3 Signs You Aren’t Being Paid Enough—and What to Do About It

The gender wage gap. The motherhood penalty. That 6 a.m. spin class your cubicle-mate is always groaning about with your CEO. Do you have paycheck paranoia? Or reason to believe you’re not being compensated fairly, whether that means on par with your coworkers, with industry colleagues or even in a way that reflects your contributions to your company’s bottom line? We spoke with Lauren McGoodwin, badass founder and CEO of Career Contessa and creator of anonymous salary database The Salary Project, to help us identify red flags—and advise us on how to take action. 

5 Things to Always Say When Asking for a Raise

woman computer typing

3 Signs You Aren’t Being Paid Enough

You’ve asked around, and you’re worried
“The best way to know you’re not being paid the market value rate for your skills is by talking to others in the same role, company, industry and location,” says McGoodwin. She recommends asking at least three women and three men about their salaries for similar roles to yours. If approaching coworkers feels taboo, don’t sweat it. “It is ideal to speak with someone at your own company,” acknowledges McGoodwin, “but it’s still helpful to ask employees at other companies, who work in the same industry and location, for greater insight.”

You’re rarely tapped to go ‘above and beyond’
Is one colleague regularly asked to travel with the boss on sales calls or go out for client lunches? Is another the de facto public face of the company at industry conferences or in the media? Are you left to “keep the trains running” or “mind the store” back at the office? And if so, is this cause for concern? “It can be,” says McGoodwin. “A safe bet is that employees who are representing the company or working on revenue-generating parts of the business will be paid more.”

You’re a mom
When it comes to the proven “motherhood penalty,” McGoodwin doesn’t pull punches: “If you’re a woman, you need to look out for the gender pay gap and the motherhood penalty. One or both of those reasons could lead to you being paid less.” What are some indicators? “Not being asked to be on new projects or projects that include travel or long nights. If your boss or coworkers perceive you to be less ambitious or competent, unequal pay and a larger gender gap opens up even more when you have a child.” She speaks the truth. According to TIME, “Every child born to or adopted by a woman decreases her income by 4%, such that the average mother makes between 5 and 10% less than she would have otherwise.”

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What To Do About It

Put yourself out there
What’s a super-competent, hyper-efficient, non-boat-rocking worker bee who’s uncomfortable with self-promotion to do? “Speak up and ask to be part of projects or find conferences you want to attend and be a company spokesperson,” McGoodwin says. “You will be seen as a leader if you do. I love the advice to ‘get out of line’ and make your own rules. In other words, don’t wait for the boss to come to you. Find the opportunities, pitch yourself, make a business case for what you want and how it benefits the company.” As far as your boss liking you, if the chemistry is meh, don’t force it. There are plenty of mentor-fish in the sea. “Cultivating relationships with mentors and sponsors will always be beneficial for your career path,” says McGoodwin. But these folks can still be helpful even if they’re not your direct supervisor.

Do your homework
So you’re pretty sure you’re underpaid. What do you do next? “First, prepare to ask for more,” McGoodwin says. “We have a script at Career Contessa. But you’ll also want to do research to understand the salary range you’re going to ask for and how you will justify that ask.” Part of being your own cheerleader is keeping track of your wins. “Record your key achievements and how your role impacts the company,” she says. If you’ve done anything that has concretely helped your organization be more profitable or efficient, and if you can highlight how you help save your manager time, energy or money, now’s the time to sing out. Next, schedule a meeting with your boss to present the ask, explain your reasoning and give them time to consider what you’re proposing. Then, stay on it. “Set a time to follow up within a week or two if they don’t agree to a raise then and there,” advises McGoodwin.

Think ahead
Be forward-thinking. It’s key to show your boss how you plan to contribute to the company’s future goals. You might say, for example, “I am passionate about helping to grow our social media presence, and I plan to keep doing so.” “Employers definitely want to know how you’ll continue to bring value to the organization,” McGoodwin says. “Be specific and draw [connections] between your goals and the company’s goals. It also doesn’t hurt to let them know that you’re loyal or, at least, plan on staying with the organization for some time.”

Conquer your nerves
When it comes to managing your anxiety before asking for a raise or promotion, “First, separate your self-worth from your net worth and realize that you’re negotiating on behalf of the market value of your skills,” says McGoodwin. “That will help it feel less personal. Next, I like to ask my manager to ‘consider’ my request, which can feel like less of an ultimatum. Try something like, ‘Given my performance and contributions to this team, I’d love for you to consider a salary range of $75,000-$80,000. At that salary, I’m confident I can continue to grow.’” Once you’ve solidified your talking points, practice, practice, practice. “Also, be OK with some silence in the conversation,” she adds. “Give your boss time to respond and listen. When I’m nervous, I tend to over-talk.”

Don’t take ‘No’ for an answer
What if you get denied? Recover and pivot. Ask your boss for specifics on what you’ll need to do to get to your salary goal. Next, ask for a follow-up meeting to create a plan of action or, better yet, come up with one yourself and then run it by your manager. “It’s also a great idea to have your boss agree to re-evaluate your salary in six to nine months when you’ve completed these action items,” says McGoodwin. Bottom line? “If your boss doesn’t give you an idea of what you can do to get to your desired salary, it might be time to look for a new job altogether.”