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  • Writer's pictureJill Lynch Cruz

Are You Compensated Fairly? How to Get Paid What You’re Worth

Are you paid what you are worth? If you are a woman, chances are you’re not. Yet, a clear understanding of your relative worth can give you the power, confidence and backbone to ask for and get paid what you deserve in your career.

Monica was shocked to learn she was earning considerably less than several of her male colleagues, many of whom had less experience and fewer qualifications. After eight years as a solid performer at her company, she never thought to question or negotiate her salary because she trusted it was fair. She just assumed she was being paid what she was worth.

Are you paid what you’re worth? Like Monica, perhaps you’ve never asked yourself this question. Instead, maybe you’ve blindly accepted whatever salary was offered without asking yourself if it was appropriate or fair. Chances are it’s not fair because most women attorneys and leaders aren't paid what they are worth.

The Gender Wage Gap

It’s no surprise many female attorneys and leaders are underpaid. This is reflected in the longstanding gender wage gap, with women earning only 84% of similarly situated men.

The National Women’s Law Center illustrates how this disparity is even more significant for women of color, particularly Latina attorneys and professionals who make a mere $0.59 for every dollar earned by their white male colleagues. This discrepancy amounts to more than $1.7 million in lost wages of the course of their careers!

While illegal, gender-based discrimination is a primary reason women are paid less than men. This wage gap still exists in many workplaces, especially those that discourage employees from openly discussing their salaries. Furthermore, the practice of basing compensation decisions on a candidate’s prior salary can perpetuate this disparity for women who are more likely to have a history of being underpaid.

Another reason many of us women aren’t paid what we should is because we are less likely to negotiate our compensation. We don’t ask for what we deserve because we don’t know what we’re really worth. Yet, no one will pay you what you are actually worth. Only what they think you are worth.

A clear understanding of your relative worth gives you the power, confidence, and backbone to advocate for yourself more effectively in decisions about your compensation. If you want to be paid fairly, here are 5 critical steps to help you better define and communicate your worth.

1. Do Your Homework

Would you accept an offer on your home without first evaluating its worth in the current housing market? Probably not. So why do we often show up to a salary discussion without first determining the value of our skills, knowledge, and experiences?

Whether you’re considering a job offer, asking for a raise, or evaluating your current salary, you need to prepare yourself well before you enter into any discussions about compensation. Don’t wait to be asked, “What are your salary requirements?” to begin doing your homework. Put yourself in a position of power by arming yourself with knowledge and data of your worth in the current market.


2. Research Salary Data

A good first step in determining your worth is to gather salary data on comparable positions in your field. You may want to start with several of the free and low-cost salary websites below. While benchmarking salaries against your specific role, consider that job titles and responsibilities vary across industries and companies. These sites are a fine place to start but tend to be less accurate and objectively verifiable.

Ensure to include industry-specific salary surveys that are recognizable by employers in your field. These include NALP, Robert Half Legal, BarkerGilmore, and Major, Lindsey & Africa for attorneys. You’ll also want to gather data from publicly available sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics that report wage data for thousands of jobs by area and occupations. You can also find compensation information for officers of publicly held companies in their annual SEC proxy statement. For example, if you want to learn how much the SVP and General Counsel of Amazon earns, click here.


3. Compare with Colleagues

Yes, you read this correctly. A great way to make sure your pay stacks up against others in your field is to compare notes with your colleagues. Discussing salary information with others in your company may feel taboo and even be discouraged by your employer, but it's not illegal. You can’t be penalized for openly discussing wages at work (thank you, National Labor Relations Act). In fact, pay transparency between colleagues has become more commonplace, especially with Millennials. This practice helps narrow the gender wage gap and holds employers accountable to uphold equitable pay practices.

I know it may still feel a little awkward to ask peers how much money they make (along the same vein as asking someone how much they weigh). Use your judgment but the key is to ask with finesse, respect, and tact. Rather than requesting others to reveal their salary, keep the focus on you and your role with a question like, “What do you think someone in my position should be earning?

Don’t limit the conversation to other women in your network because they may also be underpaid. Cast a wider net to get feedback from a variety of individuals – including white men.


4. Factors That Can Increase Your Worth

Many factors determine your compensation, including the unique skills, knowledge, and experience needed to perform the specific job duties. You might expect to be paid less than others who have more years under their belt. However, this isn’t always the case. If you can demonstrate some mission-critical ability or skill, such as bringing in new clients or slashing expenses, you may be able to garner a higher salary than your more seasoned counterparts.

Many women underprice themselves because they overemphasize what they don't have rather than what they do. So if being bilingual adds value to your job, make sure your pay reflects this ability. This is as much of an art as a science, but it's crucial to quantify and qualify anything that makes you more marketable to your current or future employer. Here are some factors that may justify asking for a salary at the higher end of the range:

  • Amount and depth of experience

  • Ability to directly impact revenues and expenses

  • Specialized knowledge, cutting-edge skills, and high value-added abilities

  • Job-related education, certifications, and training

  • Tight labor market and scarcity of qualified candidates

  • Currently employed and having alternative opportunities


5. Communicating Your Expectations

When it comes to getting paid what you’re worth, when and how you communicate your expectations matter. If a potential employer inquirers about your salary expectations, it's usually best to wait until you have an offer or at least after you’ve had a chance to interview. You need to evaluate the position and what you bring to the role to determine the right price.

It can be challenging to avoid this discussion, particularly with a determined recruiter, but doing so before you are fully prepared can lock you into a range that doesn’t truly reflect the position requirements or your relative worth. Try turning the tables on the employer by asking them what the salary range is for the position.

If you feel pressed to give a number, offer a defensible target higher in the range than you feel comfortable asking (and you’ll be prepared to do so because you’ve done your homework ahead of time). To ensure you aren’t pricing yourself out of their range, convey your willingness to be open and flexible:

“I am seeing salaries around $$$ for this type of role, especially for someone with my experience and qualifications. Of course, I’m open to a fair offer and would consider the salary within the context of the total compensation package and the right opportunity.”

Want to Be Paid What You’re Really Worth?

If you’ve read this far, chances are you aren’t being paid what you are truly worth. You are not alone because the gender wage gap is a reality for most women. But you don’t have to be one of them.

Don’t give up your power by letting others decide your compensation without your input. Knowing your worth and having the courage to ask for it are essential to getting what you deserve and advocating for yourself in your career.

If you’d like to learn how I might be able to help, please contact me. You are also welcome to schedule a 30-min consultation call with me to learn how coaching can help you "get out of your own way" so you can realize your full potential.

Jill Lynch Cruz, PhD, PCC, GCDF, SPHR

Executive Coach & Career Development Facilitator


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