Disclaimer: We are not financial or legal professionals. Consult with an actual professional who has your interests in mind and/or do your own research before making any important decisions.
If you work at a state university in the US, your salary information is public information. For many state universities, the data are available online– you can just google the name of your school and “salary” and click on the links. For schools where the information is not online, and even those for whom it is, you can also get salary information by asking the university librarians.
If you don’t know what the other people in your department are making compared to you, try googling and see what you find.
Note that not all of the places online report data the same way. Some report 9 month salaries separate from summer money. Some include summer money in the numbers you get. If you get summer money you can look and see what they think your salary is, otherwise you may have to ask someone or just or just skip directly to the library. Some online places report calendar year instead of fiscal year salaries which is annoying. The university library should report the fiscal year salary and will separate out 9 month from additional earnings even if the online places don’t (and for some states, there are multiple places that report salaries and the different websites sometimes report them differently!).
Once you have an idea what your salary is compared to people in your department… are you underpaid? How do you compare to people who have worse cvs than you do? How do you compare to the people making more than you are? Are you a research active full professor making less than an associate professor? Comparisons where the other person has not gotten an outside offer are especially compelling, but you shouldn’t let outside offers stop you– if a person has a higher salary from an outside offer and they’re not as productive as you are, you can still make the argument that your salary should be higher.
Who you compare yourself to is important– in my case, there’s a guy who never had an outside offer who was hired the year after I was who has a less impressive cv, fewer citations, fewer papers, equal quality etc. etc. etc. and it was very easy to use him as a comparison. (The argument being that his best papers hit during years with raises, and my best papers hit during years without raises. Or maybe they’re sexist.) But my friend in a sister department has used several comparisons, some with outside offers, some without. That way she could say, yeah, this person had an outside offer but this person didn’t, this person was hired a different year, but this person wasn’t. And it made it very clear that her salary was the one out of whack, not a single comparison person.
Then write up your justification for a salary increase using these comparisons. Put in charts or tables to make it easy to parse and to make your argument obvious. My friend and I included this with our annual progress reports, but there’s no need to wait until then if you just found out about the equity problem now for the first time. Your department head or dean may need extra time to figure out how to get equity increases and to lobby on your behalf.
On the other hand, universities, particularly those who have been through NSF ADVANCE, may have a system in place specifically for equity bumps. Our uni, for example, runs everybody’s statistics in each department (not publications or grant money or anything like that) and sends each department head a graph of a linear regression that makes it clear who the department outliers are. The department head then can look at the underpaid outliers and decide if they are outliers because of low publications, for example, or if they want to request equity adjustments from the central university. Department heads like this because they get money from the university, and there’s no system in place for lowering outliers from the other direction, so nobody gets upset at them. The department head still has to write up a request though– if you write up that memo for them, it will make their life easier and they will be more likely to put forward the equity request.
I’ve also seen people who don’t have good comparisons at their own university (ex. people in interdisciplinary departments/fields) find comparisons at other schools of similar ranks to theirs (you may also want to include any schools your university considers to be “aspirational”). Here again it’s important to determine if a salary listed is 9 month or 12 month, and you can either email the person in question or you can call up *their* university library– you don’t have to be at the university to have access to the internal salary data.
I’ve gotten 2 equity bumps in my time here, each about 10% (though I was still underpaid after, despite promises– it’s easy here for them to request a 10% bump but more difficult to request a larger one). My friend just got an ~$50K/year equity bump and will no longer be underpaid.
University peeps at state schools: Have you googled your salary info? Are you underpaid compared to your colleagues?