Career So, How Much Do You Make?

Discussing salaries with colleagues can be empowering. But it can also be a touchy territory. Here’s how to navigate it successfully.

By Nancy Trejos
PUBLISHED 01/17/2023 | 4 MINUTES

Does talking about your salary with others make you feel uncomfortable? Do you think your boss should be the only person who knows how much you make?

It’s time to consider an alternative stance. Having an open discussion with those in your field can help you negotiate a higher pay. Greater salary transparency also improves overall gender and racial equity in the workplace, and many believe it’s an important step toward closing the various pay gaps women experience, especially BIPOC women.

Yet, salary is often considered a taboo topic. And it can be especially hard to bring up pay with those who could be your most valuable sources of information: your colleagues.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, you have the right to communicate with other employees about your compensation. But it’s important to navigate these discussions carefully. Here’s how to do just that.

Only talk with those you trust. Before doing any asking—or answering—on the salary front, think through who should be privy to your numbers. Consider how well you know the person you’d like to have a discussion with, as well as your level of respect for them, says Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster.

Be open about why you’d like to have this discussion. Share how this exchange can be helpful for you (and the other person). For instance, explain that you want to be better prepared for your annual review. If a colleague asks you about your salary, determine why they want that information before responding.

Set the ground rules. Be sure to agree on the confidentially of the discussion. If you inquire about someone’s salary, let them know you are willing to share your number as well. Also, decide if the conversation will focus on specific salary figures or a range.

Respect each other’s boundaries. Give colleagues the ability to opt out of this talk easily. If you’re asked about your salary and don’t want to answer, you can simply say, “I’d rather not participate in this discussion.”

Don’t make snap judgments. If someone makes more than you, don’t automatically assume you are underpaid. “There may be more than meets the eye,” Salemi says. “Someone may have an advanced degree that warranted a higher salary or perhaps several years of additional experience or a specific skill set.”

Do extra research outside your workplace. Find out the going rate at other companies in your field. Talk to former bosses, mentors and colleagues. Career-focused websites such as Payscale and Glassdoor are also good sources of information.

Schedule a meeting with your boss. Don’t disclose any confidential information provided by your work peers. Instead, share your recent accomplishments and say your research shows that you are underpaid. This should be a positive discussion rather than a complaint session, says Shari Santoriello, a career specialist with Ama La Vida. First, run your talking points past a friend or loved one. “Practice so you are comfortable with this type of conversation,” Santoriello says.

If you don’t get satisfaction, look for outside opportunities. Now that you know your worth, go out and get that money. “Knowledge is power,” Salemi says. “Find an employer who pays you fairly from day one.”

Millie content is licensed from Meredith Corporation, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle and more.

Nancy Trejos is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, the New York Post and more. She previously worked for USA TODAY, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.


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