Survey: White men more likely to get raises they ask for than people of color

SeeEveryone is asking for more money from their bosses, but not everyone is getting it. According to a new PayScale survey of over 160,000 workers, white people are more likely to get the raises they ask for than people of color.

Women of color, including African Americans, Asians, Latinas and other non-white employees, were 19% less likely to have gotten the raise they asked for than a white man. Men of color, meanwhile, were 25% less likely to get the salary bump they asked for, compared to their white colleagues.

Lydia Frank, vice president of content strategy at PayScale, says that bias could be a factor into why people of color are facing this disparity: “We know from many studies that people tend to gravitate towards people who are like them. You may end up giving favoritism to somebody on your team who reminds you of yourself rather than someone who is pretty different from you. You may not even realize that it is what you are doing.” 

Why asking for a raise is not enough

Many salary negotiation guides focus on what you can personally do. ‘Ask and you shall receive!’ they chirp. ‘Lean in!’ But the salary gap issue is bigger than your personal ambition. No demographic in the survey was more likely to have asked for a raise than any other group. Employees are all asking for a salary raise with different results.

“A lot of burden gets put on individuals to just ask,” Frank told Ladders. “And I don’t think we can say that especially with seeing results like this. There is unconscious bias.”

Instead of putting the onus on the individual, Frank says the answer is to put more weight on employers. That way, fair salary bumps are not left to the discretion of individual managers. 

“It definitely falls on the shoulders of companies to say, ‘How do we ensure that we’re eradicating bias from this process?’ because ultimately no company wants to be paying people inequitably. It’s against the law,” she said. 

To eliminate biases, Frank advises employers to use more market data when making pay decisions. Other business leaders, such as Ellen K. Pao, have implemented the more radical step of eliminating salary negotiations altogether.

“We decided fair was what a strong negotiator would get —market rates at the high end based on experience and role,” Pao recounts about her decision to end salary haggling when she was Reddit CEO. “We believed that paying high market rates and fair compensation across the whole company was key to hiring and retaining the best talent.”

What to do if you don’t get raise you asked for

Salary raise discussions can make or break employee relationships. If your manager denies your raise without an explanation, this decision will lower your employer satisfaction and will increase the likelihood of your exit, the PayScale survey found.

And many of us are being told “no” without an explanation. One-third of workers said they did not receive any rationale for why their salary raise was denied. The most common reason workers got denied a raise was due to “budgetary constraints,” but only 22% of workers actually believed this excuse. To keep your employees’ trust during tense salary negotiations, you need to have done the groundwork of gaining their trust beforehand through transparent decision-making.

“If they do understand the rationale and they are denied a raise, we saw that those employees are just as engaged as people that got a raise. They just have to believe you,” Frank said.

When you don’t receive the raise you ask for, you may be frustrated at your manager’s rejection in the moment. Instead of getting defensive or combative, Frank suggests asking questions about your manager’s decision. You could say something like: “Hey I would love to understand how that number was arrived at. It’s a bit lower than I expected. Can you talk me through it?”

“They should be able to walk you through how they arrived at that number,” Frank said. “At a certain point, if what matters to you is that cash number and they are unwilling to even provide an explanation then yeah, you might want to be looking somewhere else.”