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

Recent studies in Europe indicate that stoplights, lines on streets and traffic signs can be removed from city streets while improving the safety of both motorists and pedestrians at those locations.  “How can this be?” you ask. 

To quote from Wikipedia which pulled quotes from the German newspaper Dr Spiegel: 

One of the principles behind the scheme, which is mentioned in an article about the increasing interest in such schemes in Europe, from the German magazine Der Spiegel, is that road rules strip motorists of the ability to be considerate. Hans Monderman (Dutch road traffic engineer and innovator) is quoted as saying: "We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behaviour, ...The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles." [4] Another source attributes the following to Monderman: "When you don't exactly know who has right of way, you tend to seek eye contact with other road users... You automatically reduce your speed, you have contact with other people and you take greater care." [emphasis mine]

What’s working here seems to be man’s propensity toward “spontaneous order.”  This concept goes back to the writings of Chuang Tzu (4th century BCE), and more popularly the economist Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992). 

Spontaneous order is the rise of order out of what appears to be chaos.  The order is driven by individuals solving for their own self interest.  Motorists without signs to look for, look for people and situations.  Pedestrians with no crosswalks to protect them, cross where it’s most advantageous and learn to watch for traffic.  The eyes and interests of motorist and pedestrian meet and order is negotiated as the car slows enough for the pedestrian to move past.  Everyone is happy and according to observers of this traffic innovation, risk is reduced.

So why am I including this thought in a blog on people management?  In our metaphor, the boss and his orders are the traffic signals.  Employees are the equivalent of pedestrians and motorists. 

What’s the lesson?  Motorists and pedestrians know where they are going.  They have their goal in mind.  Pursuing their goal (their destination) they do their best to determine the most rewarding way to get there.  Without signs, they negotiate the best solution for navigating their crossed paths.   With signs they will find their progress impeded by stop signals, crosswalks, rules and regulations.  Speed and efficiency is achieved by situations that require everyone to think about the best way to achieve their goal, their self-interest.

And so it is with your employees.  The more policies, rules, regulations, instructions, directions and limitations you create the more you damage efficiency, productivity and profitability.

The driving force behind spontaneous order is self-interest.  What is implied in self-interest is that people know what they want.  Therefore, your people need to know what goals they should achieve and then be allowed to pursue them with as little interference as possible.  However, it’s your job to track progress and results.  You don’t want your pedestrians and motorists (your employees) wandering the streets aimlessly.  You simply want them to choose their own way to get to their destination.

Your people are problem solvers; each one of them (although some will be better than others).   Work to develop trust in the power inherent in each person.  Pose the question, identify the goal and let them solve.

Today, I am launching the web site for The People Manager’s Survival Guide, a handy tool for new and experienced managers who manage people. 

A helpful feature of the book is the References section included at the end of most chapters.  In PDF you will be able to click on the “References button” and be taken to additional reading sources.  The amount of literature written about good management can be overwhelming, so it’s often helpful to see a list of the books recommended by others.  The 80 references (books and articles) included in the list are picked because of their ability to offer practical advice and unique insight. 

The management of people is a skill in its own right - a fact which is often lost on those who have been promoted into management based on their technical skills. 

Managing people is not a simple process.  It can be highly rewarding.  It is never dull.  And it will require your continual, focused attention.  As you should never take your people for granted, you should never take good people management for granted.