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5 essential tips for women of color who want to ask for a raise

Women of color are disproportionately affected by the wage gap. Here's some advice for how to fix that in honor of #EqualPayDay.


Lola Bakare


Posted on Apr 14, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 2:02 am CDT

As feminists male and female alike unite today to fight for #equalpay, we must acknowledge that not only is the gender pay gap very real, it’s also far more pronounced for women of color.

New Republic

As Rebecca Leber reported today in the New Republic, although a white woman still makes 78 cents to every white man’s dollar, women of color have it even worse, with Hispanic women making as little as 54 cents to every dollar made by white men in America.

So how do we solve the wage gap problem for women of color, once and for all? It starts with women of color demanding our worth and settling for nothing less. As the brand marketing director at Daily Dot Media, I wanted to ask women of color in the industry if they had any advice for ladies coming up about how to ensure they were being compensated fairly. Here are five ways to make sure you’re getting what you deserve from your employer, from some of the most prominent women of color in the business world.

1) Do your research before accepting a job offer.

Kailei Carr, corporate marketing exec turned personal branding consultant, Northwestern MBA graduate, and cofounder of the black lifestyle website Vyne World, stresses the importance of doing one’s research when asking for equal pay.

“First,” says Carr, “you should know what the market rate is for the work you do, in the industry you’re in, and with the experience level you have. All of these factors are important. After you understand what that range is, you should ask for it, especially if you receive an offer for a new job and you have been exceeding expectations [in your current position] or feel like you’re not being paid fairly. 

“When I was coming out of business school I got some great advice from my father, who has negotiated over $2 billion in deals in his career. After receiving a job offer for a position I was excited about, he encouraged me to ask for a better package. I had done my research to know that the salary was competitive, but my father helped me ask for things that I didn’t even know to ask for: more vacation time, higher signing bonus, house hunting trip, better relocation package, covering of closing costs, etc. They surprisingly said yes to all of my requests and also offered the same package to my counterpart who was male and also hired at the same time to be fair.” 

2) Don’t just find a mentor, find the RIGHT mentor.

Bukola Ekundayo works in the consumer goods industry. She advises that a women of color should find the right mentor for her. 

“It is so important to find people who really care about you and your growth,” she says. “In some organizations it is not easy to secure pay increases and it takes a manager who is willing to push for strong performers. Now that I’m a manager, I see the value of being the kind of person people want to root for. It starts with building genuine relationships with people who will be tapped for feedback on you when its time for performance reviews.”

3) Know that wanting a raise is good enough reason to ask for one.

Management Consultant Orsella Reyes encourages women of color to remember that closed mouths don’t get fed. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you? The squeaky wheel gets the oil!” says Reyes. “Ask for a raise. Unlike men, most women undervalue their worth and shy away from salary discussions. The thought might make you uncomfortable but get comfortable with it because you are your own best advocate. I have often asked male and female trusted mentors and coworkers how much they currently make or how much they made at my level to benchmark my own compensation.” 

As an aside, I can personally vouch for this woman’s advice, as I’ve been to her apartment in Manhattan. Whatever she’s doing, it’s working for her. 

4) Know your strengths

MBA Candidate Nicole Velasquez stresses that getting what you’re worth means really knowing what you bring to the table. 

“When I was younger,” says Velasquez,  “I would let raises just happen. I never asked for more. I just said thank you. Now I realize that each conversation is an opportunity to really think about what you’ve contributed to your organization and ask for more. Every incremental raise is compounded. That’s how women get behind—over [the course of] years.”

“I just saw an article recommending more women and minorities talk about their salaries,” Velasquez adds. “I think that’s great. But I think you can’t just have a conversation where you say, ‘Bill makes X amount and I should too.’ You need to know your strengths, know what you contribute. Your salary should be a reflection of you…but not a competition.”

5) Think like a man and live without fear.

This piece of advice comes from me (not Steve Harvey). It all comes down to embracing your own fearlessness and embarking on a constant quest for self-awareness. Think about what you would say and do as if you weren’t afraid of the consequences. But keep in mind we have to be willing to listen to answers we don’t want to hear, without jumping to the conclusion that race or gender is the only factor at play. 

When you ask fearlessly for what you want and the “no” comes, continue to be fearless and ask why. You’ll be surprised that sometimes, even often depending on your situation, the answer is not only perfectly rational, but also offers a roadmap toward achieving your goals. When fear silences us, we can’t move forward, and that, ladies, is simply not an option.

Correction: Kailei Carr is the cofounder of Vyne World.

Photo via Fortune Live Media/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

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*First Published: Apr 14, 2015, 7:31 pm CDT