Story time. When I was 23 and only about six months into my very first big kid job, I got a promotion. It was great! I got to take the word “assistant” out of my email signature, I got to stop identifying as an entry-level employee, and best of all, I got a 22% raise.
I know, right? All was right with the world.
Fast-forward three years and my company had just merged with another company and in the resulting restructuring of the org chart I got another promotion. A big one.
But I didn’t get a raise.
At first it didn’t bother me. It’s not like my boss explicitly said I wasn’t going to get a raise with my promotion. It’s just that everything was so hectic that I assumed our brief “Hey you’re promoted, kid” conversation was but a placeholder for a later discussion. I assumed that when the dust of the merger settled we’d circle back around to my salary. I assumed the discrepancy would be resolved within a paycheck or two.
But then… it wasn’t. It never came up. My new business cards arrived and my new responsibilities piled up like discarded wigs on the set of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I had all the prestige, workload, decisions, and responsibilities of my new position and none of the perks.
Months passed and I stopped pretending like it was an oversight. I decided that it was because the company couldn’t afford to compensate me for the work I was doing. “If they had the budget to give me a raise, they would,” I actually said out loud, with my mouth, to friends who started checking me for signs of a head injury.
I actually started to believe it. And I liked my work so much that I decided to just accept it. I didn’t want to make waves, after all! I didn’t want anyone to think I was… a greedy bitch.
Coming out of denial
But all delusions come to an end. Deep down I knew that it wasn’t ok that I hadn’t gotten a raise with my promotion. I stopped thinking my boss just forgot about the raise or that the company really couldn’t afford to pay me what I was worth for the work I was doing.
I started to get resentful. And I started to get angry… at myself.
Because really, under all the excuses and waiting, what it came down to was that I was terrified of asking for more money. Call it a deep-seated sense of inadequacy. Call it being socialized as a woman to be meek and unassuming. Call it personal pride.
No, Jennifer Lawrence in the critically acclaimed Winter’s Bone based on the novel of the same name! No! You are wrong! If what ought to be offered is not, then you goddamn better well ask.
It took me nearly two years to admit this to myself.
Just fucking ask
Before I worked up the courage (and the blood alcohol content… not recommended) to ask my boss for the raise I was owed, I did a little math. By working for all those months at a salary bracket rungs below where I should have been compensated, I had lost thousands and thousands of dollars in wages.
Not only that, but I had permanently lost the opportunity to invest that money to earn me still more money; to use it to pay down my student loan debt faster so I could save money on interest; to save it up for a down payment on a house so I wouldn’t have to waste more money renting in a high COL city.
I had lost about $32,000 over that time and all the financial benefits that came with it.
I had to ask for a raise. I couldn’t afford not to.
I decided I would ask my boss after our quarterly board meeting. And I decided I would ask for 22%: the same amount I got with my first raise years before. It was the only measurement I had for what would be fair and reasonable.
I would list my accomplishments and explain how I was a team player who was willing to make personal sacrifices for the company (see: almost two years of being grossly underpaid). I’d generously point out how I knew he’d had a lot on his plate during the merger. And then I’d tell him I wanted my long-delayed raise.
Victory is mine!
Turns out my boss had indeed completely forgotten that I didn’t get a raise with my promotion. He was so ashamed about under-paying me for so long that he offered me 25% instead of 22%. And a new computer. And the option to work from home more often. And an intern.
All of which is to say: WHY THE EVERLOVING FUCK DIDN’T I ASK SOONER?
Learn from my mistake, my darling capybaras. Don’t let fear and low self-esteem hold you back from taking home the money you are owed, the money you have earned.
You have literally nothing to lose and potentially thousands to gain. The absolute worst that can happen is your boss says no. And then you can ask again in six months or better yet, make like a banana and split.