"Women often get paid less because we allow it," says Barbara Stanny (www.barbarastanny.com), a writer and speaker based in Port Townsend, Wash., who specializes in women's pay issues.
Even "stars" at a company may be relatively underpaid. If that's your situation, don't put off dealing with the issue. After all, your current pay also affects your future income and retirement nest egg: Defined-benefit pensions, company-matched 401(k) contributions, and Social Security benefits are all based, directly or indirectly, on your pay during prime earning years.
When you're ready to ask for a raise, consider these tips from Stanny's book, Overcoming Underearning: Overcome Your Money Fears and Earn What You Deserve (HarperCollins, $24.95):
* Research the going rates in your field, by checking out salary ranges in want ads and on Web sites like salary.com. Then ask for the high end of the spectrum. It's easier to negotiate down than up.
* "No" often means "Not now." Even if a pay hike just isn't in the budget at the moment, that doesn't mean it never will be. Don't get discouraged. Remember, the best time to negotiate is when you have other offers.
* Negotiate more than plain dollars and cents. Your total compensation might include other items you may want more of, like performance bonuses, profit sharing, paid time off, flexible work hours, tuition reimbursement, and club memberships.
* Have points prepared and build a case around your value and what you bring to the company. Act confident (even if you don't feel it). Communicate with authority. "Perceived confidence has a big impact," Stanny says.