Looking To Get a Raise? Try Smiling More! Or Maybe Don't Because That's Seriously Problematic Advice -- Here's Why

Not to get too shrill -- in case you are near dogs -- but telling me I’m more likely to get a raise if I ask super-sweetly doesn’t seem that far off from telling me to suck on my finger and be all “Pweese?” to the head of HR.
Publish date:
December 21, 2012
money, sexism, employment, raises

I’m not a naturally smiley person. I’m not a naturally miserable person, either. That both these things can be true facts shouldn’t be tough to understand. Because, you know, people, feelings, appearances, etc.

I’m also female, with the boobery and the shoes and the ineffable whatever or what have you. While I happen to be totally down with the femaleness (it’s like being down with the sickness, but for the ages), I’m not gonna sit here and feed you pie and say it’s all roses and starlight and beds full of Kevin Sorbo. First off, I’d never do that because it’s not true and you aren’t dumb, and also because I feel like that would take a substantial amount of pie and it’s not like I’m made of free time with these all these Kevin Sorbos I am banging.

For all the great things about being a girl (read: aforementioned boobery and boobery adornment), there are some shitty things. Like the fact that we make less dollars than the male of species -- very often for doing the same jobs. I tend to err on the side of “la la la la not thinking about it” when it comes to the pay gap. And while it’s fun to sing in one’s own brain, repressing rage can manifest in crazed Robin “Sparkles” Cherbotsky to Patrice-type outbursts. At least for me.

Most of the time at my office, for example, I keep my feelings in check, but every so often the mask slips. I’m an assistant at a place where male assistants are the exception not the rule. There’s a male assistant in my office, just one, and he’s maybe one of the nicest people ever. He’s good at his job, too. Sure, he’s got some quirks -- but who doesn’t? He gels his hair into a totally vertical style, wears enough rings that it would hurt if he punched you, and he insists on being called by all three of his names. (THE IRONY OF THIS IS NOT LOST ON ME, OKAY?) Frankly, at a place characterized by routines and the color beige, quirks are nice.

Another hallmark of the office place -- gossip. It was through the gossip rumor chain that I found out how much money he made -- and quietly lost my mind. While keeping up a damn-near Mary Poppins type face-facade, inside I was railing, in the meanest way. I cursed his hair and its height to hell, I swore up and down that I’d die before I ever had him notarize something for me again, I made a voodoo doll* and drowned it in a cup of half and half all while repeating, “I HAVE TWO ADVANCED DEGREES, TWO.” Yeah. It wasn’t me at my best.

Let me be clear (....said the President? Apparently?). The guy’s great at his job. But -- so am I. And so are the women who have worked here twice as long -- the ones that haven't been fired, anyway. My feelings are emblematic, I’m sure, of a lot of other women in the workforce. You want to believe that the divide in salaries between the genders is a figment, or at least something that hasn’t impacted your career, or what you’re getting paid now. But it’s real, it has, and it does.

I’m glad there’s more of a dialogue now about it, like the one happening in this article. But when the advice within this dialogue includes teaching ladies strategies to mask their business-like salary negotiations behind smiling behavior so as not to seem too aggressive, it makes me want to engage in some serious negotiations with the vomit creeping up the back of my throat. The study also mentions that when men and women graduate college, neither are likely to renegotiate their offered salaries. But no one’s telling dudes to coo and smile big when they ask for dollars -- it’s the ladies who are being asked to fall back on artifice to get what we deserve.

Not to get too shrill -- in case you are near dogs -- but telling me I’m more likely to get a raise if I ask super-sweetly doesn’t seem that far off from telling me to suck on my finger and be all “Pweese?” to the head of HR.** Why do we have to play games to keep from seeming like money desperate shrews? If a dude asks for more money, it’s not just accepted, it’s viewed as being impressive, an indication of his throbbing ambition. What’s a desirable trait in one gender is a thing to be reviled in another. It’s bogus.

Even knowing all this to be true, I still find myself playing the game. While I’m far from being Lady MacBeth in my scheming (plus, I rarely wash my hands -- even after I go number two, so), I’m very often complicit in the office political games. I’ll never be male, but I can be personable -- DAMN personable. COFFEE YOU SAY? HOW ABOUT A COOKIE TO GO WITH IT, INSERT NON-THREATENING GIGGLE? Maybe I should stop. Maybe I should revert to my normal self. But my normal self is hardly rolling in the Benjamins, so do I take the moral high ground or keep my cable and hot water on? I think most of us stick with the cable. Even if the Housewives franchise quality has gone down dramatically -- though I am JAZZED about Vanderpump Rules, because clearly.

Since my natural default facial expression is easily confused with, “I have kittens to save, and no time for your shenanigans,” I make an effort at work to edit it so that reads it something more like, “Erh mah gawd, cheese!” The pretending is exhausting, and I’m pretty sure that my attempt at seeming smiley and normal reads closer to Jack Nicholson post Jokerification. Though I guess now that I think about it, maybe my macabre grimace isn’t a bad thing. After all nobody is not gonna give the Joker a raise, right? Do you put on a smiley face at work? Are you waiting for somebody to write a Batman movie where Harley Quinn is a villain? Discuss!


* By "made a voodoo doll" I actually meant ‘ate a Pepperidge Farm Gingerbread Man cookie. Clearly.

** Oh, my god, not recommended -- EVER (always?)