Uncomfortable Conversations: Asking for a Raise or Promotion

This topic may not relate directly per se to library school, but it applies to anyone who has a job, will have a job (whether in the LIS field or not), or is looking to move up the ladder at a job. Maybe you can relate to that pit-in-your-stomach feeling when you know you need to have an uncomfortable conversation with your supervisor and if that conversation will approach the subject of a promotion and money. It may be easier and more comfortable to not ask and continue on but that is not going to get you the recognition and the promotion you deserve. Probably not surprising is the fact that women do not step up and ask for money and promotions, and when they do, they don’t ask for enough. Women consistently undervalue themselves and they also underestimate where a given position falls in terms of salary (Heath, 2014). To get started, here are a few ideas, thoughts, and tips I will be remembering and using myself before I have an uncomfortable conversation with my manager.

  1. Bring a list. It may help to have your thoughts written down so that in the moment you do not forget what you came to say. If you are asking for a promotion along with a raise have a specific number in mind.
  2. Your career is more important than your job. Break the notion that you must remain loyal to your manager or your current team. Put yourself first (easier said than done I know) and think about what a new job or a promotion would mean for you. Don’t sacrifice your ambitions to serve the team or feel guilty about putting your needs first (Helgesen & Goldsmith, 2018).
  3. Be assertive. Instead of saying “I believe I deserve a raise” why not instead say “based on my work managing this project I deserve a [specific] raise and I would like to be put on the fast track for a [be specific] promotion.” (Heath, 2014)
  4. Break free from perfectionism. Women chase perfection more than men because we are rewarded for it in society and there is a pressure to act a certain way in the workplace. If you’re a member of a minority group, you face even great social pressure to be perfect. According to Helgesen & Goldsmith (2018), perfectionism will not help you reach the top tier of success because people who strive for perfection will usually be disappointed, and it can undermine your ability to make clear decisions in the workplace.
  5. Remember your worth. Women self-sabotage by giving others credit for their achievements in an attempt to be team players. If you don’t find a way to speak about the value of what you’re doing, you send a message that you don’t put much value on it. And if you don’t value yourself, why should your manager? (Helgesen & Goldsmith, 2018)
  6. It may not be as bad as you think. What is the worst that can happen? Your boss could say no, tell you there is no money in the budget for a raise right now or say they will get back to you. But you at least planted the seed that you value yourself and your work and perhaps will be looking for another job where you are paid the salary you are worth.

A confession: I need to take my own advice here and have this conversation with my manager. I have been putting it off for months and dreading it. I recently asked my company’s corporate library for resources addressing this very subject so I could do my research and come to the conversation prepared (as any good MLIS student would do, right?). Anyways, writing this post to share with you has helped me organize my thoughts and my reasons why a bit and I will commit to myself to have this conversation in the next month.


Heath, Kathryn. (14 July 2014). Even When Women Ask for a Raise, They Don’t Ask for Enough. Harvard Business Review

Helgesen, Sally and Goldsmith, Marshall. (2018). How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job. Hachette Book Group, USA.

Do you have a tip for asking for a promotion or raise or any experiences with uncomfortable conversations to share?

By Erika Whinihan, third year online MLIS student, Information School, University of Washington (erikaw9@uw.edu)

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