How to Know if You’re Being Underpaid – And What You Can do About it

When the salary conversation remains so taboo, it's time for us as women to break it

Maria Collinge
March 15, 2024
If you want to establish financial freedom, upping your salary is a core component (Photo: Daniel Faro/Death to Stock Photo)
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Money. It rarely infiltrates our daily conversations. This shyness around the topic stretches into the workplace too, and can create a culture where employees are being paid unfairly. But if you want to establish financial freedom, upping your salary is a core component. Before calling a meeting with your manager to negotiate a pay rise, it's important that you compile the necessary evidence to make your claims stand up. Here, we break down how you can figure out if you’re being underpaid. It’s time to talk about salary. It’s time to smash those taboos.

The real cost of being underpaid

Being underpaid comes at a high price, which is why it’s so important to know if you’re being paid fairly, especially for women who are still not paid the same as men. Overall, a woman makes about 76 cents for every dollar a man does nationwide, according to a study by the salary-tracking website PayScale. PayScale also found that over the course of their lifetime in the workforce, men were 41% more likely to go into management roles and nearly twice as likely to have an executive position in the late stages of their careers. This makes the financial gender gap oh so real. 

Women being underpaid contributes to the financial gender gap

There are several reasons why it is bad for women to be underpaid. One of the main reasons is that it contributes to the gender pay gap, which is the difference between the average salaries of men and women, and which is currently predicted to take 267 years to close. This pay gap is a pervasive issue that affects many women throughout their careers and can have long-term negative effects on their earning potential and overall financial well-being. Additionally, being underpaid can lead to feelings of unfairness and discrimination, which can be damaging to an individual's self-esteem and overall sense of worth. It can also create a power imbalance in the workplace, where men are more likely to be in positions of authority and control. This can make it more difficult for women to advance in their careers and achieve their professional goals. Something needs to change, and that change starts with you today.

Women not negotiating their salary has wider implications for the financial gender gap (Image: Female Invest)

Check out websites

A good place to start is looking online at industry averages. Websites have democratised this information, which makes salary information readily available at our fingertips. 

Industry favourites includes the likes of ‘Glassdoor’ which provides salary information and company reviews for you to compare. They offer a ‘Know Your Worth’ tool where you can get a free personalised salary estimate based on today's job market, just by inputting some basic information such as your job title, company, location, years of experience and more to get a free, personalized estimate of what your market worth is. If the estimate is higher than what you’re currently making, well then the data is telling you that you’re being underpaid.

Speak to a mentor

In addition to doing online research, consider speaking to a mentor to determine whether you’re being underpaid. The good thing about a mentor is that you can dig a bit further into the salary conversation, without having the awkward conversation with colleagues themselves. Your mentor may be able to provide you with insight and advice. Ask for a coffee and a conversation and you may be surprised with the outcome. 

Your mentor may be able to offer suggestions on how to negotiate for a higher salary, such as by researching the market value of your skills and experience, preparing a compelling case for why you deserve a higher salary, and practicing your negotiation skills. They may also be able to provide insight into the policies and procedures of your industry or organisation, and offer advice on how to navigate the process of seeking a salary increase. Ultimately, the key is to be proactive and assertive in advocating for yourself and your worth in the workplace.

Start the conversation with colleagues

Depending on whether you feel comfortable or not, another option is to speak to colleagues when determining whether or not you’re being underpaid. Because the reality is, speaking with colleagues will give you a more accurate picture of the salary landscape of the company and whether or not you’re being shortchanged. We’re all about breaking taboos round here, so whilst talking about salary in the workplace is considered out of bounds for many, there is no legislation prohibiting the conversation from the workplace. So you have the opportunity to open the dialogue within the workplace, and create a culture of transparency in the workplace.

Let's smash the taboos around money. Let's talk  salaries.

That being said, the topic of salary is often a sensitive topic within the workplace so it’s important you tread with caution. You wouldn’t want to cause anger and resentment amongst fellow colleagues, or even amongst yourself if either of you come to the realisation that you are in fact being underpaid. You need to be approaching the topic of a salary raise with a cool head, and having the conversation with colleagues might veer you off course. So ask yourself, do I need to have a conversation with my colleagues, or can I get the same information online and from other colleagues across the industry?

I’m being underpaid. Now what?

So you’ve carried out some research and realised the likelihood is you are underpaid. Sure, it doesn’t feel good, but doesn’t it feel empowering knowing where you stand and having the knowledge do something about it? There’s power in that.

So what do you do now? Well if you’ve been at the company for some time and have performed strongly in your role, the time has come to ask for that salary raise. 

1. Build a case

Before approaching a salary negotiation, you need to start building your case early, based on facts and evidence. Your boss isn’t going to give you a raise just because you want one. So start compiling your evidence, whether that’s the Glassdoor check up or the conversation with your mentor, so that you can articulate the proof that you’re being underpaid.

A successful salary negotiation is all about drilling down the facts and being confident in your approach (Photo: Christin Hume/Unsplash)

When building a case for a salary negotiation, you’ll also want to have some killer examples in your back pocket about the value you bring to the company. Sit down and compile a list of examples of where you have added value to a company. Was it a project you managed? Is it the team you’ve built? Perhaps you’ve increased sales by X amount. And to really master the point, hone in some key metrics. Whatever it is, arm yourself with examples so that you can demonstrate your worth to your boss. 

2. Set up a meeting with your manager

Once you have prepared,  it’s time to ask for a meeting with your manager and make it clear what the topic of conversation will be. Put the meeting in their diary at a time that works for both of you, but ensure you give yourself enough time to prepare. A salary negotiation is a process, and doesn’t need to happen right away. The salary raise will come eventually.

You can do this by sending them a brief email or message requesting a meeting, and providing some possible dates and times that work for you. Be sure to clearly state the purpose of the meeting in your message, so that your manager knows what to expect and can prepare accordingly. When setting up the meeting, it is also a good idea to provide some background information on why you are seeking a salary increase, such as recent accomplishments or specific achievements that you believe warrant a raise. This will help your manager understand your perspective and better evaluate your request.

3. Prepare

You’ve got your meeting booked, now it is time to prepare for the meeting. Collect examples of when your work has benefited the company or exceeded expectations. If you had a great month and smashed your target, take that with you. If you had an email from a colleague or manager praising you for your work, take that with you. Make sure as you achieve these things, keep them safe in a file, even if you are not asking for a raise right now. You never know when you might! 

And as cheesy as it might sound, practice what you’re going to say out loud. This can help you get into the zone and boost your confidence so that when you go into the meeting, you don’t cling onto any fear that could be holding you back from having a productive and meaningful conversation about your salary.

There are many reasons why an employer will turn down a salary increase request (Photo: Shuttershock)

4. Anticipate setbacks

While you might feel confident in your decision to ask for a raise, but it’s important to realise that because you’re asking for one, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get one. There are many reasons why an employer will turn down a salary increase request. Do some Google research into it, and prepare yourself for push back. Let’s say your employer tells you there’s no additional budget for salary increases, consider asking for other compensation such as working from home more days a week to save on travel costs.

5. Enter the meeting with confidence

The time has come, you’ve done all preparation. Now it’s time to walk into that meeting with confidence. A positive attitude goes a long way, so ensure that you start with complimenting the company, your team, and your experiences so far. Share what you have learned and how you have grown as an individual, and how you expect to grow in the future. You’ll need to dig into the research and evidence you have compiled along the way, and communicate the case you have built in a clear and concise manner.  This will help you make your case.

So you have shared your achievements, talked positively about the company, and now it is time to ask the big question. “Based on what I have shared with you, could we have a conversation about increasing my salary to X?”. If a raise is not possible, consider asking for alternatives. A higher pension contribution, more day’s holiday, additional training, flexibility – there are many options. Think about what is of the highest value to you. 

The bottom line

Figuring out whether you’re underpaid is a crucial step in getting the financial freedom you deserve. We all deserve to be paid fairly, especially women who have been falling behind men financially since they entered the job market. Something needs to change, and you can be at the forefront of that change by researching your salary and doing something about it. This is your queue to start talking salary.


We are committed to educating and empowering women to take control of their finances and to live life on their own terms.