Quick – what was the first thing that came to your mind when you read the title of this post?

What about “Gentleman, should you ask for it?” Would this change your response? For many people the female-oriented question raises sexual connotations while the male-oriented iteration conjures thoughts of money and power.

For the record, in both cases I am talking about asking for raises at work. This is a subject that has long made my stomach churn.  As an inherent people-pleaser-and-avoider-of-conflict, I’ve preferred to work hard and hope my results will speak loudly for themselves. Turns out I’m not alone in this.

Recently I talked with Carnegie Mellon Professor Linda Babcock, coauthor of “Women Don’t Ask” and Ask For It,” two fantastic books on why and how working women should negotiate salaries.  (Professor Babcock is also very involved with motivating young girls. Thanks to her, the Girl Scouts now have a badge for negotiation skills).  Here are two of the many eye-popping statistics from Professor Babcock’s work:

  • Avoiding negotiating your first salary can cost you $500,000 by age 60 (oh, and men negotiate their first salaries 4x more often than women).
  • Women who consistently negotiate their salaries throughout their careers typically earn $1 million more in lifetime career earnings than women who don’t.

So what motivates negotiators? Locus of control. Professor Babcock observes that people who negotiate tend to have a worldview that is more “optimistic than fatalistic, malleable versus fixed.” Psychologists have noted that men consistently – across countries – have a higher propensity to see “the world as their oyster” than women.  Ergo, more men negotiate than women.

Alas, her research also shows that, “Men can behave anyway they want when they negotiate, but people have a strong preference for how women negotiate. Direct and aggressive doesn’t work.” For women a “more cooperative and relationship oriented” approach tends to be more effective.  When women adopt a bold can-do attitude they are often met with a “visceral reaction to strong women” and perceived as being not nice. Clearly, for women to achieve lasting pay parity, this has to change… but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

Let’s get back to how this discussion can improve your life now.

This gut-wrenching economic environment may not seem the obvious one in which to rock the boat. But it’s also an environment when employers can’t afford to lose their best people. An innovative new website called GetRaised.com can help you make the most of your current situation.  With a few mouse clicks it will tell you if you are underpaid and for an additional $20 it will prepare a custom raise request that you can use to negotiate.  If you don’t get a raise in 6 months you’ll get your $20 back.  The company currently pegs the average raise received by users at $3,078. Not a bad return on $20.

What about you?  Have you ever asked for a raise and if so, how did it go?