How To Ask For A Raise And Get It, According To Business Icon Barbara Corcoran

Workplace etiquette can sometimes be an uncertain territory to tread through, especially if you’re inexperienced or just unsure about how things are done. And nothing is more important (or worrisome) than asking for a raise that you actually deserve.

By Gwen Farrell4 min read
how to ask for a raise think like a man barbara corcoran

For whatever reason, having an honest discussion about money and finances is an awkward subject for many people. So much so that according to CNBC, a record 45% of employees left their jobs in 2018, and their main reason for doing so was salary. Think about that — instead of asking for a raise or even negotiating, people just quit their jobs. 

But if you deserve a pay increase, don’t let potential awkwardness hold you back. There’s a lot of advice out there about what to do and what not to do, and the overwhelming amount of feedback sometimes contradicts itself. Why not accept this wisdom from a reputable professional? Here’s what Barbara Corcoran, real estate mogul, female entrepreneur, and all around business savvy icon, has to say. 

Who’s Asking (and Who’s Not Asking)

First off, it’s important to know who’s asking for raises and, perhaps more importantly, who isn’t.

The stats are clear, alarmingly so. Women don’t ask for raises, in stark contrast to their male counterparts. But it’s not as if raises don’t exist, or that we expect our supervisors to suddenly look up one day and recognize our actual worth. That means the power is solely in our hands.

Women don’t ask for raises, in stark contrast to their male counterparts. 

An economics professor I once had used to stress the importance of seeing money and finances as an emotional, human field of study. Think about it — the way we spend money and the way we save are all grounded in reasons that are personal to us. And asking for raises works in a similar fashion. We’re asking people, specifically our superiors who are in higher positions of authority than we are, to look at us as individuals and recognize our worth. Our confidence in ourselves may be considerable, but that doesn’t mean that theirs is. That makes the situation even more daunting.

There are other theories as well. We as women want to fit into more stereotypical norms of gender and let the men around our workplace dictate the situations, even when it comes to our salaries. We don’t want to seem ungrateful, or even aggressive. As women we tend to be more passive or non-confrontational. Whether you fall into all or none of these possibilities, it still stands to reason that in 2021, we shouldn’t have any qualms about asking for a pay increase that we deserve.

Set Up a Meeting

Corcoran advises that the first step for any employee seeking a raise is to set up a meeting. She stresses that this is important, even if you don’t feel that you’re going to get it. Why? This gives you facetime with your employers and gets your name in their books. It reminds them or perhaps reintroduces them to who you are and what you do.

This gives you facetime with your employers and gets your name in their books.

Don’t walk in with a list of demands, necessarily. But come prepared, and that means having your responsibilities — both current and when you started as an employee — with you. Hit on the successes you’ve been part of, whether it’s a finished project or other positive venture that reflects well on you. Be gracious about your responsibilities. You’re grateful for them and willing to take on more, but you’d like to be compensated accordingly.

Corcoran also stresses that having a number in mind is crucial. Don’t walk into this appointment with a vague idea of what you’d like to make, but be specific, whether it’s 10% or 15%. Corcoran also adds, “If you’re a timid woman, the smart thing to ask is ‘what would a man do?’.”

Don’t Leverage an Offer, Ask about Your Prospects

A common tactic — whether it’s fabricated purely for your purposes or a genuine offer — is for employees to leverage themselves. This means that your request for a raise might have been rejected, so your next step is to tell your employers that you’ve had another offer with better pay from another company.

While it may seem tempting, this isn’t a smart tactic to use. As Corcoran explains, it could be perceived as insulting or threatening, because you’re essentially asking your employer to buy your loyalty. You’re also taking a huge bet that your boss, whether you have a good or bad relationship with them, will call your bluff and urge you to stay by offering more money.

It could be perceived as insulting because you’re asking your employer to buy your loyalty. 

Instead, take this idea and twist it on its head a little bit. A good opener into this conversation is to tell your boss that you’ve had another offer with better pay, and then say that you’ve turned them down because you see your professional future would be better suited in your current situation. Here’s the important part — this gives you the perfect segue into asking, what are my prospects here? What does my future look like? Can I expect a pay increase or more responsibilities sometime soon? With this conversation, the boss wants to measure up to the standards of that other offer, whereas with the previous tactic, they can’t wait to kick you out.

Be Valued 

The focal point around the issue of asking for a raise is this: does the boss value you? Corcoran says that as an employer of thousands of people over her lengthy career, she’ll do anything to work with employees to push them ahead and help them if she values them. In contrast, the boss who would encourage you to take an outside offer or is hesitant to talk about your prospects clearly doesn’t value you.

“One thing you must be in any position you are, male, female, whatever level you are, is you must be valued and appreciated to be promoted,” explains Corcoran. She also adds that your boss has more to do with your professional future than the actual company you work for, and your relationship with them dictates more than you think it does.

Whatever level you are, you must be valued and appreciated to be promoted.

A good way to gauge whether or not you can feel confident in asking for a raise is to ask yourself some self-examination questions. How is my relationship with my boss? Do we get along well professionally or is there awkwardness or toxicity there? Would they go to bat for me if I asked them to? Another good litmus test to perform is seeing how valuable your responsibilities are and what you contribute. Could any other employee do them, or do you bring something to the table that no other person does?

The Secret: Think Like a Man

As a woman with a burgeoning real estate brokerage career in the 1970s, which later grew to be one of the most successful firms in the country, Barbara Corcoran knows what it’s like to be a woman in business and a woman in the professional world.

Her secret? Think like a man. (Read: don’t act like a man, think like one.) Whether you’re asking for a raise or trying to measure your professional performance and future with your employer, think like a man. Men instinctively come equipped and almost ready-made to have discussions about money, finances, pay increases, responsibilities, etc., and most of the time they do all of it with tact and directness.

Don’t feel ungrateful, aggressive, or like you’re stepping out-of-bounds for wanting a raise.

As women in the workplace, we can take a page out of that book. As women, we’re equipped with different — but complementary — traits which give us certain advantages that men don’t have. The ability to communicate well, be more personable and sociable are just a few. When we marry these two approaches together with confidence and surety, we shouldn’t see any obstacles in our way to pursuing professional accomplishments.

Closing Thoughts

If you feel like it’s time for a raise, it probably is. Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t feel ungrateful, aggressive, or like you’re stepping out-of-bounds for wanting one. In any workplace, it’s important to bloom where you’re planted, and that means where you as an employee and an individual are invested in. If your employers and your company invest in you as much as you invest your time and energy into them, you’ll know you’re in the right place. 

We want to know what you think about Evie! Take the official Evie reader survey.