Learning To Ask For The Pay You Deserve

Women work for free for 59 days a year. Levo League founder Caroline Ghosn shares the technique she's honed over the years to make the Big Ask—and get it.

Today, April 8th, is Equal Pay Day. We shouldn’t be having this conversation about this day that shouldn’t exist, but it does—an uncomfortable reminder that the women in our society work for free for 59 days a year, that equal work by citizens of different skin tones and genders is not rewarded with equal pay. (Want to see if and how much our wage gap affects you? You can here.) Today marks a pregnant pause in the progress and optimism that characterizes this great nation.

On this day, there are a few routes we can take. Let’s take the opportunity to anchor today in action, and use it as a source of inspiration. Let’s share in stories of women around the world who are learning to flex their asking muscles and ask for more of what they need in their careers, and then let’s get you what you need to make the necessary changes in your life.

I used to be an awful asker. I was the 14-year-old who didn’t correct the family I would babysit for when they gave me less money than we had agreed to, because it felt rude and scary. I was the woman in her first job who didn’t negotiate her entrance package, and didn’t take the opportunity to negotiate a raise after successful performance evaluations—ever. I was the woman who learned that I was making less than my male counterpart on my same team (same level of responsibility and same role) three years in. I assumed that, if I put my head down and did great work, what I deserved would come to me.

What you deserve will not come to you. It is only in advocating for yourself that you will receive what you deserve.

I went from the girl who didn’t push back when I was owed something to the girl who raised millions of dollars for a cause I believe in. And you can too. My love for what we were creating with Levo outranked the awkward feeling at the back of my neck and the fear of stepping out of line. Don’t be me—I shouldn’t have had to wait until my passion for an external cause exceeded my self-worth.

Learning to ask is like flexing a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. I started by learning how to ask for the small things in my life, and eventually I could make the Big Daunting Asks.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some stories of women who have learned how to flex their asking muscle in the last year and have been immensely happier for it:

Asking for a Flexible Schedule

Carly McLeod, Pittsburgh: "I have a full time job, I'm the leader of Local Levo Pittsburgh, and I'm a part-time grad student working towards my MA in Mass Comm & Journalism and my MBA. All that plus making time to take care of myself and see my family, friends, and boyfriend. Over the past couple of months I've been feeling overwhelmed with everything on my plate but with no desire to drop any of it. After putting a lot of thought into it, the solution I came up with was to shift to a four-day workweek at my job.

"I did the necessary research to see how my health benefits and retirement plans would be affected, and I crunched the numbers to make sure my finances would be taken care of. Next, I came up with a list of pros and cons for both myself and my employer. Last, I met with my supervisor and shared the list with him, making sure to carefully highlight the pros for the company if I make this change.

"I didn't even get through my list and he approved the shift. There was a little bit of minor negotiation to do to tie up loose ends (What day of the week would I be out? Could that day shift if necessary? Could I come in if there's an emergency? Will I monitor my email to a degree during this time off?) but all in all, it was a great discussion and could not have gone better. I used the strategies from Levo's #Ask4More workshop in asking for more flexibility in my schedule and now I'm able to dedicate even more time to reaching my goals.

Asking for a Raise

Maureen, Nashville: "I had been at my company two years without a raise. I had worked my way up and taken on quite a bit of responsibility. We are a startup, so budgets are always tight and we don't have typical annual corporate reviews. Asking for a raise is pretty taboo because we are all working with slim budgets. Another company approached me trying to recruit me away from my current company.

"I took the meeting as a chance to find out more about what they were offering and use that as leverage as well. I told the other company I wanted a 10% to 15% raise; they said sure. So with that knowledge, I put together a rundown of everything I was currently working on for my boss and what I had accomplished over the past two years. I planned a meeting with him at the end of the day and brought in everything and presented it. And then I said I would like a raise, plus a few more items I wanted. I used figures and statistics showing how much it would cost him to hire outside publicists for each project versus giving me a raise. I also let him know that other companies had been pursuing me and that I wasn't keen on leaving, but I also wasn't fond of not getting paid what I deserve. He took that information, told me he would talk to the CEO, and let me know a couple of (anxious) days later. I got a 12% raise and some of my other items of my "wish list." My year in this position is coming up in May so I guess it is time to "ask for more" again."

Asking for More Responsibility

Jessie Reyes, Miami: "I asked for more at work: more projects, more responsibilities, suggested different tasks that I could take on and it turned out better than I could have ever imagined. I was at my first job as a Social Media Community Manager and was eager to learn and due as much as I possibly could. Instead of sitting back and waiting for opportunities to fall on my lap I asked for them. I wasn’t asking for more money or a better title; I was just focused on asking for more work. I knew the title and the money would come eventually. A couple of years into that position I was recruited by another company as a marketing manger; the better title and pay raise came sooner than I thought. When I was resigning from my community manager position they asked me to stay on as a consultant, which I accepted. Then one consultant job turned into several. From one day to the next my eagerness to work gave way to my own marketing consulting company."

Asking for a Move

Chloe DuPont, France: "I am French and had been working in Paris in the Environmental Strategy sector for two years when I understood I would not be able to stay in Paris for much longer since my partner was actually living in London. At the same time, I was so motivated by my work in Paris which was offering me so many opportunities that I found myself in a bit of a dilemma situation: either go on with the frequent Eurostar train to see my partner from time to time but not build the personal life I wanted either, or quit the job I loved. After weeks of thinking and talking with friends, I decided that I would try to have both. So I began to negotiate with my company to be able to have the same job but based in London.

"In the strict French HR environment, these kinds of moves are not usual and even less so for young professionals like me. I had to convince and negotiate with quite a number of people during almost a year to convince them about the benefits for the company of having me in London and to finally make this happen.

"I am now based in London with the person I love and able to perform in the job I am so passionate about at the same time. I have been there for one year now and things are going even better than expected. My company is now even duplicating this by allowing other young professionals like me to move to other cities for a better personal/work life integration.

"What I learned from this is that the first step of talking to my manager about what I needed to perform well at work, meaning being able to be surrounded by the people who were important for me, has been a scary but incredibly rewarding step to make. My manager has been my first sponsor in this project and does not regret the move."


I hope that Carly, Jessie, Chloe, and Maureen have inspired you to hit the training circuit and get that muscle into shape. Whenever you’re ready to get started, your own personalized action plan is waiting here.

Let’s eliminate that nagging gap between the life you want and deserve and the one you have today.

[Image: Flickr user Dell Inc.]

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1 Comments

  • Lauren Milligan

    The profile from Maureen in Nashville bothers me a bit. I was on her side until the last line: "My year in this position is coming up in May so I guess it is time to "ask for more" again." She shouldn't ask for a raise simply because a certain period of time has passed. Doing so will really piss off her boss, who went to bat for her a year ago. I hope she returned the favor with an impressive list of accomplishments, otherwise they'll see her as greedy and trying to hold them over the barrel. It sounds like she went into the job knowing the caveats: "We are a startup, so budgets are always tight and we don't have typical annual corporate reviews. Asking for a raise is pretty taboo because we are all working with slim budgets." That doesn't mean she shouldn't ask for the raise, but it does mean she shouldn't expect it just based on the passing of a year.