the former PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi, told the New York Times“I find it cringeworthy. I cannot imagine working for somebody and saying my pay is not enough.”

My knee-jerk reaction was a little rage at first… but then I read the context around her saying that.

GirlBoss summed it up well:

“This is not what I’m preaching at all, not what I’m suggesting, not what I’m recommending,” she told Forbes. Born and raised in Chennai, India, Nooyi says she and her husband were brought up to not ask for anything. “I wish we were not that way.” So, in conclusion, you should ask for a raise after all? “Yes,” says Nooyi, who encourages her daughters to fight for equal pay.

The lesson: There is so much more that goes into asking for money than appears on the surface:

  • Women are often traditionally brought up to think of the communal group (aka be “mothers” from a very early age) and are seen as selfish for asking for money for themselves (or for wanting to move up in their careers). “While men and women ask for pay raises at broadly similar rates, women are more likely to be refused or suffer blowback for daring to broach the topic,” wrote Otegha Uwagba for The Cut.
  • Those who grew up poor are taught often to just listen to those in authority above them, while wealthier parents see their kids as “projects in need of careful cultivation.” This means that poor kids don’t often learn how to navigate bureaucracy.
  • Different cultures are often taught not to step outside their social standing and ask for anything from those “above” them in social hierarchy or are taught to have specific social rituals before negotiations even begin. For some cultures, the point of negotiation altogether is different. “In some countries, such as Spain, business negotiators’ primary goal may be to achieve a signed contract, whereas negotiators in other cultures, including India, may be more focused on establishing an effective long-term relationship with their counterparts,” said Luis Cardenas for Harvard Law School’s blog.

These are all, of course, oversimplifications of much more complicated social, economic, and cultural dynamics. But the point stands that how you were raised impacts how you perceive your worth and how you navigate the administrative parts of your job, like negotiation and approaching your manager with differing opinions.

In a perfect world, people would be paid what they are worth each time they started a new job, performed well at work, or onboarded a new client. But #capitalism means that everyone is out here trying to get a deal. “It’s not personal. It’s just business,” as they say.

As a result, though, women, people of color, and those who grew up poor often start their careers at an even lower pay rate in America. This means you’re starting the race at a disadvantage before it’s even begun.

Here’s a story that’s actually cringeworthy.

When I interviewed for my very first job out of college as a legal assistant, they asked me what I wanted to be paid. I wasn’t prepared at all and told the lawyer interviewing me that I’d take $10 an hour.

$10. per. hour.

I didn’t even know what $10 an hour was per year. If I took 2 weeks off for sick days or holidays, it’s $20,000. TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS PER YEAR. Even 11 years ago that was not enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment, a car, assorted insurances, and groceries.

The lawyer looked at me with pity in his eyes and told me he didn’t pay people less than $15 per hour. I was ridiculously embarrassed and immediately swore to do my money research before ANY interview.

When you start your career below market rate, you spend your whole life trying to catch up — and falling exponentially behind. If the rate of raises were the same over time for everyone, someone who negotiated even $5,000 extra at the beginning of their career would earn almost $25,000 per year more at the end of their career.

This person started their career at a salary of $35,000. If they only got 4% raises every year for the next 40 years, their end-of-career salary would be $168,036 per year.

Someone who asked for $40,000 initially with the same 4% raise every year would end with an almost $200,000 per year salary.

It’s likely, though, that the person who negotiated $40,000 instead of $35,000 will negotiate again at other jobs and accelerate this path even more exponentially.

That may not seem like a lot, but over a lifetime it accumulates:

Evidence suggests that on average, women who negotiate their salaries and benefits stand to earn $1 million more over their lifetimes,” said WomenMedia on Forbes.

To me, THAT is what’s cringeworthy.

Imagine missing out on up to a million dollars over your lifetime!

Negotiating is hard, especially when you’re not used to having the conversation or when you’ve been brought up to avoid it. If you’re afraid your boss will think it’s “cringeworthy” too, here are my tips for overcoming your fear:

  • Most jobs expect you to negotiate. Whether it’s for a new job or at your annual review, negotiation (also known as just a conversation around compensation) is traditionally what’s done. The exception is NOT asking for what you think you’re worth and just taking what you’re given.
  • Practice the conversation with a low-stakes buddy. Understand what you want and practice overcoming objections with your friends or a colleague. Notice where your heart rate goes up. Ask yourself why? What am I telling myself about the situation that’s making me nervous? How can I counter what my brain is telling me with factual truth?
  • Know what you want going into it. This way you won’t be swayed or taken off track when the conversation inevitably deviates from the way you “planned” for it to go (funny how they do that, huh?). If you know what you’re worth, you have a plan, and you’ve practiced your talking points, you’ll be set when it’s time for the salary conversation. Cool as a cucumber. [Not sure what you want? Stay tuned for the next edition where we talk about total compensation.]


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