What To Do If You Learn You’re Underpaid

Today on the Bossed Up podcast, I’m answering a question from a listener who just found out she’s one of the lowest-paid members of her department, even though she’s far from being the most junior employee.

This is an unfortunately common reality for many women, since we live in a world where the gender wage gap still exists in many industries, and pay secrecy policies prevent too many of us from discussing our salary with our coworkers.

So how do you handle it when you learn you’re underpaid?

First, do your research

Make sure to check your facts before jumping to any conclusions. If you believe you’re underpaid, there are lots of ways to gather more information. Whether you search online, review industry standards from association reports, or simply talk with your colleagues, do you due diligence to find out if you’re underpaid. 

Next, Ask for a Review

If your organization doesn’t already hold regular mid-year or end-of-year reviews, ask for one. It’s the easiest way to negotiate an end-of-year raise, since it gets the conversation started around your performance and compensation package.

During the review you can gather critical insight into what kind of growth potential your manager sees for you and your role, and get their feedback about your performance to date. If the feedback you receive is mostly or totally positive, it puts you in a very strong position to ask for more.

Ask for What’s “Equitable”

While you might want to go into this meeting with all your (totally rightful) righteous indignation firing you up, it’s important to prevent any anger from seeping through to your conversation. Research has shown that while it can actually benefit men when negotiating, displays of anger by women during a negotiation can backfire.

As such, you don’t want to strike an accusatory tone or call out your employer for the pay discrepancy. Instead, coded language about what’s “fair” and “equitable” can actually help make your case without shaming or blaming anyone.

For instance, if you find out that your male colleague who fills the same kind of role is making $10,000 more than you, and you’re offered a $5,000 raise. You could counter by saying, “I think a $10,000 would be more equitable, don’t you?”

Is it brazen? Yes, absolutely. But it’s not aggressive, since you’re keeping the conversation going with a question instead of shutting it down with an outright accusation.

A friend of mine in publishing used that exact language to grow her salary significantly after a male ally at work helped her to realize she was being low-balled. After asking for the more “equitable” raise, she sat back and waited for a response from the managerial team on the other side of the table. They agreed almost instantly, and moved along in making the change in their offer.

Want to learn more about how to negotiate your next raise or job offer?

Check out our best negotiation resources here, and consider joining me at our next Bossed Up Bootcamp weekend, which always includes an intensive interactive workshop on negotiating like a boss!

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