Closing The Gap

8 successful women share how they negotiated their first big raise—and the advice they'd give others looking to do the same

Left to right: Fashion entrepreneur Tamara Mellon, Endeavor Global Marketing's EVP Michele Thornton Ghee and Ellevate Network CEO Kristy Wallace

Studies in the past have suggested that women are less likely than men to ask for a raise. But research from Harvard Business Review finds that women ask for raises just as often as men do — they're just more likely to have their requests denied.

According to HBR, women who ask for a raise receive one 15 percent of the time, while men who ask for a raise receive one 20 percent of the time. The difference may seem small, but it can have a huge impact on a woman's career, especially if she's already being underpaid.

Currently, the average woman in the U.S. earns $0.80 for every dollar earned by her white male peers. That gap varies when race is factored in — Asian-American women earn $0.85 to every dollar, white women earn $0.77 to every dollar, African-American women earn $0.61 to every dollar, Native American women earn $0.58 to every dollar and Latina women earn $0.53 to every dollar.

But the gap persists. While bias and discrimination are significant drivers of these numbers, Glassdoor SVP of Product Annie Pearl says that when women are armed with the right information, "they are much more likely to have confidence when they go in and have that negotiation conversation."

CNBC Make It spoke to eight women from different industries about how it felt to negotiate their first big raise and the advice they'd give other women looking to do the same.

Tamara Mellon, co-founder, Jimmy Choo and Tamara Mellon

Fashion entrepreneur Tamara Mellon
Photo credit: Tamara Mellon

Tamara Mellon is a fashion entrepreneur who co-founded the luxury shoe and accessories brand Jimmy Choo in 1996. Ten years later, she launched an eponymous shoe brand that prides itself on having a majority-female staff. She is the author of "In My Shoes: A Memoir, " published in 2013.

How old were you when you negotiated your first big raise?

Here's the thing: I don't feel like I ever did. I never felt that I actually got fair market for what I was doing. In the end, that's why I sold all my equity in Jimmy Choo and left and started a new company. But I suppose the first private equity deal I did with Jimmy Choo back in 2001 was probably the biggest [pay] jump I had. I was about 31.

What was your job title at the time and how big was the raise you asked for?

I was founder, CEO and creative director. I was wearing several hats and when I negotiated I was like, "Look, this is what other people in my position in the industry are getting."

I did end up managing to get a bigger jump, but then it sort of flat-lined for the next 10 years. It was a long time ago, but my salary doubled from a very low base.

Were you being underpaid, and if so were you aware?

It was over time that the gap became wider and wider. So by the time I left Jimmy Choo I was probably earning a third of what my competitors were being paid at other companies with the same revenue.

How did you negotiate your raise and would you recommend other women follow a similar strategy?

I thought what I did was a good strategy: I talked to other people in the industry and I asked them to be really transparent with me about what they were earning. I took the facts to the private equity firm I was negotiating with and said, "Look this is fair market for people who are my peers in the industry for companies with the same revenue and same profits."

Even in the face of the facts they didn't really want to pay me fair market value. Looking back in hindsight, it's very important to know how much you should start with early on in your career, because people want to pay you a percentage increase. And if you're starting from a low base, then that percentage increase isn't going to make that much of a difference.

Did getting that raise change your life financially and professionally? How did you feel afterward?

Because I didn't really get what I wanted I ended up leaving. I felt proud of the way I handled the negotiations, even though I felt like I was banging up against a brick wall.

Tracy G., wellness artist, co-host, Sway In The Morning radio

Wellness artist and Sway In The Morning radio co-host Tracy G.
Photo credit: Tracy G.

Tracy G. is a wellness artist and co-host of the SiriusXM radio show Sway In The Morning. Her platform, She's Beauty and the Beast, empowers millennial women to prioritize self-care and happiness in their personal and professional lives.

How old were you when you negotiated your first big raise?

I was 23.

What was your job title at the time and how big was the raise you asked for?

I was an online content producer and I negotiated a 75 percent increase in my pay.

Were you being underpaid, and if so were you aware?

In journalism, especially at that time, it was heavily emphasized that writers were paid low in money but high in respect, and they were handed minimum benefits but maximum perks. That culture was so normalized and glorified that at a young age I ignored any feelings of being underpaid and overworked.

How did you negotiate your raise and would you recommend other women follow a similar strategy?

The first thing I did was honestly ask myself, "How indispensable am I at this job?" Then, I listed out all my responsibilities and achievements, which poured me to the brim with confidence so I could carry on with the mission.

The next thing I did was have lunch with the head honcho of my job's direct competition. It was risky, but necessary. I had interviewed her about a year back and always kept in contact because I both respected her and felt it would come in handy. She offered me a full-time job almost immediately and I used that as leverage.

I loved my current job. It was very fulfilling, but I needed more money to create a decent lifestyle. I set up a meeting with my higher-up and laid out all the ways I had brought undeniable growth to the team and brought up the outside offer. My boss was cornered by my worth and knew how detrimental it would be to lose me to the competition.

Mind you — I was still making nothing compared to many of my friends, but that was my very first full-time salary, and I needed it.

I would recommend that women take this strategy, but remix the strategy to fit your settings. Demonstrate your contributions and commitment, absolutely! But meeting with competition can be very risky if the timing and discretion doesn't work in your favor.

Did getting that raise change your life financially and professionally? How did you feel afterward?

Getting my first raise felt like a graduation. I moved into my first apartment about a month after that and explored a higher level of autonomy. Again, I was far from balling, but it was a major upgrade not only for my pockets but my bank of self-love. I realized just how vital it was to not only take care of me from a physical, mental and spiritual standpoint, but a financial one as well.

Lauren McGoodwin, CEO and founder of Career Contessa

Career Contessa CEO and founder Lauren McGoodwin
Photo credit: Kathy Schuh

Lauren McGoodwin is the CEO and founder of Career Contessa, a career advice and job search site for women. She's the host of The Femails podcast and creator of The Salary Project, which helps women compare their earnings to peers in their field.

How old were you when you negotiated your first big raise?

I was 25.

What was your job title at the time and how big was the raise you asked for?

I was asking for a promotion from a recruiting coordinator to a recruiter, with a 15 percent increase in pay.

Were you being underpaid, and if so were you aware?

Yes and no. We were paid overtime and I was already working as a recruiter, so my raise was pretty much equal to what I was making with the overtime. Without the overtime, I definitely would have been underpaid.

How did you negotiate your raise and would you recommend other women follow a similar strategy?

I didn't do that good of a job. I asked for the promotion and a raise and, when I was given less money than what I was making with the overtime, I did the math to prove it. I definitely pulled a "gotcha" moment, and if I had to do it all over again, I would have taken a much different approach.

I would recommend that women pull out all of the positive praise they've received since their last review. Go for hard numbers. How has your company or department directly benefited from your work? Did your team play a role in increasing sales by X percent last year? Did you bring in X new clients? Your boss also wants to hear that you're in it for the long haul, so explain how you plan to continue growing within the company if you do get this raise.

Last, come up with a real number — they're going to ask and you need to have an answer. That number should be based on real research (try The Salary Project or one of the other salary research tools). And don't forget that you'll likely wind up losing 15 percent or more of that number in the negotiation phase.

Did getting that raise change your life financially and professionally? How did you feel afterward?

Getting the promotion was a game-changer and, for the first time, I wasn't overly tight with money. But it was the job and the projects it came with that really changed my life.

Michele Thornton Ghee, Executive Vice President, Endeavor Global Marketing

Michele Thornton Ghee, Executive Vice President at Endeavor Global Marketing
Photo Credit: Michele Thornton Ghee

Michele Thornton Ghee is an award-winning executive who worked at A&E Television, CNN and BET, before becoming EVP at Endeavor Global Marketing. She is the author of two books, "Stratechic 2.0: Her Plan. Her Power. Her Purpose " and "Stratechic: Life & Career Winning Strategies for Women. "

How old were you when you negotiated your first big raise?

I was 32 years old and working for a telecom company in the Bay Area. I had just graduated from a diversity program that would transition me into the cable industry. On my first interview, I had my last pay stub with me. I had to take a lower position to get into the cable business but didn't want to take a pay cut. So I negotiated with my pay stub and all of the transferable skills I was bringing to the industry. I was one of the highest-paid media planners because I was prepared during that interview and asked for what I was worth.

What was your job title at the time and how big was the raise you asked for?

I was an account manager in telecom and went backwards to a planner in the cable industry. It wasn't necessarily a raise, because I kept my same salary — which was six figures. Planners at the time made significantly less.

Were you being underpaid, and if so were you aware?

Not to my knowledge.

How did you negotiate your raise and would you recommend other women follow a similar strategy?

I encourage women to ask for what they're worth. That means they need to know what others are making in their field. They need to be really good at what they do. They need to go above and beyond. They need to ask the right person at the right time. They need to have an advocate. They need to ask in writing, with proof of their success and contribution. If the answer is still "no," then ask what will it take to get a raise — and then hold people accountable. Worst case scenario: Be prepared to go someplace where your contributions will be valued.

Did getting that raise change your life financially and professionally? How did you feel afterward?

It felt amazing to build a strategy and execute it to perfection, especially when the outcome had everything to do with what I had earned.

Julie Zhuo, Vice President of Product Design, Facebook

Facebook's VP of Product Julie Zhuo
Photo credit: Julie Zhuo

Julie Zhuo has worked at Facebook for nearly 13 years and is currently the company's VP of Product Design. She first became a manager at the age of 25, which prompted her to write her recently-released book, "The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You. "

How old were you when you negotiated your first big raise?

I was 22 years old.

What was your job title at the time and how big was the raise you asked for?

It was for my first job at Facebook. They gave me a number and I just added an extra $10,000 on there.

How did you negotiate your raise and would you recommend other women follow a similar strategy?

I probably should have done a little bit more research, but I remember just not taking the first number that came back.

In retrospect, I would advise [women] who are going through the same process to do their research and to go out and talk to a couple of people who are your good friends or colleagues and who are willing to share their salary. If not, you can go to websites like Glassdoor to get a bit more of an understanding for the fair market rate for you role. I think that's really important to prepare you to know, "Hey, this is what's reasonable and this is what I should ask for."

Did getting that raise change your life financially and professionally? How did you feel afterward?

Afterwards, I did feel great. But I also asked myself, "Hmm, if they agreed to that should I have asked for [more]? Should I have asked for $15,000 more or $20,000 more?" I definitely still had some concerns and questions about what I really should have asked for.

Anarghya Vardhana, Partner, Maveron

Anarghya Vardhana, partner at the venture capital firm Maveron. 
Photo courtesy of Anarghya Vardhana

Anarghya Vardhana is a partner at the consumer-focused venture capital firm Maveron. Prior to joining Maveron in 2015, she worked at Google and several other Silicon Valley-based startups. In 2017, at age 28, she landed a spot on Forbes' 30 under 30 list.

How old were you when you negotiated your first big raise?

I was 25.

What was your job title at the time and how big was the raise you asked for?

I was at a startup negotiating a raise in compensation and a change in title and responsibilities. It was like a 10 - 15 percent [salary] change.

Were you being underpaid, and if so were you aware?

I remember feeling like I was underpaid.

How did you negotiate your raise and would you recommend other women follow a similar strategy?

I had done some research on Glassdoor and other online resources to get a sense of how much people in my position were getting paid. I think it's important to be aware of what the people around you who are in similar roles are making. And then after that, I think your approach depends on who you are as a person and your style.

But I always tell people that they should feel empowered to ask.

Did getting that raise change your life financially and professionally? How did you feel afterward?

It certainly gave me some confidence, but it also taught me that I had a lot to learn in terms of how I could have prepared better and how I could have approached it differently.

Mia J. Davis, founder, Color Vision

Color Vision founder Mia Davis
Photo credit: Mia Davis

Mia J. Davis is a writer, producer and founder of Color Vision, an organization that works to provide advancement opportunities for the next generation of women of color in creative fields.

How old were you when you negotiated your first big raise?

I was 31 years old.

What was your job title at the time and how big was the raise you asked for?

I was a creative producer at the time, and the new position and raise helped to double my salary.

Were you being underpaid, and if so were you aware?

I didn't know that I was underpaid for years, until I began to open up to my peers in the same industry at other companies about how much they were making. The majority of these peers happened to be men and had the exact same title I did. The last straw for me was finding out that a man working in the same department with the same title as me was being paid a good deal more than I was.

How did you negotiate your raise and would you recommend other women follow a similar strategy?

I first went about getting the raise when I was being underpaid by discussing it with my boss and then HR. There was clearly an unfair bias that I know others were experiencing. Fortunately, I was brave enough to speak up. I also kept a tracker of all the work I had been doing and how it greatly impacted the company.

I would strongly suggest that other women do something similar, by having open conversations about what their peers are making at work, especially men. Don't shy away from those conversations. If you are timid [about] having them, then be sure to always keep track of your work and its impact.

Did getting that raise change your life financially and professionally? How did you feel afterward?

The raise I received changed my life in drastic ways, both financially and professionally. Professionally, I felt more respected at work and financially it gave me more freedom in life than I had ever felt before. Afterward, I felt extremely empowered and it was a reminder to me to never forget my worth.

Kristy Wallace, CEO, Ellevate Network

Ellevate Network CEO Kristy Wallace
Photo credit: Kristy Wallace

Kristy Wallace is an entrepreneur, angel investor and CEO of Ellevate Network, a global network for women who are looking to advance professionally.

How old were you when you negotiated your first big raise?

I was in my mid-20s. I had recently been promoted from an individual contributor sales role to a manager role.

What was your job title at the time and how big was the raise you asked for?

The title was manager of corporate development, and I believe [the raise] was 25 percent.

Were you being underpaid, and if so were you aware?

I'm not sure. I was working in a growing start-up and there were other incentives aside from salary. I do know that a few years later the team had grown to the point where we brought in another leader who would take over management of part of the growing team. At that time, I received a 20 percent pay increase to match what this new team leader, who was a male, was being paid.

How did you negotiate your raise and would you recommend other women follow a similar strategy?

I ended up creating a presentation outlining the full impact of my work, which included advising on new sales programs and products, managing teams, individually driving revenue and leading company strategy. I was able to tie my work to the business KPIs and goals.

Approach salary negotiations with data. It shouldn't be expected that you'll receive a raise simply because you've been in your role for a year. Talk about the objectives of your role, how you accomplished or excelled in the objectives, the ways in which this work impacted the business.

Ideally, you already know the basics of this conversation, because you understand what success looks like for your role and how that ties to the larger organization. If you don't know, ask your manager. The clearer you are on what success looks like in your role, the more successful you'll be in tying this into your every day activities.

And keep a weekly journal of accomplishments. This is always helpful when it comes time to discuss compensation.

Did getting that raise change your life financially and professionally? How did you feel afterward?

I felt great. I knew I was working hard and deserved the raise.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss: The 10 industries that have shrunk their gender pay gaps the most

VIDEO1:1501:15
Arianna Huffington: Women's March, #MeToo and Time's Up will be historic moments for changes in the workplace
Left to right: Fashion entrepreneur Tamara Mellon, Endeavor Global Marketing's EVP Michele Thornton Ghee and Ellevate Network CEO Kristy Wallace
make it

Stay in the loop

Sign Up

About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

CNBC.COM