1. High Tolerance For Low Pay
Whether you’re convinced it’s okay to work for pennies until your boss deems you worthy of a raise, or you’re convinced there isn’t enough budget for your employer to pay what you’re owed, you’re what Barbara refers to as an ‘Underearner’.
“High earners make darn sure they’re well compensated for their time and work,” she writes, “but it rarely dawns on (or appeals to) an underearner to set her sights on a higher salary.” While this can be a viewpoint adopted by anyone, it’s most common in women, with research showing that they’re far more likely to accept and be satisfied with their income despite the disparity between male and female wages.
“There are systemic issues in many industries about the perceived value of women in the workplace,” Emily Austen, founder and CEO of her own PR company Emerge at just 22, told us. “Women wait to be told their value, whereas men decide to tell you what they’re worth.” It has, however, been revealed that when women do speak up at work, the outcome is far worse than it is for men, because employers view a woman’s assertiveness more negatively, only serving to reinforce our acceptance of lower pay.
2. Willing To Work For Free
Even worse than a tolerance for lower pay is an underearner’s tendency to share their time, knowledge and skills for free. “They’ll work at no charge without thinking twice,” Barbara states. “Most of the time it’s so ingrained, they aren’t even conscious they’re doing it.”
High earners expect to be compensated for any extracurricular activities, while underearners believe their time isn’t worth much anyway and are happier to work for free. She does point out, however, we must understand our power and control over a project changes what is free and what is ‘pro-bono’ – there’s a difference in being obligated to work for free for the exposure and choosing to give your time to help a friend out with a project.
3. Underestimating Their Worth
Underearners often set the bar too low when it comes to their professional value. A recent study showed female university graduates in the UK consistently and dramatically underestimated their worth, with only 17% of women expecting to earn between £25,000 and £35,000 in their first jobs, compared with almost half of male graduates. Depressingly, this contributes to the gender pay gap, making pay disparity a self-fulfilling prophecy. The solution? Making women know and feel their worth, says Emily: “We should be working harder to create a safe and supportive environment in which women feel more comfortable expressing and championing their achievements.”
4. Fear Of Negotiation
“Underearners hold back simply because they’re too scared,” Barbara says. For freelancers, this fear might manifest itself in anxiety that raising their prices could lead to their services ceasing to be used altogether. Again, it comes down to the fact that the stakes are much higher for women than for men, with a fear their confidence could end up having a negative impact on their career – a recent survey published by Glassdoor revealed 68% of women accepted the salary they were offered and didn’t negotiate, compared to just 52% of men.
Emily agrees: “It’s easier to not ask at all, rather than ask and be confronted with the reality that a company doesn’t believe you are worth investing in. Plus, factoring in child care, menstrual leave and other ‘female’ considerations can make women feel they are starting on a weaker standing.” But, says Barbara, this is exactly what separates high earners from underearners: “It’s hard for most women in all income brackets to demand more. High earners might not like it (and they rarely do), but they do it. That’s how these six-figure women got where they are. They do what they are afraid to do.”
Emily Austen’s Tips For Getting Better Pay:
- Do your research: Find out what the industry standard is and what the realistic expectation for a salary increase would be. Whilst being punchy is important, you do need to be working within industry parameters and company budgets. A pay rise doesn’t necessarily sit in line with a promotion - there are different levels within each job.
- Don’t use emotional arguments to decide whether you ought to be paid more: Business owners are pragmatic, and no one will ever pay you more than they need to. Time served at a company does have a value in terms of your commitment, but it’s not going to get you a substantial pay rise. Logical and considered information about where you have added value and making a case for your pay rise will stand you in better stead.
- Growing within a company means more responsibility and confronting difficult conversations: Talking about budgets and money is a key part of this so I would suggest thinking about what thought matrix you would apply to a client. What’s the project, what budget do you need, what is the return on investment and why should I choose your idea over someone else’s – it shows a strategic approach.