How much do you get paid for the work you do? Do you feel you're being paid fairly?

While these questions may seem brash, they're at the heart of a debate going on across the world. Right now, in businesses and governments large and small, what's a fair wage?

You've probably heard somewhere that women are paid $0.79 for every dollar a man earns. This is an oft-repeated, but slightly misleading statement. According to research done by the U.S. Department of Labor, women earn less than men overall, but it isn't entirely cut-and-dry.

Some argue this gap is because women work fewer hours and take time off to have babies, The Department of Labor study actually accounts for this and normalizes the data. The main component of the difference, apparently, is that women appear to work in different occupations from men--and that those occupations pay less overall.

New independent research from the firm Hired has given us an additional lens to try to get clarity on this. Hired matched up job titles in an apples-to-apples comparison, and it found that women are being paid an average of 4 percent less for the same positions.

How can this be?

Perhaps the secret is us, the women.

As a woman in the STEM field, I have always been paid 30 percent less, on average, than my male counterparts in the same companies with the same or a similar title. I've also known about the discrepancy, a point mentioned in Hired's research. There's a reason for this: During hiring, I've always negotiated for benefits important to me instead of the highest wage possible.

This has given me the ability to work remotely, have flexible hours, have additional education, a travel budget, preferred instead of common stock options--and other things I value. Other women I've spoken to have similar stories--salary alone doesn't paint the full picture of our compensation packages.

Generally, this has worked in my favor. Once, though, it backfired.

At a former company, a memo went around to the executives that "accidentally" leaked everyone's salary data. It showed that I was the lowest paid director in the company--by a lot. My work experience was longer and education higher on average than the others' in the same job. But I was making more than 60 percent less than the other directors in the company, including their comparable benefits.

All I could do was stare at the spreadsheet, stunned. I had enough money to live comfortably, and I felt I was being paid fairly. Obviously, there was another metric to show that I wasn't.

In response, an outraged male director in the company took that data straight to HR and demanded a raise on my behalf. It was granted immediately--and they even started an investigation into some other wage discrepancies at the company.

At other companies, you might not be so lucky. What can you do to avoid something like this happening to you?

1. Play in the right ballpark.

If my company had transparent wages, this wouldn't have been an issue. Opaque salary practices can lead to major discrepancies. If you have no barometer for your pay, you'll simply ask for what you'll be comfortable with--or potentially take the offer that is presented without negotiating.

Where can you go to find out what you should be paid? Wage reports are available through PayScale, Census data, Glassdoor, and other places. No matter the job, you should be able to find how much you should be paid for it.

2. Understand the real value you bring.

In every negotiation, you need to understand that you have leverage, or power, to influence the other side to give you what you want. There's a reason they want you instead of someone else. Understanding why is the key to your paycheck.

In the case I mentioned above, my company would have had to spend way more to replace me--in money and opportunity cost--than to simply give me a raise.

3. Ask for what you want.

I always ask for the amount of money I would be comfortable with and the benefits that are important to me. Asking for more money may mean you have less flexibility elsewhere, so be sure that's what you truly care about.

Hopefully, this won't be an issue for too much longer. Companies are increasingly being required to submit their wage data and comply with equal-pay rulings. Iceland just became the first country to pass a law to remove the gender pay gap entirely by 2020. Change is coming.

In the meantime, ask yourself if you honestly feel you're being compensated fairly for the work you do. If your answer is anything but yes, you have some homework to do.

Psychology Says These Are the 7 Most Effective Ways to Ask for a Raise

Published on: Apr 10, 2018