Global Leadership Blog

Getting What You Deserve: Are the Rules Different for Women?

By now you’ve no doubt seen the headlines splashed across social media: at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made some controversial remarks regarding women asking for raises.

His exact quote, in case you missed it, was this: “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise as you go along. That, I think, might be one of the initial ‘super powers,’ that quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have. It’s good karma. It will come back.”

The idea that women should sit back, collect “good karma” and have faith that they’ll be given a fair raise – eventually – stirred up considerable ire. After all, this is the era of Lean In, where women are encouraged to accelerate their careers straight into the C suite and beyond. And the fact that Nadella heads up a tech company made his comments especially tone-deaf, given the gender imbalance rampant in so many tech companies. Microsoft’s global workforce is only 29 percent women, a similar percentage to Google, Apple and other tech giants. Add in the fact that female computer scientists earn 89 percent of what their male counterparts earn, according to Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, and it’s no surprise that Nadella’s advice to “have faith” regarding compensation set off a firestorm.

But let’s be honest – this isn’t just a tech industry issue. It connects to a larger conversation across every field on how women should ask for promotions and raises. We’ve all heard the common wisdom that women simply don’t ask for enough money, that they don’t understand how to negotiate. Yet thanks to executive attitudes like Nadella’s, many women have experienced blowback when they do advocate for themselves.

Some women will tell you there are two sets of rules for getting ahead: one for men and one for women. While assertive men are often seen as confident go-getters and emerging leaders, assertive women can be seen as pushy and demanding. These women frequently encounter a double standard in the workplace; they’re expected to be forthright and persistent in dealing with clients and chasing down business, but passive when advocating for their career interests internally.

It’s a paradox that’s left many women uncertain of how they can obtain fair compensation without alienating their own leadership. But one fact has never been in question: playing passive can waste years of your career and cost you in myriad ways from job title to salary.

Getting Educated on Getting Ahead

The first step toward becoming an effective self-advocate is recognizing that it won’t always come naturally. Women who were raised to be conciliatory no matter what frequently dread looking “greedy” or “pushy.” If that rings an uncomfortable bell, consider getting coaching on asking for raises and resources. Don’t feel bad if these aren’t intrinsic skills for you; this kind of training will help you for the rest of your career.

One important skill: learning how to negotiate effectively. This isn’t just for job offers, but will help when you request more staff or ask to lead a prestigious project. One rule of thumb is to arm yourself with solid data. Do your homework, find our what your position is worth, and compile evidence that validates your claims and requests. If you’re part of a global team and answer to leaders with different cultural standards, study up in advance on what their expectations may be.

Another tip is to learn from both female and male colleagues. Many women focus exclusively on finding female mentors and advisors. While successful women can indeed offer valuable counsel on overcoming gender-based obstacles, you might learn just as much from observing the professional maneuvers of the men around you. You might not be privy to their private compensation discussions, but you can learn how they advertise their own worth both in and out of the company.

Finally, think about your personal brand in this context. Obviously you want to treat everyone well and build positive relationships with clients and colleagues. At the same time, be sure that you present yourself at all times as a valuable asset to the company. Being easy to work with is great; letting yourself be taken for granted is not. Make sure your interactions and reputation communicate your value.

In the end, the question of getting what you deserve is too situational to merit an easy answer. But we do know that women are on the rise when it comes to claiming leadership positions and the rewards that come with them – and by sharpening your skills, you can help light the way.

Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson

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