Below is a question posed to me by a woman wondering if she's being paid what she's worth.  Here's the question and my reply.

Dear Jim - 

I recently attended the YNPN National Conference where I learned that income disparity between men and women persists  - women are still typically earning less than their male counterparts.  I'd like to find out if I'm in the same boat, but don't exactly know how to ask others in my office what they're making!  How would you recommend I find out if I'm on the low-end of the salary totem pole for my job?

Thank you,

Lady of Low-Pay(?)

My Lady of Low-Pay,

First, a little background.  My mother raised five children, worked professionally on radio (before and during the early days of TV), worked in a drug store, helped build an elementary school, worked as a hostess in a hotel, was a citywide top real estate saleswoman (brought home a trophy with a male figurine on top holding a briefcase) and became a broker/owner of her own real estate office with salespeople working for her – me included for a while.  My mother-in-law raised three children, helped her husband run his commercial fishing business, owned a beauty salon, held a real estate license in New York and California, a broker’s license in New York, and built four houses and a small apartment building in California. 

I think I have a very personal idea of what women are capable of in the toughest of employment/entrepreneurial situations.  I have managed women, been managed by women, coached women managers both while they were employed and while they searched for employment. 

Now I realize all you asked was “how do I find out if I’m underpaid,” but there’s more to it than that. 

If you’re asking the question, there’s every likelihood that you are not being paid what others are being paid.  The very fact that you don’t know what others are making probably means that you haven’t been negotiating for the salary you want and possibly deserve. 

In the real world there is little common sense in “expecting” to be paid what others are being paid.  Your non-profit should be paying you based on your abilities compared to others in similar organizations and with similar responsibilities.  However, they should also be trying to get the best talent they can find for the most reasonable price (they should also be paying more to keep their best talent). 

So, step one: find out if there is a job description and salary range for your position.  If your organization is well run, this should be available in your Human Resources handbook – or policies and procedures manual. 

Step two: Go online and start searching for “salary surveys.”  Although not the most accurate sometimes, the results shown in these surveys will begin to put you in the ballpark for understanding your worth.  Make contacts with people in other non-profits so that you can ask someone there how much someone in a similar position to yours earns.  Your YNPN contacts should help tremendously.

Step three: Ask your boss or HR manager where you are in your salary range (assuming your position has a salary range) compared to others who have similar responsibilities.  If you feel you’re too low for the work you do, ask why – and be prepared for the answer.  If the answer is that you are not performing as well as you should and that’s why you are low in your salary range, “buck up” and plan to improve your performance – or, start looking elsewhere for employment – or, settle back and adjust to it.   Although I don’t recommend it, some employees simply settle for what they’re paid in exchange for the work they are willing to do.  However, this may not last forever especially if the employer finds someone who wants your job and is willing to do more or do it better.  This is as it should be or non-profits won’t be able to improve their services.

Step four: And this is why I provided the introduction about the women in my life, learn to negotiate!  Never get stuck on EXPECTING to be compensated fairly – treated fairly – loved or respected.  What’s fair to you may not seem fair to your boss.  Waiting to be recognized and handsomely rewarded is a fool’s errand.  Know what you’re worth, and be prepared to justify your worth to the organization.  That means having the facts, figures and the attitude to convince the powers-that-be that you are what you’re asking for. 

What kind of attitude I hear you asking?  Simply “firm and fair” based on knowing what you’re worth.  Remember, you are not necessarily “asking” for a raise, you are making your case for what you are worth to any organization needing someone with your skills and experience.

Employment is a contract between adults – whether non-profit or for-profit.  You offer your services at a price and they offer a payment for those services.  Somewhere in there you’ll meet. If they can’t afford you, then you should be looking for an organization that can – and let another lady less qualified take your current position so she can move up.

All the best,

Your Knight of Worth




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