The 5 Biggest Salary Mistakes Women Make

The ugly truth about women and their salaries is this: We take home less money than men performing the exact same jobs. 

This means that even if a man and a woman have the same degree, have the same professional experience and do their job at the same level of competence, there would still be a difference between how much each of them earn.

Let’s think about that for a moment. The same exact background, but different pay.

The research on this is definitely side-eye worthy –  for every one dollar a man makes, a woman only makes 80 cents

And for many women who know they’re being underpaid, instead of pressing full steam ahead to rectify the situation, they’re guilty of making mistakes that actually sabotage their long-term income potential.

Most of these mistakes fall into 5 categories:

Mistake #1: Not Having a Compensation Strategy

A compensation strategy is a plan that spells out your long-term salary expectations. These expectations are based on skill level and experience, industry standard for people in similar positions and unique value. Basically, you 1) calculate your worth, 2) add tax and 3) create a plan to get you to that dollar amount. 

While it would be great to have a compensation strategy before you start your first job – since your initial salary creates the baseline for everything else you’ll be paid in your lifetime –  this is something most women simply don’t know they should do. A lot of us – especially those fresh out of college and excited just to have a job – don’t take the time to think strategically about how much we get paid – which ends up being a costly mistake. 

If you don’t already have a compensation strategy, start now. Take out a pen and paper and think about where you are now, where you actually should be and where you want to be in the future. Once you’ve done the math, create a plan to get there – whether that’s by asking for a raise, looking for a new job, or starting a side hustle.

Mistake #2: Assuming You’ll be Paid for Your Contributions

It sounds so simple, right? Do a good job at work and you’ll eventually get paid for it. However, this isn’t always the case. While there are times when doing your job well can mean a few extra coins, 9 times out of 10, managers aren’t sitting around waiting to hand over wads of cash every time you accomplish a new goal.

Instead of passively waiting to be paid for your contributions, realize that you’ll need to be an active participant in your salary progression. If you expect to be recognized financially for what you do at work, then you’ll need to make sure your boss (and anyone else involved in the money decisions) is well aware of that. 

Whether you have to beef up your annual self-evaluation or schedule a stand-alone meeting to talk about your achievements, you need to make sure you create a platform to show your boss all you’ve accomplished throughout the year.

Mistake #3: Being Uncomfortable Talking About Money

Many women have pushed the subject of money to a space that is “off limits”, unable to discuss things like current salary, future money goals and earning potential with even their closest friends. So, to bring up the subject to their boss – to express dissatisfaction with their salary and ask for a raise – can be the cause of a lot of anxiety.

Although it can be tough, it’s time to move past the uneasiness that comes with talking about money – especially if you actually want to earn more. The saying, “A closed mouth, won’t get fed” couldn’t be more true in this situation. 

Although the most important conversations are usually the ones that are most uncomfortable, it’s definitely in your best interest to push past your fear and have it anyway.

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"It's time to move past the uneasiness that comes with talking about money– especially if you actually want to earn more."

Mistake #4: Making Emotional Decisions

Making any decision when you’re in your feelings is a bad idea. Emotions like: anxiety, anger, nervousness and fear can sabotage your efforts to get the raise you want when you’re not able to keep them in check.

Being so nervous that you accept the first low ball offer you get, or so angry that you yell at your boss when talking about how much you deserve a higher salary, will essentially ruin any chance of a positive outcome.

Your goal should be to remain calm and collected throughout the entire process – leaving the way you feel out of the equation. When it comes to making decisions on salary, focus on your research and the facts. 

Mistake #5: Being Afraid to Walk Away

Even if you create the right compensation strategy, ensure your manager is aware of your contributions, get comfortable talking about money and leave your emotions out of your decision-making process, the final decision on whether you ultimately get that raise or not is out of your control. 

Instead of getting hung up on this fact, you should have a contingency plan and exit strategy in case things don’t work the way you would have liked. 

You know what’s worse than realizing you’re being underpaid? Realizing you’re being underpaid, asking for what you deserve and then staying put even if nothing changes. This fear of change is what holds many women back in forging a new career path for themselves.


If any of these mistakes are ones you’ve made in the past (or still making), don’t beat yourself up about it. Now that you know what to avoid, focus on how you’ll do better going forward.