How to find out if you’re underpaid

While the frustrating, seemingly intractable gender wage gap has many underlying causes, the fact remains that you can do all you can to take your earning power into your own hands and negotiate. Yes – I’m asking you to #AskForMore!

That said, many of us won’t even begin that process because we’re unwittingly being paid less than our male counterparts. Salary secrecy, boosted by the taboo nature of discussing money, is alive and well in the average workplace. Despite the fact that it’s often unlawful, many employers forbid employees outright from talking about compensation.

So how do you know if you’re being chronically underpaid? Use these sleuthing strategies to get started.

Hit the web

In my opinion, this isn’t always the most fruitful option, but it’s certainly the easiest way to get you going: get Googling! Hit up sites like Glassdoor,, PayScale, Indeed, Monster, and do some serious digging. Explore positions within the company you’re working in (when that data is available) and comparable ones in other organizations in your market – both in terms of geography and industry.

Think your job title or specific role is hard to compare to any others out there? Do your best to consider what skills and experiences your day-to-day has in common with another position out there, even if the title isn’t a perfect match.

Dig deep

Work for a non-profit, campaign, university, or government institution? Often those organizations are required to publicly report their expenses – including labor expenses. Scour government reporting sites (you’ll often find these documents through the Secretary of State’s office) or perhaps your own organization’s annual report for clues into where you might get your hands on that information. If need be, make a friend in the accounting department to see if they can point you in the right direction.

Read up on those industry insiders

Did you know there’s a weekly periodical just pertaining to the PR field? It’s called PR week.

What trade associations or publications specific to your field are you following?

Do the legwork of catching up with those often-overlooked resources, as they can be priceless. Whether it’s a blog, quaterly magazine, or underground listserv, ask around to find out what folks in the know are reading to stay up to date on the latest developments in your industry. Whatever it is, it might just serve as a key resource in learning more about industry standards when it comes to pay and benefits, too.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Considering starting it — even if it’s just a GoogleGroup that gets you going. I guarantee you’re not the only one in your industry looking for answers.

Network to get in the know

In my experience, informational interviews are by far the best way to gain real information about salary norms in any given industry. Ask friends to put you in contact with colleagues they know in similar roles in your industry. Go to networking events and be diligent about making the most of follow-up.

But keep in mind: asking outright about a new connection’s salary can be an uncomfortable way to start a one-on-one meeting over coffee or the phone. Instead, start by establishing a rapport and then share your motivation for better understanding if you’re being compensated fairly.

The best way to get a gut check? Frame your ask in this way: “I’m seeing salary ranges for positions like mine in the high 50’s, does that seem right to you?” By stating the number first, you take the burden of talking turkey off your new contact’s shoulders, and instead give them the simple opportunity to confirm or deny what you’re already finding.

Be sure to connect with as many men in your industry as women. If we’re only talking amongst ourselves, we’re liable to normalize and perpetuate low-ball offers.

Connect with trusted colleagues

The absolute best information you can find often comes from your closest colleagues. Only you can determine who you trust to talk frankly and honestly with about compensation, but remember to also consider what you have to lose. Your peers aren’t necessarily interested in you getting paid less, after all. Explain your intent behind your ask to give them context. Use the excuse of today being Equal Pay Day, if you like!

And men: be generous with sharing your salary information. By simply being more transparent with the women in your circles, you can do your part to help close the gender pay gap and make sure all of us – men and women alike – are paid what we’re worth.

Until we have more organizations pursuing transparent pay policies, these strategies may very well be the best ways to get clear on how your wages measure up to your colleagues – especially across gender lines.

With states like Massachusetts instituting new laws to make it harder for companies to perpetuate the gender wage gap and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, it’s becoming even riskier for companies to perpetuate discriminatory pay practices.

Have you taken these steps and found out you were being paid significantly less than your colleagues? I want to hear from you! Share your experience below and tell us what you did – or what you’re considering doing – to make a change.

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