my coworker makes more money than me, but we do the same work

Discovering that your coworker is paid a more than you can feel like a slap in the face, even if you were previously happy with your salary. Finding out about a pay disparity can feel profoundly unfair and can make you wonder if your employer doesn’t value you as much as you thought they did.

But before you get angry, take a look at these five legitimate reasons why your coworker might be getting paid more than you:

  1. The job market might have been different when your coworker was hired. The market worth of most jobs fluctuates. In tough job markets, it’s much easier for employers to find good people willing to work for lower salaries. If if your coworker was hired when there were more job openings and few candidates, and you were hired during a market that had slimmer pickings for job seekers, that could explain why you were brought on at different salary levels.
  1. You coworker might have negotiated better than you did when she was hired. Some people negotiate job offers far more aggressively than others – and some don’t negotiate at all. Your coworker’s salary could be higher than yours simply because she asked for more at the time of hiring or made a more compelling case for why she deserved it.
  1. Your coworker might have asked for a raise when you didn’t. At many companies, you need to ask for a raise in order to get one. If your coworker asks and you don’t, that could explain your different salaries.
  1. Your coworker’s performance might be better than yours. Ultimately, compensation is supposed to reflect value, and it’s possible that your coworker is contributing at a higher level than you are. It can sting to hear that, but people are notoriously bad judges of their own performance relative to other people’s. It could also be the case that you’re excellent at what you do, but your coworker is earning more because she’s great at bringing in new business or pinch-hitting when your manager is away, or some piece of her work that you don’t even see.
  1. Your coworker might be getting some form of hardship pay. If your coworker’s job is particularly difficult or unpleasant – because of her boss, or the hours required, or the particular customers she works with – your employer might pay more to compensate for that. It can be tough to attract and retain good employees who are willing to put up with crazy hours or an excessively critical boss, and many are willing to tack on “hardship pay,” even if they don’t call it that.

All that said, it’s also true that companies have an obligation to ensure they’re not paying particular demographic groups less than others. If a company ends up paying most men more than most women making the same contributions, it doesn’t matter if that came about because the men negotiated and the women didn’t; ultimately, they still have a gender-based pay disparity problem to address.

So, what can you do if you realize that a coworker is earning more than you but you’re both contributing at the same level? You’ll generally have a much better chance of getting a raise if you focus on the salary you deserve, independent of what your coworker makes.*

That means that you’ll need to research the market rate for your type of work in your field, in your particular geographic area (since salaries can vary dramatically from region to region). In doing this, you might discover that you’re actually paid reasonably well, relative to what you could command somewhere else – regardless of what your coworker is making. But if you do find evidence that you should be earning more, then it’s time to begin creating a case for a pay adjustment based on what contributions you’ve made to your organization above the basic expectations for your job. (Your market research can be part of that case, but it shouldn’t be the main foundation of it; that research is more of a reality check to help you decide if there’s a pay issue you should be addressing in the first place.)

* The exception to this is if you have a reasonable suspicion that sex discrimination is at play. If that’s the case, case you’d want to consult with a lawyer to help figure out the best way to proceed.

I originally wrote this article for publication on AOL.com.

{ 170 comments… read them below }

    1. Anon Accountant

      This happened at my last job- 2 coworkers were similary qualified and their starting salaries were within $3,000 of each other. Their track records were similar, qualifications the same, and were excellent employees. The female employee tried to negotiate for higher raises but was told what she received was the “best they could do”. She was receiving 10% of what her male coworker received. Example: She received $1,000 and he received $10,000.

      Eventually there was almost a $30,000 pay discrepancy between them. Happy ending- she found another job and they scrambled to counteroffer. She turned them down and the company was forced to hire 2 full-time workers and 1 part-time worker to manage her workload. The ex-employee was a highly skilled, very productive, excellent employee who was very happy at ther new job (the last I’d heard).

      1. Juli G.

        $30,000! That’s just irresponsible on the part of management and HR. I can’t imagine seeing that pay difference and thinking it was okay

      2. maddy

        so sad, but true. At my current job, a female coworker with a masters degree was offered 38k. the male coworker who did not have a masters degree but was working towards one was offered 75k. They both negoiated. I dont see how this is far at all.

      3. Anonymous

        Thanks for sharing the story!

        I am a female employee working at a Japanese MNC in India. 3 years back i joined this company along with one of my male classmate through campus interviews. (They had hired 2 of my senior classmates an year earlier & 2 more a year later us)
        We are all engineering graduates with relevant subject knowledge. In-fact we are more qualified & technically much polished than our mangers in the company.
        It happened that we all were offered stipend at beginning of our job in this company & confirmed as an employee after one year with same CTC ( Rs. 300K : Average pay in India. Nothing can be below this)
        The partiality began from the end of 2nd year. I was given a raise of 16.5% and my male co-worker that of 38%.
        The candidates which joined a year after us were confirmed that year and paid Rs. 50,000 more than what we were paid on confirmation. Our senior male co-worker was promoted the same year making him earn 74% more over me.

        The final CTC results are as below (end of FY 2012-13)

        Senior 1 (Male) : completed 3 years – promoted after second year : salary Rs. 600000 : 100% raise in 2 years
        Senior 2 (Female) : completed 3 years – promoted after 3rd year : salary Rs 500000 : 67% raise in 2 years
        Co-worker (Male) : completed 2 years – Not promoted yet : salary Rs 4,11,000 : 38% raise in one year
        Me ( Female) : completed 2 years – Not promoted yet : salary Rs 3,62,000 : 16.5% raise in one year
        Junior 1 (Male) : completed 1 year – Just confirmed : salary Rs 3,50,000 : No increments yet.
        Junior 2 (Male) : completed 1 year – Just confirmed : salary Rs 3,50,000 : No increments yet.

        I discussed this with my reporting manager & my Boss: The reason given to me was that the guys are on the field all the time whereas I am on field only for sales calls & do the back office work most of the time which is less challenging & more comfortable.
        The back office planning and sales execution work was offered to me by my boss on my confirmation at the first place.

        However I took this positively & started to stay more and more on the field as well as handle the back-office planning and execution work.

        The next year increments given were as follows (FY 2013-14)

        Senior 1 (Male) : completed 4 years – promoted for the second time : salary Rs. 700000 : 133% raise since confirmation
        Senior 2 (Female) : completed 4 years – promoted after 3rd year : salary Rs 5,70,000 : 90% raise since confirmation
        Co-worker (Male) : completed 3 years – promoted after 3rd year : salary Rs 5,17,000 : 73% raise since confirmation
        Me ( Female) : completed 3 years – Not promoted yet : salary Rs 3,99,000 : 33% raise since confirmation
        Junior 1 (Male) : completed 2 year – Not promoted yet : salary Rs 3,92,000 : 26% raise since confirmation
        Junior 2 (Male) : completed 2 year – Not promoted yet : salary Rs 3,92,000 : 26% raise since confirmation (Left this companies employment)

        It was obvious that this was done purposefully. I didn’t discuss this with my boss but notified my reporting manager about the same.
        I have dropped down all my responsibilities and only work for 3-4 hours a day. Have started coming late to office and have stopped reporting most of my work activities. I am now only working on sales leads and raise them only to a specific level. I have completely shaded down my back end planning and execution responsibilities which has minimized the monthly sales by Rs. 28,00K. i.e profit margin of Rs. 400K. ( lowest sales in last 2 years)
        I have stopped doing favors to all managers and my co-workers. I have stopped hiding their in-competencies & have stopped doing their reports & other works. I have stopped sharing confidential data of their territories with them.
        As a result the managers are now blabbing about how in-competent my seniors and my reporting manager is. They have started directing more and more work to me and ask for more favors.
        I don’t even pay attention to their requirements anymore.
        I am looking out in the market for new jobs since 1 year. But the market scenario is very bad and no jobs are available. Even if i find any they do offer attractive packages but they are either local companies or they don’t want a female candidate and most of them know my boss on personal levels.

        Please suggest some ways about how should I handle this career chaos !!!

    2. Exhausted

      I knew, before I looked at the comments, that this would be the theme of the first comment posted. SIGH!

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Well, that actually was #6 in the article. And pretty relevant in this particular topic.

        (I’m reading your comment as a complaint, but I might be wrong.)

        1. BritCred

          The item hasn’t been put as #6. Its an extension of number 5. Just in case you wanted to get that altered.

    3. EngineerGirl

      There are actually studies now proving this. All things being equal, women are perceived as less competent then men so are offered a lower starting salary. She will have to negotiate harder to get equal pay for equal work. She’ll have to fight the competence bias her entire career.

      Here’s the abstract from the National Academy of Science:
      http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474.full

      The message is clear – women absolutely need to negotiate their salary.

    4. Jeanne

      I was told directly that my coworker was paid more for being a man. We were both out of college. My boss and coworker were the same ethnic background and I am a plain ol’ white woman. I was told my coworker would soon need to get married and raise a family so he needed more. This was before companies were aware of a problem with saying these things so I didn’t do anything. I wish now I had tried.

    5. Kiwi

      Exactly.
      Women need to talk about this more openly and more often and stop trying to be “understanding” and “not make waves”. They also need to stop thinking that “they’ll remember me for this and reward me in other ways” (men also fall victim to this faulty thinking). Not gonna happen. You’re working hard for cheap. Bargain! Why would the manager want to change that, without the employee’s insistence?

      It’s great that this topic has come up in comments and that this website is a safe forum (no abuse and rape threats) to openly discuss it.
      This sort of discrimination prospers and proliferates in the silence of those affected.

      1. Raptor

        Except when they do this, they are called ‘pushy’ and ‘aggressive’. Women do negotiate and the problem isn’t always them. (I’m not saying that everyone is great at getting themselves a raise, this is just what the sorts of studies that look in on this find.) It’s on bad employers who see this sort of discrimination as completely okay. They start them at lower salaries, they offer them fewer opportunities to be promoted, fewer bonuses, ect. Pinning this on the shoulders of women when it’s part of the culture (and a wrong culture, might I add) is called victim blaming. Bosses need to be targeted and told no, this is not okay. Women don’t need to go to self-help classes on how to get a raise as a woman. Their bosses need to be sent to that class instead.

        1. KAS

          This. And the worst part is that some women in upper management will support will absolutely support paying junior women less than men.

        2. Kiwi

          I completely agree.
          While it would be great if the western corporate was a “safe” environment in which women (and minorities) were able to negotiate remuneration as aggressively and directly as a man could, I recognise that this is currently not the case.

          The “talk openly” etc that I was referencing related to what we are doing here – discussing and debating the situation and what improvements need to be made. Often even bringing the topic up leads to eye roll, sighs and (on the internet) abuse. It’s great that this topic can and is calmly and safely discussed on this forum.

  1. thenoiseinspace

    Particularly appropriate after the New York Times firing hubbub. Alison, what are your thoughts on that…well, I hesitate to use the word “scandal,” so I guess I’ll go with “issue?”

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Well, my stance from the start has been that we really don’t have the information from the outside to know what happened there, so I’ve been annoyed by the claims that it was obviously about salary, when there isn’t enough evidence to say that.

      And then this came out this weekend, which I found pretty compelling, in part because NYT reporters aren’t known for just repeating the party line in regard to this stuff, so I find their support of this version of the story credible:
      http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/05/jill-abramson-story-reversed-this-weekend.html

      1. EngineerGirl

        You know what? It can be both. Would they have fired a man for the same breach? Yes, no, maybe. It’s hard to tell. I do believe women get jettisoned more quickly if they mess up, where men get 2nd, 3rd chances.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Agreed there — but I did find the rush to “it was because she asked for more money” in the immediate aftermath to be annoying, since no one on the outside actually knew that.

        2. OpsManager

          I work for a global company. It has been my experience that women hold roles of (elevated and equal) leadership with male colleagues, are provided equal compensation and performance packages, and especially in the areas of discipline and dismissal, HR takes care to ensure all practical means of improvement have been extended, encouraged, and documented. There is a hyper-sensitive attitude in place to avoid negative gender backlash and discrimination.
          “women get jettisoned more quickly if they mess up” has not been substantiated and in fact it is completely the opposite. Women would be given a 3rd and 4th chance in many instances prior to being dismissed. Usually, like males in the same situation, departments would marginalize and transfer a person to another area with lesser responsibilities.
          Even though I can appreciate the feelings expressed, and understand this issue can and does exist, it really comes down to the quality of the management and organization. In times when management and organization do not align with the laws of our country, there is legal recourse available.

  2. Denise

    Question relating to article: What is a new hire who has no experience is hired at a higher rate than you and you have 6 years experience and professional licensure (CPA)?

    I was promised a raise 9 months ago and followed up 3 times and on Monday was told a raise will be approved when the company has “its head above water”. This isn’t a good sign, is it?

    1. Denise

      I omitted- and he was no professional licensure. The firm really pushes the CPA license and new hires that aren’t licensed are pushed to obtain theirs ASAP.

      The difference between our salaries is substantial in my opinion- about $10,000.

      1. EM

        See Canadian Writer’s addition above — #6 – Your coworker is a man, and you aren’t. Sucks to be you!

        Seriously, that blows. Maybe a job search is in order.

      2. Tax Nerd

        Denise, this is a terrible sign. You have six years experience and you’re a CPA and you’re getting paid $10K less than a new hire with no experience and no credential (and who happens to be male)??

        GTFO. Now. This firm is taking you for granted, and stringing you along, in a terrible terrible way. Most firms have an unofficial (or official) policy that no one gets paid less than the people beneath them on the food chain. There might be differences laterally based on experience and/or performance, but a new hire versus a CPA with six years experience? That’s absolutely ridiculous. That they’d let it get to this, AND not deliver a raise promised nine months ago, in spite of three follow-ups? Either they’re not interested in keeping you, they really are suffering financially in a pretty dire way, or they’re a bunch of jackasses. Whichever it is, the answer is the same – get out.

        Check out the Robert Half salary guide and glassdoor.com. Some say that RH tends toward optimistic, but it’s got more data and methodology than your boss, who is currently pulling a bunch a crap out of his ass. (I’m presuming that whoever decided this is also male.)

        1. De Minimis

          Some of it also could be when you came on board, people who are hired during tough financial times often are always at a disadvantage as far as pay.

          I agree, time to leave. I’m curious actually if the firm is trying to encourage you to leave without telling you to do that outright. A lot of people with your experience and qualifications usually move on to private industry.

          1. Artemesia

            A good company will try to do equity adjustments for people in this situation. I remember as a manager giving 10% raises 3 years in a row to some subordinates who were very valuable and very underpaid after a merger. But this kind of disparity will always lurk and undercut compensation for those caught in this warp.

      1. Denise

        We had received over 70 resumes for the position and some were great- CPAs with 15+ years experience but the partners felt they’d ask for too high of salaries. My coworker has been employed with us for 3 months time. My tenure has been 4 years and I’d received a 1% raise about 2 years ago but had been advocating.

        I’ve received excellent performance reviews and actually have absorbed 30% of this man’s work plus 75% of another employee’s (she works part-time now). I don’t think there’s a hardship pay as our supervisors and clients are respectful, good people to work with.

        He may have negotiated better than me. I’m a little frustrated because I’d been advocating for a raise and 2 bosses promised a raise to me in August 2013 but haven’t followed through although I’ve followed up. I’ve requested an updated timeline for when the raise will be effective and and they’ve dodged the question- “we think your performance is excellent and agree you deserve a raise. We’ll revisit it in 3 months”.

        Then 3 months later “Um, you’re doing great and we’re committed to our employees. We’ll revisit this after Christmas”. They told me it’d be after tax season, which I understood as that’s a chaotic time and I’d figured they needed to review their budget. Please see above for Monday’s discussion.

        I don’t intend to sound so frustrated but it’d be a substantial raise and I’m getting a little impatient.

        1. EM

          Personally, I think you have every right to feel frustrated.

          My husband is a CPA and I can tell you, he would be royally PISSED if he found out a new hire with no experience/no license was getting paid more than him. Seriously, he would be beyond frustrated into “I’m Getting Out of Here ASAP.”

          One thing that I’ve read here often is to believe your mangers when they show you how they act. Your management has shown you that they are untrustworthy. Believe them. At this point, I wouldn’t be counting on any raises coming forthwith.

          1. bob

            I agree with the other folks who said get out as soon as it’s possible or feasible but something else to consider is your own psyche.

            You also don’t want to stick around so long you get angry about the whole issue and, what would bother me because I’ve been through it, is getting pretty resentful about lost money you can’t get back.

    2. Malissa

      There may be more more in the budget for new hires than raises.
      Well no matter the case, go try to be a new hire some where else. And don’t forget to negotiate the salary. ;)

      1. Denise

        I never considered that possibility about there being more in the budger for new hires than old employees.

        I’ll definitely negotiate salary at my next position. :)

        1. Artemesia

          And if the research is any guide, you msy find that negotiating which works so well for your male colleagues actually gives you a black mark.

          Sexism is woven into the process.

    3. maddy

      yea, I agree, get out now. they dont value you and are just making empty promises. someone will pay you what you are worth.

      1. Denise

        I just wanted to thank all for the advice offered. It’s greatly appreciated. My resume and cover letter are going to be updated this weekend when there’s more time to carefully consider my revisions and updates to both.

  3. Stephanie

    The AOL Jobs stock photos never fail to amuse. Good article, Alison.

    I think my last job just matched everyone’s previous salaries, which led to some disgruntled discoveries.

    1. thenoiseinspace

      Stock photos (and the memes they spawn) in general amuse me. Yesterday I saw that “woman laughing alone with salad” has spawned “salad laughing alone by itself” with carnivorous plants.

        1. Lizzy

          I love the other version of that: women laughing alone with salads. Unfortunately, every time I eat salad alone, an onset of laughter rarely ensues.

      1. Mints

        Heh have you seen the Family Guy bit “You’re more generic than the stock photos on a corporate website” cut to stock photo “We’re college students attentively listening to our professor…but class is taking place OUTSIDE??”
        Someone with access to YouTube right now can probably post the link

  4. C Average

    I make more than my peers because I was brought on with not just the job title, but the designation of “subject matter expert” in a specific line of products we deal with. The SME designation indicates a higher level of knowledge and carries some decision-making powers. It also carries an obligation on my part to keep that knowledge current. Certain colleagues of mine have salary add-ons based on SME credentials in various areas. It’s not necessarily common knowledge among our colleagues, but it’s why we make more money.

  5. Brett

    Your co-worker went to the same elite all-male Catholic high school as the hiring manager, and you didn’t.

    Do employers have the same obligation to prevent ethnic disparities as gender disparities? Does it matter if the disparity is only across a specific job class and not the entire organization?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Anti-discrimination laws apply to any protected class (so race, sex, religion, etc.). If everyone of Race X gets paid more than Race Y for the same work, there’s a problem. That’s true whether it’s organization-wide or team-wide (as long as the team is large enough that it truly appears to be race-based or sex-based or whatever). If your team is 2 people, it’s much harder to show that.

      1. fposte

        But in, say, Chicago terms–Irish-Americans vs. Polish-Americans? Does that count as racial discrimination in employment law?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Great question. I think it would (just like discrimination against white people still counts as discrimination under the law), but the law is about “national origin,” so I’m not sure.

          1. Katie the Fed

            I think it might apply. From the EEOC:

            “National origin discrimination involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).

            National origin discrimination also can involve treating people unfavorably because they are married to (or associated with) a person of a certain national origin or because of their connection with an ethnic organization or group.

            Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same national origin.”

            1. fposte

              I think you’re right there; I hadn’t realized “national origin” could mean your grandparents. It seems like it should, since it’s birth-level prejudice and can result in considerable discrimination, so I’m glad to see that it probably does.

        2. Juli G.

          +1 for Chicago terms. It does seem like the one place where there’s a lot of distinction between white people.

          1. Jamie

            Can you elaborate on this during the next open thread? I’m fascinated by this kind of thing and being from the Chicago area I’m really interested in your take on this?

            And a big +1 to fposte’s reference. Speaking as a local of both Irish and Polish descent you learn early to read the room about whether it will be more helpful to mention that grandpa hailed from County Cork or the frustration of doing genealogy when no documents has a Polish name spelled the same way twice. (German is the final ethnicity in my encoding, but that’s never been helpful even once. The clannish sense of being “my people” just isn’t the same.)

            And I’ve never found any of this remotely helpful or a hindrance in job hunting or hiring. Ethnicity has always been completely irrelevant ime in the workplace with the exception of paczki day – the assumptions people make about ethnic affinity to horrible donuts filled with slipperiness is annoying but not offensive. :)

            Although on a serious note it’s good to know that it’s protected if people would use it to discriminate against others – because it couldn’t be less relevant.

            1. sunny-dee

              The German thing probably doesn’t help because, ironically, it’s the most common ethnic group in America. Something like 1/5 of the population is part German.

              1. Jamie

                That’s so interesting – I would have guessed Irish but Google told me you’re right. :)

                Although the Irish come in at only 5% lower being the second biggest group and just wearing a claddah is enough to strike up a conversation and a little bonding, so some of it might be cultural as well.

                On topic – I would imagine discrimination based on ethnicity (as opposed to nationality) would typically be a non-issue for those with statistically significant numbers.

      2. Brett

        I was wondering ethnicity specifically, e.g. Mexican-American versus non-Hispanic White or versus Cuban-American.
        (Assuming everyone is still the same national origin).

        I can probably be specific here. In my workplace (based on Fisher’s tests), there is no statistically different pay between white employees and employees of other races, if you included hispanic white employees.
        But, non-hispanic white employees are paid considerably more (30-50% more for the same credentials, with a strong statistical significance) than hispanic white employees with the same credentials. The difference between non-hispanic white employee pay, without hispanic white employee pay, versus all other employees has a p < 0.01 statistical significance. But the difference is only ethnicity, not race or national origin.

        1. fposte

          Latino has been treated as a race in discrimination cases. One problem is that “race” isn’t a very specific term, so it’s dependent on cultural use; I’d argue it’s very much a de facto race in the US as well as apparently de jure.

          1. Mints

            I’d say that Latino is an ethnicity, not a race, but maybe I’m just being pedantic

            1. fposte

              The problem is that race doesn’t really mean anything beyond what a culture chooses it to mean; there’s nothing scientific behind it, and it often means the same thing as ethnicity. Fortunately, the EEOC has apparently dealt with the issue in a way that makes it not matter what is or isn’t a race, so my contention is moot.

              1. Mints

                That makes sense. I think the law should be the same about racial discrimination or ethnic discrimination.
                I think I’ve just seen too many “But you don’t look Mexican/Cuban/Peruvian/etc. You’re too white/black/Asian looking.” We (latinos) can look like anything

                But I’m distracted from the main point, which is that it didn’t matter legally

          2. Jessa

            Especially since a lot of places see anyone with any kind of Latin@ look/name as being possibly illegal/less smart/whatever the stupid heck they discriminate against lately. There’s a strong bias there that’s very much ethnic/racial. Any time you can easily clump a group together around looks/accent/family name(s) you’re getting pretty much into some kind of possibly actionable discrimination.

  6. Midge

    What role should market research play in negotiating for a raise? I used it to negotiate a starting salary (at a non-profit cultural organization) that is just about the median for my job in my region. My supervisors are great about praising good work, and they frequently let me know how valuable I am to my department. So at performance review time should I point to the market research as part of my argument for a raise? As in, I do x, y, and z that make more valuable that the median salary. Or do I just point to x, y, and z but leave the market research out of it?

    1. Malissa

      I would leave market rate out unless you are getting paid less than market rate. If you are getting paid at market or above you’ll be telling them that they can essentially hire someone else for less money than you want. So you’ll want to play up what you’ve accomplished and what extra skills you’ve acquired to make you awesome at your job.
      Now if you are getting paid less than market, then you’re letting them know that you are worth more and you can go find better compensation else where if they don’t consider your request.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Exactly. You can use it if you’re below market rate, but otherwise it’s not going to be useful in constructing your case. And either way, you want your contributions to be the biggest pillar of your argument.

  7. Artemesia

    One thing that really bothers me when people dismiss the sexism including the Abramson case is that research has shown that when women negotiate hard, they tend to be devalued and later seen as difficult even if they succeed at getting the higher salary. When men negotiate hard and are successful, they are viewed as ‘winners.’

    I encouraged my daughter to negotiate for a major position where they had announced a range and then were trying to hire her near the bottom of that range when she had good experience and skills. She succeeded in getting a hiring bonus — but subsequently was clearly treated by the rather dysfunctional boss as a ‘difficult person.’ (She is anything but and has never had that problem before or since in the workplace)

    Pushy women are pushy; pushy men are ‘take charge’ and ‘winners’.

    There is a legitimacy to being demanding when you are a man in the workplace and not that same legitimacy to being a woman and making similar demands. I have observed this in both University and business settings.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      In terms of general trends, yes. In terms of individual instances, it varies (as with any generalization). But yes, overall, that’s the broad trend.

      The Abramson case had other factors at play (see the article I linked to above). I look forward to the day when a woman can get fired and it’s clearly just because it made sense to fire her.

      1. Artemesia

        I agree that Abramson is tricky. But having watched a string of less than fabulous high paid men at the Times prosper including a publisher who only has the job through nepotism, I am inclined to think if she had been he that this would have played out differently.

    2. sunny-dee

      In my own experience, it is very much industry-dependent. When I have worked with very masculine industries, ironically enough, I have *never* had issues with being seen as high maintenance or pushy or aggressive. Ever. The men I worked with very much respected confidence and were willing to argue and disagree. That was true when I worked directly with software engineers, guys in HVAC maintenance, and the medical industry.

      When the nature of my work changed and I started working with people in marketing, writing, and support roles, that was ENTIRELY different. Simply pointing out that something needed to be redone because it didn’t meet spec (in those terms!), was considered “nasty,” “mean,” “harsh,” and “unpleasant.”

      I work primarily with men in all industries, but the artistic and people industries are far, far more likely to label women negatively than ones in hyper-masculine industries. I think it’s a confidence thing.

      1. Chinook

        “I work primarily with men in all industries, but the artistic and people industries are far, far more likely to label women negatively than ones in hyper-masculine industries. I think it’s a confidence thing.”

        I think my experience has been the same. The more blue collar men I have worked with only shut up and stopped their sexist remarks once they realized that the woman in the room can match them comment for comment and toe for toe. It is like they are looking for your weakness and, if you can prove that you don’t have one (in the same way the the guys claim they don’t), then they accept you as one of them and think nothing of it. I think they do the same with any new guy but, as a female, I will never observe this because, by being in the room, I inherently change the atmosphere (I think Margaret Meade referred to this issue when doing her socialogical observations – you can’t be an invisible witness because your mere presence affects the outcome).

    3. maddy

      yup- I negotiated my starting salary and was told I was being too pushy and aggressive. but when my male coworkers negotiate their starting salary theyre seen as a go-getter. i just dont get it… and it comes back to bite me at every performance review– “we would give you a better raise but you were already given a higher starting salary…”.welps, thats exactly why im leaving this toxic and dsyfunctional work place. it makes me angry everytime I think about it.

  8. r

    While I understand that the reasons listed are legal, I do wonder how they have become known as legitimate. I know it’s the norm to pay employees differently based on when they were hired and how they ask for raises– but is that the best way to handle compensation? Why aren’t businesses reevaluating pay based on the new market or providing raises to employees based on merit vs negotiating skills? Note thay I’m not taking issue with your characterization, Allison, just trying to understand why this has become widely accepted!

      1. Ruffingit

        Or not believing they will stay but KNOWING it because the job market stinks. When it’s an employer’s market, it’s a lot easier to get away with these kinds of things.

  9. ali

    My coworker (we are on a team of two), was promoted and given a raise at the same time I was this year because I asked for a raise. Our manager decided that since we do the same work, my coworker should get a raise too. He had also just gotten a raise last year to the same level I was initially hired at two years ago.

    I have 20 years experience and a Master’s in the area we work in. He has 5 years (plus 2 as an intern) and no degree at all. As much as this might bother me, I do kind of have to give kudos to my company for rewarding the same work with the same pay. It just kind of makes me wonder why I wasted my money on a Master’s (and BA for that matter) and gathered all that experience if I could have just done it without.

    1. AnotherAlison

      Lol. . .you are the flip side of what I just complained about below.

      (In my situation, we both have engineering degrees and MBAs. It’s really just the number of years that differentiated us, and I was firmly at mid- to senior- anyway.)

      In your situation, is there higher level work you can take on that he can’t that might set you apart?

    2. EngineerGirl

      The degree shouldn’t matter – it is all about the work. That said, if your degree lets you take on more complex work or a higher level of autonomy then you should get more money. So go in with the complexity and autonomy statements, not the degree statements.

      1. Ann O'Nemity

        I agree. Sometimes this goes beyond job title and description. Sometimes one person on the team gets stuck with the most difficult assignments. Or one person is better at picking up new skills and helping colleagues get up to speed. Etc etc. Even though the title is the same, the work may not be a 100% match.

        1. ali

          We really do almost identical work. and we’re held to the same standards/bonus qualifiers/etc. There are some things he’s better and faster than me at and there are some things I’m better and faster than him at. In terms of the jobs we do, we really are equally matched. My degree gives me a better understanding into what our customers need than he has, and my experience gives me the ability to work on some legacy stuff that he doesn’t have the skills for – but those things are few and far between rather than the norm.

          Like I said, I’m really okay with us being paid equally for equal work. It just makes me feel like “why did I bother?” sometimes..

          1. EngineerGirl

            It sounds like your compensation is correct. If you want more money you’ll have to find a way to use your degree more.

    3. LQ

      I had a similar response when I got a raise a coworker of mine did too. I would argue that what she and I do is substantially different. (I do a lot of big picture problem solving, design and development of new tech tools, she mostly does edits with content others have written inside those tools.) But for the organization they see the two of us as the computer people and so they gave us the same title and pay.

      In the end I kind of decided that hey I’m going to drag her up the ladder with me and I’m ok with that. But I had that same little bit of very mild annoyance. Overall I’d rather this situation.

      1. ali

        that’s exactly it. I’m okay with him coming up the ladder with me – and he completely knows that I’m the whole reason he got the raise and promotion this year and even told me “thank you”. I’m just mildly annoyed by it. It could be a much worse situation.

        1. KrisL

          From the company’s point of view, paying people based on what they do and how well they do it seems like a good idea.

  10. AnotherAlison

    The most frustrating situation I lived through was a coworker who had more experience (today: his 30 yrs vs my 15 yrs) & was hired for a higher position than me, but we ended up doing the same work after a painful couple years (we are now parallel, reporting to the same manager). I never learned his salary, but considering he was initially hired to be my boss, I assume it was a lot more. He was really supposed to be much more senior than he ended up being, due to his extremely quirky personality and some reorgs.

    I think I’m paid at market value, and I’ve had regular salary increases, so I never felt there was room too complain, but I always felt he was probably overpaid. He was doing a 10-yr experience work that didn’t require 30-years of experience. Can’t exactly go ask my bosses to reduce a coworker’s pay, can I?

    1. EngineerGirl

      If he is overpaid he’s at risk for layoff where you aren’t. And probably no raises either.

      1. AnotherAlison

        Why do I care? Because it would be effing nice to get a director salary for doing analyst work.

        Beyond that, he’s very difficult to work with I get the lion’s share of the work requests from the executive team. I wouldn’t say I do more work, but I’m the one who is sending memos to the CEO, because he can’t write a concise executive summary (we’re an Fortune ~250 size company). I like having that kind of visibility, and I’m happy with my salary, but I don’t think it’s good corporate policy to keep an overpaid guy in his position because of ??? when he’s not really doing the job he was hired to do.

        1. AnotherAlison

          (Also. . .not to beat a dead horse, but now that I’m on a roll, I’m getting fired up. . . .

          What is Mr. HighPay doing when he’s not doing the job he was hired to do? Well, lately, he has been doing some data ENTRY and internet research, adding projects to a database. That’s not even analyst work. That’s clerk work. I think all the data entry clerks out there would like to make a six-figure salary.)

          1. JustMe

            If there are legitimate issues with his work, should the focus really be on what he’s getting paid? Should it not be on his performance and an issue for your managers to address ASAP? If he were making less than you and his performance was subpar, would you be ok with that?

            I’m in an industry where contract employees, when/if they turn full time often come in above my level and get paid way more. All this though I was there longer, and know more about the systems/company. A good manager isn’t going to stand for subpar work from an overpaid employee; it eventually works itself out.

            1. AnotherAlison

              There are not really issues with the work he does do, but these are just not the assignments he should be being paid to do. That’s the issue. His performance is fine for the analyst work he does, but his job is supposed to be director. No one has made that adjustment on paper. I mentioned the management issues in another post. And honestly, if he was making less and was subpar, in some cases I would be fine with that. NOT if subpar means making errors that affect company outcomes, but if subpar means comes-in-at-9-leaves-at-4, and his pay is a lower rate than mine, fine. His pay reflects his behavior.

              As for the contractor game you mention, that’s how it works in places I’ve been, too, but the contractors take the risk of not getting a F/T position that most of us won’t take and get paid more as contractors so need higher incentive to go F/T regular. The long-term, full-time employees are more risk averse, and our pay reflects it.

      2. EmmBee

        Because when you’re on the same team as someone who’s not a high performer — or even a mediocre performer — it’s damaging to everyone, including the company.

        Because when more junior people like my staff are busting their butts and turning in excellent work, it’s unfair to see him sauntering away, sloth-like, at the end of the day, having done nothing productive.

        Because if he were new on staff, he’d be fired for poor performance.

        Because there are many projects my team can’t do because we don’t have the bandwidth — and we don’t have that because someone like him is taking up space. (literally 100% of his work has mistakes. literally 100% of his work gets redone by someone else so that we don’t all look like idiots.)

        Seriously — when it’s a long-term problem like this, it’s SO damaging. (In my case things are looking up, because there’s now a case against him, but it took years.)

        1. AnotherAlison

          “Because if he were new on staff, he’d be fired for poor performance.”

          My guy is no longer new, but the problems were evident from the start. (I was actually here for years before him, but in a different role.) The problem was someone who was a VIP was involved in his hiring. I don’t know why that continues to be a problem, but that’s how he has hung on so long. The VIP of course never worked with him on a daily basis.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule

      I work with a guy who essentially got demoted. They gave him a pay cut to go with it, so that does happen.

      1. AnotherAlison

        That’s good to hear. My team has a problem. . .our staffing decisions get micromanaged from the executive board-level. Oh, the ridiculous stories I could tell.

        If all goes well this week, this will not be a problem I’m directly affected by much longer. Fingers and toes crossed.

    3. EmmBee

      This sounds like me! It’s so frustrating! The man I initially reported into is — sad to say — not very capable. I surpassed him and now have a higher title, a bigger team, and of course don’t report to him anymore (we report to the same manager). I do literally three times the amount of work he does. He’s very poorly thought of here.

      BUT I am willing to bet he makes much more than me, considering he’s my father’s age and has been here longer. It’s ridiculous. I’m well paid but I can’t entertain the thought that he makes more than me; we could replace him with a coordinator and get more, better work out of that person at 1/4 of the price. It’s SO upsetting.

  11. Anonalicious

    When you know the only way to get a legit raise to market value, or to more than what the new hires are getting, is to leave the company and come back, it’s time to do the former and forget about the latter.

  12. Ann O'Nemity

    #7 You received an internal promotion, while your co-worker was an external hire.

    AKA your company’s stupid policies have capped the pay increases for promotions with no regard for market rates.

  13. TV Researcher

    Oooh… this happened to me. I had been at my entry level job for about a year and a half and was talking to someone who held the same position as me (assistant to director of development), but started a year after me, and found out that she started out at a salary about +28% more than me. Needless to say, I was not pleased. Particularly because in my mind, I had more experience than my co-worker, as she was literally just out of school, whereas I had nearly three years of office/other type experience.

    The next day I went to my boss and somewhat coherently laid out the situation. And, I’m glad to say that they brought me up to parity that week. What it showed me was that I clearly undersold myself when I initially accepted the offer, though in my defense, I was moving coasts and really, really needed a job.

  14. Mike C.

    There are a few things that employers could do to deal with these issues.

    1. Be transparent about your pay policies. Stop illegally punishing/intimidating your employees never to discuss their own salaries with other coworkers. This has been illegal for what, 80 years? Knock it off.

    2. Have concrete policies as to what a given position pays, and what certain characteristics affect that pay – things like position, location, merit/performance, experience, skills/education, time with the company, overall department/company performance, hazard/odd schedule pay and so on.

    Having policies like these ensure that equal performers are paid relatively equally based on mostly qualitative measurements. It means employees know what they have to do to earn a certain amount. It means you aren’t discriminating against protected classes. It means you have a solid business case for why a particular person is paid the way they are, and you don’t have to waste your time trying to have an argument. It means you avoid losing good people because they feel like you’re dealing in a shady manner.

    1. MT

      couple of issues:

      On the first one, i never discuss my salary with my co-workers. What I make is my business. Every time I have changed jobs, I have negotiated perks with each company I work with.

      On the second one, if there are ranges within each title, there will always be people on the upper end of that title and the lower end. Each of my last new jobs, I’ve started in the upper max for the title,I have to negotiate for other side perks, since I agree to move when ever and I have been placed at undesirable locations to start out at.

      1. CanadianWriter

        I always discuss my salary with my coworkers; that’s how I know the men are making more.

        1. MT

          not meant to be an arguement, but personal curiousity. Have you ever tried to quantify why they make more?

          1. CanadianWriter

            Sure, but I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer. Let me give you an example.

            Entry level job, 25 new hires. All brought on at the same time. Fairly equal mix of men and women.

            Every woman got $10.50/hr, and was told it was non-negotiable. Every man got $12.50/hr, without having to negotiate, that was just what they were offered. (We all shared our pay stubs and contracts so I am 100% sure of these numbers).

            The official explanation was that the men had more experience. Some of them were fresh out of high school but still qualified for the man wage, while women who had relevant experience weren’t worth that much money.

            If that isn’t a large enough sample size for you, I also asked the next new hire class how much they made (another 25 people) and it was the exact same scenario. Yes, I’m a nuisance.

            Not everywhere is that bad, thankfully, but when it happens, it can be pretty obvious.

            1. MT

              I guess you have 3 choices, you can pursue them in court. You can chose to work someplace else. Or you can chose to do nothing.

            2. Mike C.

              Make an anonymous report to your local labor board. That’s incredibly blatant discrimination right there.

            3. fposte

              Just checking–you’re not a contractor, are you? In the US, that would get you out of EEOC territory.

              Otherwise, I agree with reporting this.

              1. CanadianWriter

                No, I wasn’t a contractor at that job. This was a couple years ago – the labour board was useless, unsurprisingly. I have a new job but I feel sad for the women who still work there. :(

                1. Chinook

                  “This was a couple years ago – the labour board was useless, unsurprisingly. I have a new job but I feel sad for the women who still work there. :(”

                  That is too bad but they weren’t the last place to go. My comment is in moderation with a sample link but you could have made a complaint to your provincial human rights commission (and may still be able to). Being a contractor is not an excuse – Timmy’s isn’t allowed to charge different amounts for their coffee for men and women and vendors aren’t allowed to charge different amounts for work provided by the different genders.

            4. Chinook

              “Every woman got $10.50/hr, and was told it was non-negotiable. Every man got $12.50/hr, without having to negotiate, that was just what they were offered. (We all shared our pay stubs and contracts so I am 100% sure of these numbers).

              The official explanation was that the men had more experience. Some of them were fresh out of high school but still qualified for the man wage, while women who had relevant experience weren’t worth that much money.”

              I am guessing from your name that you are in Canada. If you have the proof, you need to report this to your provincial labour board or, if you are federally regulated, the federal labour board as this goes against the Employment Equity Act. You can also choose to go to your provincial Human Rights Commission (here is an example of the Alberta site: http://www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca/publications/bulletins_sheets_booklets/sheets/protected_grounds/equal_pay.asp). Things like this cannot be changed if no one speaks up.

              1. CanadianWriter

                Thanks! I wish I’d known about that before. :( I don’t have proof anymore but now I know for next time.

      2. Mike C.

        1. Your salary stops being “just your business” when your employer starts paying people different wages based on things like protected class. Look up Lily Ledbetter for a great example of this. Having a system where compensation is calculated by the criteria I’ve listed above prevents those issues.

        And great, you talk about what a great negotiator you are. Many men who do that are often considered “go-getters” while women receive labels like “pushy” or worse. So either you’re a guy, or you’ve somehow been able to avoid that sort of crap. There’s no good business reason for compensating one individual more than another within similar productivity/skill sets/merit/etc. If you let someone get something extra without a quantifiable reason, you end up killing the morale of everyone else.

        2. The issue here isn’t that people aren’t being paid the same, the issue is that there isn’t a known, quantifiable reason for that difference. All those contingencies you’ve mentioned are things I’ve listed as reasons for pay to differ. The key here is that the policies apply to everyone in the same way.

        1. MT

          The problem with having a super tight policy is that it can hurt a company in the long run. If you are trying to fill a position, and you have one candidate that is leaps and bounds over all of the other candidates, and is a perfect candidate, except that they want the 1 year salary position versus the new hire salary. Would a strict policy force you to accept a candidate that wasn’t your first choice? If you hire that person at the higher rate, can you afford to give everyone in the department and equivalent pay raise? Going with your first choice you may be able to afford that extra $1000 a year, but not the $30,000 to give everyone a raise.

          1. Mike C.

            By “1 year salary position” you mean “The small amount of extra money for being around a year longer than someone who’s just come in” or something else?

            Going with the former here. In my mind, all the other things that make that particular candidate great should more than make up for any small token given to employees who happen to stick around. I never said that criteria should be weighed equally after all, some are way more important than others. If they’re really experienced or have a great skill set or whatever, you’re already paying them more for that.

            The fact is, the criteria is set such that you know what particular characteristics are worth to your business. If someone wants more just because, then they’re asking for more than you find them to be worth. At that point, why would you continue to pursue them if they’re going to cost more?

            More likely the case is that numbers haven’t been updated (bad!) or for some reason despite careful analysis you find a particular candidate worth more than a business case justifies. Then you have to ask yourself “why”. And if that means raising pay elsewhere because you already have employees similar to the candidate in question, then that’s the best decision for the business in the long run. If you don’t, similar employees are going to feel cheated and leave.

            1. MT

              It’s not the employeer to make everyone feel warm and snuggly inside. Business should be allowed to pay what they want. Companies will decide what makes the most sense to them in terms of pay. If the employee is not happy then it’s their right to leave. Forcing a company into a super tight pay policy just to make existing workers feel happy may or may not make good business sense.

                1. Mike C.

                  The problem is that when compensation is decided on qualitative “we think this is fair just because reasons”, it leads directly to bias and discrimination against protected classes. That isn’t a problem solved by “well the employee can just leave”. Given the amount of damage this does to the economy and society at large, what is gained by perpetuating these sorts of practices? Why is the absolute freedom to pay any employee any wage with no quantitative justification and no transparency so valuable?

                  Look, under my system, companies still decide what to pay. They just have to apply the same standards to everyone. That’s not “super tight”, it’s a responsible long-term way to run a company, reduce turn over, increase morale/productivity (“feelings” as you put it) and prevent illegal discrimination. The only thing it prevents a company from doing is being arbitrary and possibly discriminatory.

              1. Jessa

                It is however somewhat the duty to pay fairly. Which means everyone doing the same thing with the same demonstrable qualities gets paid similarly. There needs to be a genuine reason to pay two people differently. And it should not be down to the fact that a lot of people in protected classes are coming into the job at the disadvantage that if they negotiate they’re being pushy. Also if for some stupid reason the company bases pay on prior pay then you have people in protected classes that are at the immediate disadvantage of having been paid less than they are worth.

                1. MT

                  Thats the disconnect, as long as there is not discrimation, there is no duty to pay fairly. The duty is to make sound business decisions.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Yeah, there’s no duty to pay fairly in the legal sense. You could argue there’s one in the moral sense, but I’d even disagree with that — your duty as an employer is to do what’s best for the long-term interests of your organization, without harming other people.

                3. MT

                  ignoring illegal discrimination. Ignoring long term company impacts, sometimes short term is all companies care about. Employees are responsible for determining what their time is worth. If you want to build 2 houses, one contractor says I can build you a perfect house for $3 and a second contractor says I can build you a perfect house for $4. If you hire both contractors to build one house, did you harm the $3 contractor buy also paying the $4 contractor?

              2. S.A.

                I find it ironic that your comment is the reason in my area why people are fleeing my city like the Titanic.

                The employers are lazy, incompetent and want to drive Cadillacs and BMWs all while employees have to apply for food stamps. I’ve personally recorded a threat against my life and safety by a former employer and the police where I live are so useless they IGNORED the recording I played in front of them. Could I afford a lawyer? Not when they’ve been bought off by all the employers and a corrupt city council.

                What’s left you ask? Leave a sinking ship that offers no real living wages. A city can’t survive without a workforce.

                If you don’t care whether or not your employees are happy then you don’t care about having a company for long. Toxic and hostile work environments will kill a company inside of a month. With the connectivity of today’s workforce you could be looking at a boycott if you piss off enough employees. I’ve personally persuaded people to leave that company and helped three employees leave it. They’re going down in flames and the exact idiotic reasons you defend are why.

                Don’t want to pay an employee what they’re worth and the employee knows it? Want to harass employees and pay the men too much for not doing their job? Take away employee vacations while you and your slutty wife have one every other month? You just opened your back door to some serious bad Karma boy. There is not one good person willing to go to that company and they’re in it with the IRS now because SIX former employees have decided they’d rather see their employers in jail than take them to a corrupt court.

    2. Brett

      Our org publishes all of our salaries and has rigidly strict policies on pay. We still have incredibly bad and possibly illegal discrepancies in pay.

      When you make your policies rigid, you have no way to correct for performance, hiring markets, and other such issues. So even when you find out that someone was hired at dramatically lower pay because they did not negotiate effectively, there is nothing you can do about it. A big reason for this is that performance is one of those aspects that can be very difficult to characterize as strict policies unless you have positions like sales which have precise metrics.

      And what ends up happening is that soft factors become more important in the areas where there is latitude. Hiring managers unconsciously or even consciously offer more to people who come from common experiences and similar backgrounds (and look like them). Those hiring differentials become baked in by the rigid policies, and you end up with systematic discrimination, even if unintentional.

      1. MT

        If my company ever published what everyone makes, i would be driven from my facility with pitch forks and torches. Technically I am not part of the faciltiy so everyone but head honcho assumes I am at the normal supervisor level, but in truce I am just slightly below the head hancho. In both pay and title rank.

        1. Brett

          We’re legally required to publish. This causes some resentment, but no one has been driven out with pitchforks :) Although sometimes people get skewered by the media.

        2. Mike C.

          This is just crab bucket mentality – you’re not the one setting wages, your employer is. They should have to answer for the policies they set, not you.

      2. Mike C.

        There’s no reason to make policies so rigid that you cannot account for things like performance or particular locations; I even mentioned those two specific things as good reasons why pay might differ.

        Look, I will agree that it’s not a silver bullet, but you’re still a step ahead of the typical workplace – you are aware that discrepancies exist, and their magnitude.

        There are still problems with qualitative evaluations, I completely agree. But the idea is that the downsides are muted in the face of the qualitative portion of a particular salary.

    3. Jamie

      1. Be transparent about your pay policies. Stop illegally punishing/intimidating your employees never to discuss their own salaries with other coworkers. This has been illegal for what, 80 years? Knock it off.

      It is only illegal to prohibit discussion of salary for those covered under NLRA.

      From the DOL website:
      Excluded from coverage under the NLRA are public-sector employees, agricultural and domestic workers, independent contractors, workers employed by a parent or spouse, employees of air and rail carrier s covered by the Railway Labor Act, and supervisors (although supervisors that have been discriminated against for refusing to violate the NLRA may be covered).

      Supervisors are protected from retaliation for refusing to violate NLRA, but they aren’t protected if they discuss their salaries against the directives of their employer.

      There is an article on NPR.org about it where it gives a quick breakdown. And the wording is very specific about it protecting “concerted activity.” Gossiping or complaining isn’t protected – you need to be engaged in concerted activity to see if there are issues and/or addressing issues with the employer or under the exploration of forming a union.

      It’s more complicated that saying it’s illegal to prohibit discussing salary at work – not everyone is protected nor is every instance.

  15. MT

    Number 4 is probably one of the biggest drivers in the pay difference. If even there isn’t a big productivity difference. If one people is getting a 3% raise every year, and someone is awlays getting a 2%. After 5 years, the first person is now making 5% more than person then second person. And that is only if those two people started out at the exact same wage.

    1. MT

      It also becomes tricky when dealing with people from other departments. The two departments may have a different allocation of raises. Two people may hold the same title, and have the same productivity, but what i’ve always seen is that each department gets to set how they distribute the merit raises.

  16. Hedgehog

    “*The exception to this is if you have a reasonable suspicion that sex discrimination is at play. If that’s the case, case you’d want to consult with a lawyer to help figure out the best way to proceed.”

    I get why you’d want to consult a lawyer if you believe sex discrimination is at play in a salary discrepancy, but isn’t that true of any type of legally-protected-class discrimination? Or is there something specific about gender discrimination that I’m missing?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes, but we were talking here specifically about what to do if your coworker makes more than you, so it’s directly relevant for some (not all) people in this situation.

      1. Hedgehog

        Right, but isn’t consulting with a lawyer appropriate if a coworker makes more than you and there’s evidence of any sort of protected class-based discrimination? Or is there a reason why you specify sex discrimination?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Oh! Because I messed that up :)

          It was on my mind — I started writing this originally with a hook about the Abramson story and then took that out. You’re absolutely right.

  17. LD

    I work as a business analyst in a position that is filled by people with a large range of ages and experience levels. After the first 6+ months on the job, analysts are assigned projects that are generally equal in terms of size, complexity etc as the more experienced people. We have the same job responsibilities and managers, and are generally supposed to be interchangeable on projects as needed. Of course those with 5 years of experience have more background and skills than those with 1 year, and are given higher salaries. My question is that the difference in pay between the younger and older analysts can be as much as 50K or more. Does it make sense that coworkers in the same role and same duties can make such vastly different salaries? We are external contractors at a large company for some background

    1. AB Normal

      “My question is that the difference in pay between the younger and older analysts can be as much as 50K or more. Does it make sense that coworkers in the same role and same duties can make such vastly different salaries?”

      Yes, if your more experienced BAs produce more quantity and quality. I’ve been in this situation until recently (and was the BA earning 50K more than the junior ones). In my case, management would assign the projects with more risk / visibility / complexity to me. They’d also get more quality than junior BAs would produce (I know because on top of doing my job, I was asked to guide / review the work of those BAs.) While my requirements were done on X time and with 99% of the information the developers needed to build the solution, the more junior BAs would take 2X time and require a lot of back and forth because 30-40% of the information was missing, and there was time wasted with questions being asked and answered as the developers went through the documentation.

      So in my case, the company was very happy to pay more for a more experienced / skilled BA, and less for other BAs with less experience and aptitude, who could get the job done in less complex projects even if it took more time and had lower quality.

  18. Clever Name

    I have a coworker who basically hates me (more than one coworker told me this), and I think part of the reason why is that I make (or made- maybe he got a raise?) more money than he does. What he failed to consider is that I actually have more overall industry experience than him, and I have a relevant MS that he does not have, AND the job he was hired for pays lower than what I was hired for. He just saw that one area where we overlap he has much more experience than I do and that got his panties in a wad. Oh, and I negotiated when I was offered my job. Knowing this coworker’s personality, I’d guess that he did not negotiate at all.

  19. Snarkus Ariellius

    I appreciate this article, but I’m concerned that instead of explaining pay disparities, it provides reasons for employers to pay whatever it is they want to pay no matter what.  The article assumes that employers start with these reasons and pay accordingly, but I think it’s the other way around: employers prefer to pay one person more money or they don’t realize their bias until it’s brought to their attention and BOOM now they have some reasons here for them to justify it.

    I’ve written here before about the joke of “budgetary reasons” for not giving someone a raise or not paying for something.  Ultimately, similar to relationships, you purposefully allocate time, energy, and resources towards the things you feel are worth those efforts.  And if you don’t feel like someone is worth the raise (either because his work is shoddy or her gender or you’re having a bad day), this world is full of a bajillion reasons for you to legally justify that.

    Ask any worker who requested a raise, gotten rejected because “budgets are tight,” and then watched the higher ups get a fat bonus or expense some costly, unrelated bill. 

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I guess I’m confused about how this is different from what I’m laying out in the article. If they want to pay you more or less, it’s usually because of one of the factors I wrote about. That includes just liking someone else’s work more or caring more about retaining someone else.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius

        I don’t think that initially setting salaries is that calculated.  Somewhat yes.  But I believe that many employers may be charmed or strongly persuaded by some candidates to pay more for no particular reason or employers have deliberate or inadvertent biases about a particular demographic and they dole out or reduce pay accordingly.

        How else do you explain women who are paid less than the men who report to them?

        In other words, this article assumes the reasoning occurs *before* the first paycheck is issued.  I believe these reasons crop up as an *after*thought to justify disparate pay when called on it.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Women are paid less on average because they negotiate less often and less strongly and because some employers assess their worth as lower. But on the employer side, the reasons they have in their heads, both first and afterwards, are the ones in the article. VERY few employers think “Oh, I’ll pay her less because she’s a woman” — even if that is in fact what’s happening.

          1. MT

            Are you saying the reseasons that you have listed are valid reasons or just an after thought to justify the pay difference?

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I’m not saying they’re an afterthought to justify anything. I’m saying they are sometimes the actual reasons.

              Whether they’re reasonable or not is a different question. #4 and #5 certainly are. #1-3 could be or might not be, depending on the context.

          2. Kiwi

            There is a certain “damned if you do, damned if you dont” involved where women who negotiate hard are sen as too pushy and not “team-players”, whereas men who negotiate in the same way are seen as hungry go-getters who will be an asset when negotiating on the other side of the table.

            Sheryl Sandberg made reference to this in Lean In and suggested (albeit with regret) that women need to consider tempering their negotiation style so as not to put the managers’ backs up. Sad, but sometimes true.

            In my profession, I am able to see what everyone in my organisation is paid. It’s amazing to see more senior women paid less than less senior men (including senior women who also see what everyone is being paid – but still try and fail to negotiate more) and ethnic minorities being paid much less than ethnic majorities in similar roles.

            I’ve also seen the occasional internal non-minority male promotion being paid significantly less than the previous person in the role. Just because the company can.

            Often there is discrimination involved… but sometimes the company and its managers are just dorks.

  20. S.A.

    I’ve found that the cancer in my area is the “Good Ol’ Boy System”. Anything with testicles gets a higher pay rate than a woman because of the backwards thinking in a patriarchal society. Ironically more women are networking with other women, starting businesses and graduating from college with more advanced degrees than men are. How can companies not take advantage of this in a good way?

    Instead it’s a nasty war against women in the workplace that makes no sense to me. Not all women want children, to get married, and dare say I will run my own company someday. Men aren’t treated poorly for the same ambitions but I’ve been treated like a monster. Apparently their pro-business campaigns have been only for male-run companies.

    I recommend that the ladies stay out of Texas. I’ve gotten closer to the border and I want to be north of the Mason-Dixon line this time next year. Preferably in a place with water and four seasons instead of two. :(

    1. Maggie

      It’s sad that we’re still discussing children when the topic of equal pay comes up. *sigh* But yes, I get what you mean. We are a DINK family, although you wouldn’t know it by what is in our checking account. Ha.

      1. Judy

        My worst boss would actually mention that since my husband and I were both engineers, it must be nice to have all that money. One time he mentioned that right before giving me my 1% raise.

        I’m sure he was out there fighting to get me a larger raise. NOT.

  21. Mavis

    I’m a woman. Last year I learned that a man who reported to me and had a lower performance rating than me earned $30,000 more than me a year. And he received a slightly higher bonus.

      1. Mavis

        Yep. And then I took the counter offer – 40K raise and 100% increase in bonus. There are other factors that make my current job worth keeping (for now).

  22. Ellie

    This could not have come at a more appropriate time. I’m a woman, co-worker is a man. We both got bonuses recently at the non-profit we work at… mine was $150 and his was $250. We work in the same office and do the EXACT same job. I was so insulted I didn’t even say thank you or cash the check! I don’t even know what to say, if I should say anything.

    1. AB Normal

      I would definitely ask, in a neutral tone (as opposed to showing I was frustrated or upset), about the reason I got a smaller bonus.

      Unless an objective and accurate reason was given (e.g., the co-worker produced more reports / closed more donors or volunteers / submitted more suggestions to improve the organization that resulted in process optimization / etc.), I’d be very demotivated and starting to look for a new job immediately.

  23. Befuddled Squirrel

    Approprite timing for me too. Our HR department just decided to become transparent about everyone’s salaries and benefits. They’re not going to literally post people’s salaries, but they will post the formula they use to determine them. It’s going to be really obvious what everyone makes.

    I’m intensely curious about how this is going to turn out. They’re going to announce it at one of the upcoming company meetings, and I’m one of the few people to know about it in advance.

    By the way, I work closely with a male co-worker who is far less experienced but extremely competitive and a smooth talker. He does sloppy work, but he excells at making himself look good so he gets a lot of recognition and opportunities to work on special projects. One day he actually bragged to me about how much stock they had given him and how it was four times what everyone else gets. I kept my mouth shut and pretended to be impressed. It turns out I’m far better compensated than he is.

  24. Smilingswan

    I wish people could just be open about their salaries. I have discretely asked people in the past (who are at the same level as me) if they would compare salaries with me, and no one ever wants to. It boggles my mind. I’m not asking to be nosy, I’m asking so that we can figure out if we are being paid appropriately and fairly!

    1. Stephanie

      Yes, this! I will know intimate details about a friend’s love life, yet not have the foggiest idea what her salary is.

      Problem is, salary is tied to value/worth and it’s hard to find out that society places a higher value on someone else.

  25. Sophia

    I just started a new job about a month ago and yesterday a man, whom I knew from my previous job, was hired too. I found out today that he is earning more than me to do the same work as me. He is a bit older than me (I’m 21 and he’s about 30), but at the last place we were working, my job was higher up than his.
    Would he be getting paid more at our new job because he is older? Is that legal?

  26. Sophie Andrews

    I work in Higher ed, I have worked in higher ed for more 10 years. I started at a private college for 7 years and now currently at a community college for the past 2 years. I truly have a great track record and really good work ethic.

    I do such good work, I was given international student recruitment. In 12 months I increased international enrollment to the college by more then 50% (started with 19 enrolled, now 48 enrolled). I was also asked to develop a plan for a student retention program (my passion) and in 60 days I had a plan. It was presented to all the required department deans, and ultimately the president’s council. It was approved by the president’s council and was implemented last fall. I developed the first ever International student policies at my college. Worked with Marketing to revamp the international student website among other projects.

    There are 3 staff members in my department and last spring. two of the most senior staff members both left the college. I was left to absorb all their work including mine and I never complained once. THey got me an intern with NO training, she was useless. I asked for a small stipend and was told NO!

    Then a few months ago they 2 more staff members, one male (no higher ed experience, however with with colleges as a liaison to his company). I recently found his salary more that $13,000.00 more than I do, yet I have more work and is much busier. I love this job endlessly, but I am quickly realized I had move on…I work to remain positive every day, but dammit, it is hard!

    Thank you

  27. ffg

    I’m a guy and I really hate if my sisters get paid less than what they deserve because of their gender. I believe that everyone should be rewarded based on their performance and achievements that brought profits/benefits to the company. Two of my sisters are very talented. They do get fair salary though – based on the average salary everyone can get in their respective fields and works. I don’t know but I think in Malaysia the salary difference between a man and a woman isn’t too big in gap. Maybe in some companies but I’ve never had any female friends complaining they didn’t get as much pay as their male colleagues. Yeah, some do rant about their income but not after comparison to their male colleagues.

  28. sue

    I found the paystub of my co-worker on the company printer. He makes 33% more. We do the same job. How do I approach my boss?

  29. Destiny

    I just found out that someone in an entry level position makes $3 an hour more than me. I have a big problem with this being my position holds more duties and responsibilities, not to mention I am her superior and I had to work my way up to this position from that same entry level positon and I was started off at a less amount, what can I do ?

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