As a professional woman, you probably know all about the statistics for the wage gap between working men, women and minorities, as well as issues for the advancement of women, especially in the accounting profession. Although there has been an effort to focus on closing the various gaps, you might still be experiencing issues around your earning potential and career advancement.
Although some of what working moms in the accounting profession face, in regard to these issues, are not necessarily within your control, there actually is something that is within your control, whether you realize it or not. What you do have more influence over, is the issue around underearning.
While doing some research on this topic I discovered that there’s actually a 12 Step “Underearners Anonymous” program, just like Alcoholics Anonymous. I am very familiar with 12 Step programs after dealing with a family member’s addiction, but I had no idea that there was also a program for people dealing with the issue of underearning.
If you think about it, in simplistic terms, an addiction is anything that habitually gets in the way of experiencing a full life. Whether it’s an addiction to drugs and alcohol, to food, to shopping or to social media, when you use something to escape or avoid the normal trials and tribulations of life, you may need to take a deeper look at what’s going on.
Per the Underearners Anonymous guidelines, the symptoms of underearning include things like an indifference to time, undervaluing and underpricing your services, as well as misplaced guilt or shame. As with any addiction, I was really happy to see that if someone needs help, they can find support group meetings and literature to guide them as they recover from their issues.
For this episode though , the definition for underearning that I’m going to use came from Brooke Castillo who explains that, “underearning is earning less than you are capable of earning, when you desire to earn more”. The emphasis being on the words “capable” and “desire”.
So in using this definition, you can have the capability to earn more, but if you don't have the desire, you may or may not be underearning, depending on whether it’s a conscious decision or not. In other words, you might not be underearning if you’re happy with the balance you have in your life and you honestly aren’t struggling or wanting financially.
As a working mom, there’s nothing wrong with having a good education, being a professional and a mom, and not wanting to advance your career any further than it already is. Being content with where you are is great if that’s honestly what you want.
But if you are among the many working moms that I talk to and coach, that know they are smart and capable, have the desire to earn more, yet can’t figure out why they’re underearning and how to stop, then this episode is for you. There is no shame in having an issue with underearning, it’s just important to first acknowledge that it might be a problem for you.
This week I’m going to discuss what causes underearning so you can recognize it and what to do to stop it.
What causes underearning
The issue with underearning is that you can often look outside yourself for things to blame and for external justifications. As a working mom and an accountant, it can be easy to look at the statistics for women in the accounting profession and assume that there’s just no use in trying to earn more.
But this overarching belief that it’s not worth it, or that money really isn’t that important anyway, is part of the problem. If you honestly experience a good deal of worry when it comes to money, then it’s important to understand that underearning is only making your concerns and your stress worse.
The anxiety that comes from not being able to pay your bills, to provide for your family, or to have more financial security, is one of the biggest struggles that working moms regularly deal with. Unfortunately, it can seem like there’s no way around it other than to accept what you are currently earning and just be grateful you have a job.
I want to be clear that I’m all for being grateful, but only when it’s used wisely and actually gets you the results you want. It’s great to surround yourself with gratitude, especially during this current pandemic, but when gratitude leads to inaction or selling yourself short, it’s not actually helpful.
By understanding what causes underearning, you really can take your power back, have more control over your earning potential, and decrease the frustration that often comes with underearning. Basically, when you change the cause, you change the effect.
One of the most insidious causes of underearning for working moms is undervaluing yourself. A lack of self-confidence mixed with a heaping cup of self-judgement, and sprinkled with some limiting beliefs about money, is the perfect recipe for underearning.
Most of the women I speak to were raised to believe, over many generations, that it was the man’s job to support the woman and that if she worked outside the home, it was for the “extras”. They were taught that they had a supporting role, not a major role, in the earning potential of the family.
The issue is that with a lack of self-confidence, you actually create a lack of options for yourself. By undervaluing yourself, you settle for less than you deserve, constantly look for outside validation, and often end up giving away a lot of your time and talent in positions that you are overqualified for.
Another sneaky thing that can cause and support underearning is being frugal; in a deprivation type of way, as opposed to a conscious, deliberate choice type of way. In the deprivation, scarcity way, you believe that if you just pare down and limit your expenses to the bare bones, then you won’t have to push yourself to make more money.
This scarcity mindset actually supports underearning because instead of focusing on making more money and dealing with the challenges of overcoming underearning, you are creating a false sense of comfort. You wind up believing that If you just take out more loans or create a stricter, more frugal spending budget, then looking at how and why you might be underearning isn’t necessary.
An additional cause of underearning is not seeking opportunities to grow where you are, or looking at other possible options. It’s much easier to accept what is, settle, and play small, rather than challenge yourself and push beyond your comfort zone.
I speak to so many intelligent working moms who feel trapped in their current situation, not being able to see that there are so many more possibilities than they’ve allowed themselves to believe. Whether it’s what they were told as young girls, or what they’ve experienced up until now in the accounting profession, they are confused and unaware of what’s possible.
Even if you are in a relationship where your partner could support the whole family financially, using other people and situations to support the reason that you’re underearning is really a cop out. You have to acknowledge that you are a smart, capable woman who can use her skills, time and talent to discover ways to add value and make more money.
Some other causes of underearning include not having goals, not strategizing, doubting too much, looking to the past as evidence of what’s possible for the future, giving up too easily, indulging in overwhelm, not asking for help – you get the drift. But now that you know some of the causes, let’s focus on what to do to stop underearning.
How to stop underearning
If you now have the awareness that you are underearning and what might be causing it, then it’s important to know that there are things you can do to stop. Remember, the definition I’m using for underearning is “earning less than you are capable of earning, when you desire to earn more.”
The first thing I suggest is taking an honest look at the excuses or justifications you have for underearning. The justification that I have heard from clients include:
- My boss won’t give me a raise
- There aren’t any good jobs out there
- I live in a small town
- Companies don’t want to hire working moms
- I don’t know enough about (fill in the blank)
- Clients won’t pay higher fees
If you have been underearning for awhile, these justifications might seem completely true, but the key is understanding that if that justification isn’t serving you, you actually get to challenge it. Challenging a justification means being open to being wrong, in order to get the results you really want.
For example, if your justification for underearning is that your boss won’t give you a raise, then you have to be honest about whether you have considered talking with them again, or coming up with ways on your own to add value. If you looked at your ability to earn as an exchange of value for money, then how could you be more purposeful with your time, effort and skills in order to create more value?
The key is knowing that when you have believed your justifications for quite awhile, your brain will look for evidence to prove that your belief is true, whether it’s helpful or not. To stop underearning you need to challenge each justification by asking questions like, “Is that true?” or “What if I’m wrong about that?”
For example, if your justification is that companies don’t want to hire working moms, you can ask yourself, “Is that true?” or “Can I absolutely know that that’s true?” and sit for a few minutes in those questions. What trips up a lot of working moms is assuming that just because you have a belief, you then conclude that it’s an irrefutable fact; so be willing to be wrong about your justifications and allow your brain to look for evidence of the opposite.
At CPA MOMS we match companies and entrepreneurs with talented accountant moms, so we know first hand that the underearning justification that companies don’t want to hire working moms is false. When you challenge each justification, you will be pleasantly surprised by how much evidence there is to refute it, if you look for it.
The second thing that you can do to stop underearning is to stop undervaluing yourself, your intelligence, and your capabilities. It can be challenging at first, but in order to stop underearning you need to stop underestimating what it takes to be a working mom and an accountant, and start looking for all the ways that you are more capable than you give yourself credit for.
You have to own your intelligence and your abilities, instead of focusing on all the ways you don’t measure up. As an accountant, there are always going to be things to learn and ways to become more valuable to the companies you work for or the clients you serve, therefore, it’s important to decide what your future vision is, rather than looking to the past for evidence of whether it’s possible or not.
Stop for a second and think about this – when was the last time you asked yourself how much you want to make, without dismissing the idea? The truth is that, up until this point, you’ve been making a certain amount of money based on your beliefs about what’s possible.
In other words, you’ve unconsciously created a ceiling in your mind of what you can earn, and the amount of money you currently make is the result of that ceiling. If you want to stop underearning, you have to raise the roof and challenge yourself to take the actions necessary to earn what you truly desire to earn.
The key is to start being more open and vocal about the amount of money you want to make, without judgment, or fear about what other people will think. Money needs to stop being such a taboo subject for women, especially for working moms.
I can tell you from my clients experience that what’s holding you back is fear, shame and the avoidance of feeling uncomfortable. But as I’ve shared in previous episodes, uncomfortability is the currency for your growth; getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is how you create something better for yourself and for your family.
As a working mom, it’s important to stop hiding from discussions about your worth and about money, so that your children can learn how to break the cycle of underearning as well. If you don’t want to repeat the past, you have to consider a different future for you and for them.
If you are ready to draw the line in the sand and stop underearning, CPA MOMS is here to support you and your family. Whether it’s with opportunities, support, training, or coaching, you don’t have to do this alone when you are a part of the CPA MOMS family.
- There is no shame in having an issue with underearning, it’s just important to first acknowledge that it might be a problem for you.
- The issue with underearning is that you can often look outside yourself for things to blame and for external justifications
- If you now have the awareness that you are underearning and what might be causing it, then it’s important to know that there are things you can do to stop.
- As an accountant, there are always going to be things to learn and ways to become more valuable to the companies you work for or the clients you serve, therefore, it’s important to decide what your future vision is, rather than looking to the past for evidence of whether it’s possible or not.