March 20, 2024

(MVP) How to Know if You’re Underpaid

I'm Melissa
I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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Do you wonder if you’re underpaid? This is a hot topic for some of my clients. In today’s episode I am breaking down the tell-tale signs you are underpaid and providing you with resources to know your exact number and how to get that increase.

Today I’m bringing back an episode back from 2022 as an MVP because it is so relevant to what you might be experiencing right now.

What you’ll learn:

  • The tell-tale signs you’re underpaid
  • How to know the pay band for your role
  • What the law says about your right to salary information
  • What to do if you are underpaid


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Welcome to Your Worthy Career, a podcast for women in Pharma and Leadership Coach with me, Melissa Lawrence. I am a certified career and leadership coach with a master’s in Organizational Psychology who has worked in talent and learning development in biotech to large pharma, from non-clinical to commercial. I help women in pharma and biotech create a career worthy of them. Whether you want to get clear on what you want, get a new job, get promoted, or be effective as a leader at any level, this is the place for you. Every week, you will get practical career strategies and mindset shifts to help you overcome the problems you experience at work so you can reach your goals feeling better than ever. Your up level begins now. Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. 

This week, we are going to talk about a hot topic. Money, money, money, money. If you are listening and you think you might be underpaid, or maybe you definitely think that you’re underpaid and you’re feeling really frustrated and looking for confirmation, you are going to get just what you need from this episode. Let’s talk about this. Let’s dig into money.

And there’s a couple different angles that I can take with this. And so I want to share some signs, some telltale signs, to confirm that you are underpaid, that if this is your situation, you most likely or definitely are underpaid. But then I’m also going to share with you what you can do about it, some resources that you can go to to help confirm to get those hard numbers so that you can make a change, whether it’s with another company or negotiating your salary where you are right now. So let’s go ahead and dive in. So the first sign that you’re underpaid is if you have been in your role for several years and have only received annual increases that are 5 % or less, you are underpaid. Your experience is not only deeper than it was when you started your profession, when you started this job and had that initial offer, but this increase of 5 % or less doesn’t even account for inflation. So if that’s all you’re getting year after year, then you’re essentially taking a pay cut. Because if you’re in the US, the inflation is about 9%. So you would need to get a 9% increase just to break even, and that doesn’t even account for rewarding you for your performance and contribution.

So if you’re not at least getting the increase for inflation, then you’re just getting a pay cut. So you can look up your inflation rate on Google for the specific area you live in. So I provided the one for the US, but if you live in other parts of the world, you can just Google that. It does change. I think it’s updated quarterly. So you definitely can go in and see what it currently is for the time period that you’re in and the place that you are. And it would be great if companies did market adjustments for cost of living, but many do not. There are some that I do know of that proactively do market adjustments, that they look at their staff, they look at the roles that they have, and they look at the value of that position and the cost of inflation, and they go ahead and just give people bumps to adjust for that. But many do not do that. And I have a client who received a 5 % increase who was a high performer. She had gotten an exceeds on her review. And this is pretty standard, if not even really good, because That is what the companies in industry mostly do.

There’s about a three % average for meeting expectations. The problem is that companies do what other companies do. So if the standard within the industry is three % for meeting expectations, then that’s what companies will do because it saves them money and it increases their profitability. So what is good for the industry may not actually be good for you. And these little bumps that you’re getting every year are to give you something and they offset the inflation or the cost of living, but they aren’t really rewarding you for your contributions, especially if you’re going above and beyond your job description. Now, number two, this is similar to the last one, but if you have an increased responsibility In your role, you’ve taken on new tasks, you’ve taken on more advanced scope of work, maybe some more complex projects that weren’t initially a part of your role, but you haven’t had an increase in salary, then you’re underpaid because you’re essentially doing more advanced work than the role requires and you’re not being compensated for it. Number three, if you haven’t had a raise at all in more than a year, then you’re underpaid. If for no other reason, then just That’s what I talked about with the inflation rates.

Number four, if you’ve never asked for an increase, you’re most likely underpaid. So a big misconception that people have is that you can only get increases during performance rating time or that annual review cycle time. And that’s simply not true. If you make a business case, you can get a promotion or get a financial bump in your salary at any time of the year. I had a client where we had identified She had essentially her next best career move, and it was moving into a different subject area, but it was still leveraging her expertise, but she was essentially changing departments. She had the same title, the same level of work, and she got a $1,000 increase. So you can definitely have that happen. Whether you stay in your own role or you move to another one, you can get increases virtually any time. Now, number 5, if you base your negotiation and salary that you currently make on what you’ve made before, you’re likely underpaid. What you were paid before or even right now doesn’t necessarily reflect the earning potential or value of the new job, especially Especially as women who are often underpaid, you’re just continuing the systemic issue by asking for what you currently make or a little bit more.

So I remember when I first crossed the line into six figures in my career, it was more than I ever thought I would make. I come from very humble beginnings in Wisconsin, so I was just happy to make that amount of money. Anything more was icing on the cake. I quickly learned, though, that I screwed myself on that one because companies count on this and the psychology of our money story, of us not wanting to ask for more or not wanting us to not get the position or have the company back out or think that we’re greedy. So when you’re happy for just a little bit more, many won’t give you the higher end of the band that you’re in because they can get you for less, because, again, it’s a business. So when you start a new job, you’re in the best position to negotiate a higher salary. So number six, if you’re highly specialized, then you may be underpaid. It’s simple supply and demand. If you have a skill or area of expertise that is very valuable and in demand in the industry and you’re getting paid simply based on level or title, you may be able to earn more.

So think of it this way. A bottle of water can cost 20 cents at Costco when you buy a 24 pack. The same bottle of water, same brand, same size, can cost $2 when you’re outside at a park and it’s hot out and you’re thirsty. Or it can cost $8 when you’re at a stadium watching a sporting event. So that same bottle of water, it has a different value based on its environment. And that’s the same with you having a highly specialized skill that may be in demand, is that even if you have the same title of Specialist, Manager, Director, same department as someone else, if you’re providing a level of expertise that is critical to the business and in demand, then you can be like that stadium bottle of water that’s eight dollars, right? Where Or if your skillset is more common, then it may be more like the Costco skillset, right? But generally speaking, the people that I work with, the people that I’m sure you fall into this category, you’re more of the advanced specialized skill set, right? You have gone through a lot of training, a lot of education. You have a lot of experience to get where you are.

So I would look at what you’re providing your company and your area of expertise to see if that is really worthy of getting paid a higher salary increase. All right. Number seven, if someone else is doing your same job in getting paid more, you’re underpaid. That one goes without saying, but sometimes it’s important to state the obvious Number eight, if recruiters are contacting you for new roles with similar responsibilities and the pay band is higher than you’re underpaid. I had this also happen with a client that… It’s actually what sparked her to reach out to me to work with me is that she was a high performer at a company in industry, and a HR recruiter reached out to her for a position at another industry company, and the starting pay band was $30,000 more than what she was making. And that was just the start of that pay band. And so she definitely realized that she was being underpaid for what she was providing in the role that she was in. And so we got her into a role that was a better fit for her. All right. And then number nine, if you’re a woman, especially in a male-dominated field like the pharma biotech industry, you’re likely underpaid, sadly.

The US Census reported in 2020 that the gender gap is still very prevalent, and women earn an average of 82% of what their male counterparts do for the same exact job. If you’re a woman of color or you’re LGBTQ+, the gap is even wider. So there are nine different signs that you’re underpaid in your current role. You may have resonated with one, you may have resonated with several. And if you listened and now you feel like crap, it’s okay because now you can do something about it. It’s not personal. It’s really just business and issues that we have in our culture and society. So if businesses make decisions around your salary and around finances for what is profitable for them, you surely can do the same for you because our whole workforce is supply and demand. You can have the best boss. At the end of the day, though, companies want to get the best talent at the best price. So even if your boss loves you, even if there’s a bright future, if you’re not getting paid equally and fairly for the role that you’re doing, then it’s time to have that conversation. Because once you’re with a company, they count on you to stay and then you just keep getting those marginal increases.

That’s why when you are negotiating for a new role, that is the best time to get the biggest salary jump. Because once you’re in, you’re likely getting only those small, barely inflation rate type increases. Unless you earn a large promotion, for example. So if you believe that you’re underpaid, then you can do some research to confirm it. And so I’m going to give you some resources, and one of these you are probably going to be really surprised to hear about. Okay, so number one, you can go to Glassdoor or salary. Com or even LinkedIn to find salary information for your role in the area. It’s important to look at the area because for global companies, the pay bands can be different based on location. And one note that I want to make about these types of sites is that the people that are self-reporting their income are usually on those sites because they aren’t happy at work. So they might not be the best indicator of earning potential. They might not be the best comparison to you, for example. Because when you think about the people that go on those sites, they’re usually unhappy, right?

Not a lot of people go on there to talk about how happy they are or that they have the best salary ever. Number two, and this, I think, is going to blow your mind. So number two is to ask HR. Now, even if HR human resources doesn’t make the pay bands visible for all employees, you can ask them to disclose the pay band for your position. Now, I live in Maryland, and most people don’t know this, but there is an Equal Pay for Equal Work law that bans employers from asking candidates about their salary history and requires companies to disclose the pay range upon request. Now, this isn’t a federal law, so look up the law in your location because it can vary by state or by country. But you might be surprised that you are entitled to this information. Keep this in mind when you’re interviewing or negotiating your salary for current or new companies. Because companies, for Maryland, for example, with this law, they can’t ask you what you’ve made at previous companies, which should stop that pay gap of that problem of paying people what they were paid before and increasing and furthering that gap over generations.

They have to base it on equal work, equal pay. So they’re not allowed to ask you that question. But then also, I think sometimes HR can be a little bit… Just because they have to provide the information, they’re not going to advertise it. So this law has been in place for a few years, but I can say I’ve never heard this advertised within the company to say, Oh, there’s this new law. Everyone come to HR and get the pay bands. But that’s why it is written in such a way that it is available upon request. So you have to request it. The employer or the company is not required to post that information or make it available to you on an employee website, you have to ask for it, and then they have to provide it to you, at least in Maryland. So you can see where you fall. And then you can also have a meaningful conversation. If you, for example, are highly experienced and have all of the education qualifications and you are getting paid at the very beginning of that pay band, then that is something that you can talk about, about why that is and how you can get closer to that maybe 75th on a tile of that band.

All right, number three, and this one is probably going to make some of you uncomfortable, and that is to ask your colleagues. So if you can’t get the information from HR because it’s not required to be provided to you and you get rejected, then ask your colleagues what their salary is. I would encourage you to do this with people that you trust and to keep in mind that different experiences or education can cause a discrepancy. Remember, if somebody has a very specialized skill, for example, At the end of the day, though, if they are doing the exact same job as you, in that example I gave about the specialized skills, they’re not applying that specialized skills, but they just have it, then if they’re doing the same job as you, then you should be paid the same amount. And there’s just a quick story on that. I remember when I earned my master’s degree in organizational psychology and I started expanding my responsibilities at work, I had that conversation with my manager at the time and asked if it was possible to get an increase because my work was changing. I was bringing a new level of expertise to my role, and I now had this more advanced degree.

And the response that I got was no, because my job didn’t require me at that time to use my degree, and so it was irrelevant to the company. Now, I think that that was wrong. I think I was a little slighted in that situation. And I did eventually get an increase when I was able to influence and have my role changed and to have it created into something different, then I was able to make that adjustment. But I think that I might do a separate episode around negotiating and influencing around this if you find that you are in a situation that you’re underpaid. Because I do think that generally, your management, your HR, they are really working for the company, and they’re not necessarily going to do the right thing by you all of the time. And so you might have to really get creative in how you get the outcome that you want if you get that first no, right? Because you want to keep going until you get that yes or decide to just leave and decide that you’re going to go somewhere where you will get paid what you deserve to be paid for the work that you’re doing.

All right. So number four. Now, many job postings don’t include the salary, but you can try finding job postings that make the range visible so that you can compare it. So talk about Glassdoor, salary. Com, those salary type websites. Talking to HR, especially if you’re in a state or area that requires HR to share the pay band with you, you can simply also ask your boss to share the pay band with you. And if they won’t, then I would try to get a reason why that’s being held confidential. Also ask your colleagues. You can ask other people doing similar work to you. This doesn’t have to be a hush-hush thing where we don’t talk about money. If it’s fair and it’s equal, it shouldn’t be a secret. And then also you can look to see if there are job postings online that do share a pay band, just to give you an idea. Those are four ways that you can confirm if you identify with the earlier signs that you are underpaid and to get an actual pay range and numbers to go with what you should be paid for the work that you’re doing.

So If you are underpaid, like I said, have the conversation with your boss and HR. Ask the tough questions about what they’re doing about inflation, if there’s going to be a market adjustment. As for the pay band for your role, whether you’re in a state that it’s required to be provided in or not, have that conversation. If your company won’t fill the gap and this is important to you, then it may be time to move on. You can use this information to help you negotiate a better salary and be in the driver’s seat of your negotiation in the future. One final note I want to make is if you are underpaid, this means nothing about your worth as a person or the value of your worker contributions. The goal of addressing the gap is so you can be paid fairly and equally for the job that you were hired to do. It is not to pay you what you are worth because that number could never be defined. You are priceless, my friends. Sometimes my clients can be upset because they feel that they aren’t valued and they’re assigning their salary to their value and worth as a person, even subconsciously.

This can be really painful. I want you to think about if you are doing this and to encourage you to change your perspective because you have inherent and limitless value. You could never be paid what you’re worth. Take, for example, my job. The investment for coaching with me is based on the value of the results that you achieve, not on my value as a person or a coach. You don’t decide that you’re going to pay me thousands of dollars because I’m worth it. You make the investment because you are worth it and you want the results that coaching provides. Just like with your work, your company is paying you for your skills and the results you provide to them. So it can be helpful to bring some objectivity to this topic. And just remember that your goal is to be paid fairly and equally for the value that you’re providing the company, or in my case, with my example, the value that I am providing to my clients. But your value as a person and your worth is infinite. All right. Have an amazing week. Thank you for listening to this episode of Your Worth Career.

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Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.

I'm leading a movement of women in the industry who are figuring out exactly what they want and shattering the glass ceiling. The very real ceiling in the industry, but also the one that we impose on ourselves. 

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