No, Satya Nadella, you can’t count on ‘karma’ to get you a pay raise

October 10, 2014, 3:56 PM UTC
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaking at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado on July 14, 2014.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaking at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado on July 14, 2014.
Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm TECH

Unfortunately for women, too many of them are already following Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s hastily retracted advice and trusting that a benevolent “system” will reward them with pay hikes without having to ask.

The female half of the workforce currently makes about 77 cents for each dollar men take home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Black and Hispanic women fare even worse, at 68 and 59 cents respectively. “At the current rate of progress,” says a recent Department of Labor memo on pay transparency, “it will take until 2057 to close the wage gap.”

Don’t want to wait 43 years? Speak up. Stacks of studies show that women have a tougher time asking for what they’ve earned. “Part of the problem is that women are never taught how to effectively negotiate” while avoiding being labeled as bossy or overly assertive, observes Aimee Cohen, an executive coach and author of Woman Up! Overcome the 7 Deadly Sins that Sabotage Your Success.

Women are also prone to what Cohen calls the “disastrous triple-D, where they routinely, and often unconsciously, downplay, dismiss, and diminish their accomplishments. It’s very difficult to negotiate for more money if you describe what you’ve done as ‘no big deal’ or say ‘anyone could have done that’”—phrases that male negotiators seldom, if ever, utter.

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So how can you make sure you’re paid what you’re worth? Cohen offers these tips:

Practice. “Don’t expect to be good at negotiating over money if you only do it every few years. It takes practice,” says Cohen. Sometimes it helps to start small. “Go to garage sales and practice haggling over junk,” Cohen suggests, until you’re comfortable with politely but firmly stating your case.

Tell someone you’re going to ask for a raise. If assertiveness is hard for you, Cohen says, “rallying support can be an effective way to create accountability.” Once you’ve told a friend, spouse, or coworker who will hold you to it, “there’s no backing out and no retreat.”

Be realistic. Do enough research to set clear expectations, Cohen advises. “If you know a given job only pays $100,000, asking for $200,000 is obviously out of line.” But if your title and your accomplishments generally pay X, and you’re only making Y, be ready to bring up X. Even if it’s an improbable hike of, say, 20%, you need to show you’re aware of your market value—and starting high, with the expectation you’ll be talked part of the way down, is a time-honored strategy.

Anticipate objections. “Think out any and all reasons why the other person might say ‘no’ and have your responses ready,” Cohen says. This includes having some alternatives in mind. For instance, if the raise you deserve just isn’t in the budget, would you settle for an annual performance bonus? How about a few extra weeks of vacation, or a company car? Says Cohen, “You need to have suggestions for keeping the conversation going until you can reach a successful compromise.”

Write a script. Anyone unaccustomed to negotiating can get “flustered and nervous. It’s a stressful situation,” Cohen notes. Writing out what you want to say beforehand, including the reasons why you believe you’re worth more than you make now, and then going over those points until they’re fixed in your mind, can both keep you calm and ensure that you don’t skip anything.

Be yourself. Bring your usual personality to the conversation, rather than thinking you have to adopt a different persona—maybe a “tougher,” less reasonable one—for this discussion. Says Cohen, “Nothing is more off-putting or confusing to a boss than having your alter ego do your negotiating for you.”

Know your bottom line. If your research has shown that you really are making much less than you’re worth, Cohen suggests figuring out how big a raise it would take to keep you from looking for a better job. “You have to know how low a number you’re willing to accept, and when you’ll be ready to walk away.”

Celebrate success. If you get all or most of what you aimed for, Cohen sys, do something special for yourself as a reward. It will help make you approach your next negotiation—and, depend on it, there will be a next one—with more enthusiasm.

“Most women would rather have root canal surgery than negotiate a bigger raise or a better promotion,” Cohen says. “But not negotiating is not an option” —even, or especially, at companies like Microsoft (MSFT).