a pay disparity in my office is causing a drama-filled crisis

A reader writes:

Two people got hired for a small new engineering job in our work, a supervisor/engineer and an engineer. They’re both quite young (in their mid-late 20s), and both were interviewed at the same time. One, a woman who I’ll call Debbie, has about 7 years of experience. The other, a bloke I’ll call Dave, has 2. In the interviews, they discussed wages. Debbie was interviewing for the supervisor position, and agreed to £26k (the lower end of the pay band they advertised). Dave negotiated much more forcefully, because he was leaving a place which already paid him £35k and gave him great benefits, so they got him to sign up at about £40k. Debbie is his manager, older, and has more experience and more responsibilities, so realistically she should be paid more, but it’s all flipped around.

(We all found out about the pay later on, after this all kicked off. Normally pay is considered very private).

This wasn’t a problem until about 8 months later, when one of the Debbie’s friends joined the company and started working in finance. She noticed the massive pay disparity and told her, and Debbie took it very, very badly. She stormed into her manager’s office and complained how unfair it was. Her manager told her she had signed a contract and just had to deal with it.

After that was the really awkward bit; she stormed into the cafeteria at lunch and confronted Dave, who hadn’t known. She demanded he help her increase her pay. He couldn’t, and told her that. Then she demanded he agree to lower his pay to less than hers, and he laughed in her face. When she realised he couldn’t help, it really upset her and she burst into tears in the lunch room, surrounded by a bunch of very awkward people. Dave did go and talk to her manager, but he didn’t get anywhere and wasn’t willing to take a pay cut.

Dave’s a good worker and a decent person, he has a good relationship with the regulators, gets work done on time and to a good standard, but in the past he’s made a point of being quite mercenary with his work, only working to the word of the law and not working overtime unless it’s paid. He can come across as quite cold, but he always tries to be professional.

The office is in a kind of turmoil now, I’m friends with both of them. Debbie is really upset, her work is suffering and her relationship with her manager has disintegrated. On top of that she’s really upset and stressed at home, and she cries a lot. The management isn’t raising her wages and is just trying to carry on like nothing happened. In the meantime, Dave is getting a lot of flak for laughing at Debbie and not surrendering some of his pay to her. A lot of people now really dislike him and think he’s being selfish. He doesn’t really care (he’s always maintained a clear work/life distance), but he’s still quite upset and stressed about what’s happening, in an emotionally closed off kind of way. On top of that, Debbie’s friend in finance is now looking like she’s going to get sacked for telling Debbie in the first place, and she’s really upset.

What the hell do I do? (I’m a friend of Dave, and an work friend of Debbie. I work under Debbie, but in a different team than Dave.)

Well, you don’t really do anything, because this one isn’t yours to solve. You don’t have the ability to intervene here; Debbie is your boss, and you have no control over anyone’s pay.

Lots of people made mistakes here, starting with your company when they messed up Debbie and Dave’s respective pay.

To be clear, there are situations where a manager could reasonably be making less than someone they’re managing (in I.T., for example, you sometimes see this happen — it happens when the market for the skills of the staff member is tighter than the market for the skills of the manager). But based on what you said at the start of the letter, that doesn’t sound like the case here. It sounds like your company simply lowballed Debbie because she let them, or overpaid for Dave — but probably the former.

Of course, Debbie bears some responsibility here too, for not understanding the market worth of her position and (apparently) not negotiating. But the company bears more responsibility — it’s in their best interests to pay people fairly if they want to retain good people.

But Debbie has handled this horribly. Storming into her manager’s office rather than calmly and professionally making the case for a raise? Complaining about how “unfair” it is, rather than making an actual case based on merit? Confronting Dave in the cafeteria? Demanding that he help her get more money for herself, or that he agree to a lower salary himself? Making this kind of scene over a salary that she was presumably perfectly content with before learning what someone else made? That stuff is ridiculous, reflects really poorly on her, and I’ve got to think is going to destroy anyone’s ability to take her seriously, especially the people she’s supposed to be managing.

And now engaging in what sounds like a long-term snit over the whole thing? That’s a pretty good way to get herself fired, so you’ve got to wonder what she’s really going for here.

And yes, her managers are mishandling this too. They should sit down with her, discuss the pay situation, and make it clear that — however the pay situation is resolved — they need her to behave pleasantly and professionally at work, as well as work to repair the credibility with her team that’s probably pretty tattered right now. They shouldn’t be letting this play out as a public drama that’s obviously impacting people all around her (like you and Dave).

So there’s lots of blame to go around here. (And we haven’t even gotten into the friend in Finance who abused the confidential information her job gives her access to.) But the one who’s behaving the worst is Debbie — this is the kind of behavior that gives someone a reputation that’s hard to shake.

Look, sometimes unfair stuff happens. Often it’s awfully unfair. But you just don’t handle it this way. You address your concerns calmly and professionally, and if you’re this upset about the resolution (or lack of resolution), you move on — you don’t stick around behaving like this and shredding your own reputation.

{ 593 comments… read them below }

  1. UKAnon*

    OP – firstly, many sympathies. This sounds like a horrible situation to be stuck in the middle of. You say that you work under Debbie, so it might help you to escape the drama if you keep some stock phrases to hand and practice them to be ready in the moment – “I’m sorry about that, but I wanted to talk to you about X”, “It’s a tough situation, but what I wanted to say was…”, “Actually, I just came to talk to you about…”

    You also say of Dave ” A lot of people now really dislike him and think he’s being selfish” yet you also say that Dave seems to do good work to time. If you’re friendly enough with him, I’d personally be inclined to stamp on that attitude a bit when you come across it – “Actually, I’ve always found Dave to do really good work and I don’t think he’s overpaid, but it’s really not our business” – but otherwise, I would keep well away from all of this mess.

    Best of luck sorting it all out! I’d love an update if you could send one.

    1. AW*

      That’s a good script but Id leave out the, “and I don’t think he’s overpaid” because it’s still discussing the thing that’s none of their business. Better to not weigh in on that at all if you’re trying to get people to stop talking about it.

      1. Folklorist*

        Maybe laughing in her face was a little insensitive, but I’m one of those people who would have thought she was joking if she came in and demanded I take a pay cut (but then, I can be insensitive sometimes too!). It sucks, but his salary has no bearing on hers. But for people to be villainizing him at the office when everyone else’s behavior here was so bad…really?! This entire office seems completely off-kilter!

        1. De Minimis*

          I’m wondering if it might have been more uncertain laughter….I know sometimes when something is awkward and I don’t know how to react I sometimes laugh.

          1. Sospeso*

            Same! I’ve been trying to quash laughing – or more commonly for me, smiling – as my default response to things I am feeling ambiguous about… but it’s tough.

            1. Folklorist*

              YES!! I do this so much, and then people look at me and coldly ask, “why are you laughing?” to a situation that I hadn’t read right. It was especially bad when I was in the service industry and a customer would rudely make a request that was so absurd I thought they were joking. I’m getting better about not doing this, but definitely guilty of it.

          2. MaryMary*

            I’m a nervous laugher. I’m training myself out of the habit, because it does not come off well when you’re having a difficult conversation with someone and giggle nervously.

          3. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I would probably have laughed out of shock and uncertainty, too, which I tend to do. A former coworker once snapped, bursting into the office first thing in the morning, pointing her finger at everyone, and saying, “Don’t any of you people f*ck with me today!” I laughed right in her face, purely out of shock, before I could even think to stop myself, so she stuck her finger right in my face and said, “And that means you, too!” (picture the witch, Dorothy, and her “little dog, too!”).

            1. Anon Accountant*

              I started laughing when reading this. “Don’t any of you people f*ck with me today”! is something I’m sure many of us would love to say but wow.

              Thank you for the Wednesday afternoon laugh.

        2. Chinook*

          I wonder if, when Dave laughed in Debbie’s face, if it was an evil “I got you good” laugh or when of disbelief or shock because how on earth could a subordinate a) influence their manager’s pay b)be blamed for what a manger makes or c) be asked to reduce their pay solely because they make too much in the mind of their manager. Isn’t the power over pay rates held in the manager’s hands (if not their manager’s)?

          I am curious, too, about what anyone’s reaction would have been if he agreed and marched in to payroll to insist that a % of his pay went to directly to Debbie. And what would stop any other manager from doing that to any other employee for whatever reason they want? If I heard that this happenned, this would be one of the few reasons I would quit and look elsewhere because, frankly, I have just been shown that no one’s negotiated pay was safe from a jealous manager.

          1. Sospeso*

            Now I am imagining variations of that evil laugh. Each one is based on a cartoon villain, because I don’t have many real-life experiences to pull from. My guess is it was a laugh of disbelief or shock.

            1. Jaune Desprez*

              A laugh of disbelief or shock would be my guess too. I once saw a woman laugh when she was told that her husband’s cancer was terminal. She didn’t think it was funny. She just couldn’t believe it.

        3. esra*

          I’ll be honest, I would’ve laughed too. The request is just so outside of work norms. And it wouldn’t even help. Like, no, I won’t take a pay cut so you feel better.

          As people have said, what’s the guy supposed to do? Tell management to give the money to Debbie? Cut her a cheque every pay? It’s ridiculous.

      2. Liz*

        Except for laughing at Debbie, which was at best insensitive and at worst extremely disrespectful to his manager.

        1. Adam V*

          Given the oddity of the request, and the audacity of asking him (in public) to do such a thing, I completely understand it. Yes, it’s unfortunate, but I can’t say how well I’d react to such a request either, so I don’t blame him for it.

        2. Adam*

          Since we weren’t there we can’t tell if he was laughing at her because of the difference in pay (possible) or in response to her absurd demand that he lower his pay for her benefit (seems more likely in my opinion).

          If I were in Dave’s shoes I would have done my best to be polite and firm during this situation, especially since a manager making such an outlandish demand of one of her reports (in public no less!) is about as disrespectful as you can get. But if she kept pressing in with this ridiculous behavior eventually in mind she’s going to waive her right to 100% social civility on my part.

        3. LBK*

          If someone told me to take a $10k pay cut I’d probably laugh at them too, especially if being confronted in a public and aggressive manner like that. That is an absurd request.

          1. Retail Lifer*

            Same here. While it’s easy to SAY it’s the wrong thing to do, in that situation I might have done the same thing.

        4. Nea*

          If my manager told me I had to slash my salary almost in half because the manager was a poor negotiator, I’d laugh bitterly too.

        5. Mike C.*

          As much as the pay disparity bothers me, I would have laughed as well. This isn’t a zero-sum game and Dave doesn’t set his own salary.

    2. Bill*

      I think Debbie’s lack of demonstrated professionalism goes a long way in showing why she’s paid less.

        1. Folklorist*

          Yeah, the salary and contract were negotiated way in advance. Sure, Debbie’s not reacting to this well at all, but it’s a reaction to being paid less, not the other way around.

          1. Hotstreak*

            I don’t think Bill’s pointing the causal arrow from acting unprofessionally in this instance towards having a lower salary, but rather that her overall lack of professionalism is a cause of both, and her recent behavior highlights the underlying issue.

            1. Bill*

              Bingo! Just because she has “more experience” only means she’s worked longer in that field. Doesn’t necessarily mean she knows more. I’ve seen kids come right out of college with a better demeanor and more courtesy that 20+ year veterans. Personality plays a big part of it. Throwing hissy fits barely even works for toddlers. It’s plain embarrassing when adults do it.

              1. MK*

                I ‘m not buying this. Whatever her actual worth as an employee may be, the company hired her for a supervisor position.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’m absolutely willing to believe that that could the case. We know very little about Debbie, but what do know reflects really badly on her judgment and behavior. It’s hard for me to imagine that she’s otherwise a paragon of great work and professionalism. You just don’t see this kind of thing from people who are.

              1. RS*

                Quite frankly, AAM’s response to this situation is disgusting. And the way everyone is desperately clinging to their “just world” fallacy — if she is paid less, she MUST be worth less — is pathetically predictable. Not because there is an overwhelming history of women being underpaid for their work, especially in technology. Nope, let’s blame the victim. She must deserve to be treated like dirt.

                I’m not at all saying she handled this well. But if I’m honest, I can understand her frustration and how helpless this situation must make her feel. It’s in part her own belief in a “just world” that’s been shaken. That the company she works for cares about her, values her, and compensates her fairly for her time: they don’t. That women are being treated and compensated more fairly now than in the past for their work: not likely.

                AAM’s victim blaming response is essentially the same as people who believe that unarmed black teenagers shot by police must have been doing something to deserve it. True, Debbie has not handled this situation well at all — but she’s been let down in a profound way, and exposed to the ugly underbelly of capitalistic sexism. And she has zero power to defend herself. Now you all are using her reaction to being profoundly let down, to justify its existence. Gross.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  No one has said (that I’ve seen) that if she’s paid less, she must be worth less. They’ve said it’s one possibility. And it is. There are other possibilities too.

                  You’re doing a disservice to yourself and others to act as if there’s only possible explanation here or that there couldn’t possibly be other factors at work; we simply don’t have enough information to know.

                2. Nonniemoose*

                  To compare saying that an unprofessional attitude a) is usually consistent over time and b) will contribute to a person being paid less to EXCUSING MURDER is ridiculous. “Victim blaming” has a specific meaning. I can’t believe you consider it appropriate to use people’s deaths as ammunition in an internet disagreement.

                  To use your wording: gross.

                3. Melissa*

                  Given Debbie’s experience I’m assuming that she’s an adult, and I think it’d be weird that her “just world” beliefs and idealistic views towards company pay would just now be shaken. The news about the pay gap – and how it has persisted into modern times – is quite ubiquitous; it’d be naive to think that I, as an individual woman, wouldn’t be affected by that. I can understand her frustration, but why she somehow thought that was Dave’s fault (and, even better, that Dave should do something about it) is beyond me.

                  Also, who is this everyone you are referencing? One person before you said that her lack of professionalism could *possibly* be a root cause of both her behavior here and her low salary, since a lack of knowledge of professional norms might have resulted in her not knowing her market worth and not knowing that she was supposed to negotiate her salary. No one has said anything like her being worth less.

                4. Amanda*

                  This is a very delayed response to an old post, but I just want to point out that acknowledging that someone getting paid less may be justified and apologizing for the murder of unarmed Black men is absolutely inappropriate.

                  I agree that women are often underpaid in comparison to men, and a large part of that is because women DON’T negotiate their pay as hard as men do (I say this as a woman). But your analogy is completely out of line. There is no evidence to display that Debbie is being “treated like dirt”, and being underpaid is terrible but not equivalent to being murdered in cold blood. You need to reevaluate where you’re coming from and really think about what it is that you articulated here. It’s not OK.

                5. DJ*

                  This might be the over-reaction of the month.

                  You have no idea what kind of employee Debbie is, other than that she is OK behaving in ways that are so far outside the norms of what is acceptable workplace behavior that it is quite frankly laughable. Asking your direct report to cough up part of his paycheck to make you feel better? In what universe?

                  Additionally, I see lots of comments about this being sexist, and how the firm is engaged in some sort of conspiracy where they are intentionally paying women less money because they’re women. If that was true, they’d can Dave, hire a woman, and pay her less as well.

                  While setting up pay-bands with such a large disparity between report and manager is far from good policy, the only thing we can objectively say from this entire debacle (Assuming all details of the story are true and nothing pertinent has been left out), is that Debbie is off her rocker and has just found out that throwing tantrums doesn’t really get you anywhere.

            3. Marcela*

              Saying you do not earn more due to your lack of professionalism is BS too. There can be many reasons for it, sure, but it’s very low to blame us and question our professionalism, because our (male) coworkers earn more then us. Her behavior afterwards is completely out of place, but it wasn’t a factor in her salary.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think there absolutely could be a connection. Someone who thinks this is a reasonable way to behave isn’t going to be a high performer. She’s just not. If I’m wrong, I should shut down this blog and never opine on management issues again, because this is like an article of faith to me; it’s so central to what I know to be true.

                1. ComputerGeek*


                  I think Debbie should have been fired almost immediately for her outburst. I also don’t understand why Loose Lips in Finance wasn’t walked out immediately, either.

                2. The Strand*

                  You don’t work with actors much, do you? In some creative fields, you absolutely have people flying off the handle who are strong performers on task (though in Debbie’s case, she’s a manager; and I can’t imagine a good manager behaving this way: I agree on that), in part because the environment tolerates that kind of behavior, or sees it as complementary to their getting their creative work done.

                  Likewise, in certain technical communities, people could behave very brusquely and unprofessionally while doing well at the core of their job but get a write off because “Well, he’s an engineer… Well, she’s a programmer, what do you expect?”

                  I could also imagine someone who is under a lot of outside stress or dealing with an illness having difficulty controlling their emotions after learning about this kind of disparity – in other words, where it’s uncharacteristic or very specific behavior you’re seeing.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Ha, no, I don’t work with actors, and believe me, that’s intentional.

                  But Debbie isn’t an actor or an artist. She’s an engineer and a manager. This isn’t acceptable behavior.

                4. Sunshine*

                  “Someone who thinks this is a reasonable way to behave isn’t going to be a high performer.”

                  True words.

                5. Rachel*

                  I’m not sure we have any reason to think she thinks this is a reasonable way to behave. Just that she has reacted this way in this case. I’ve known a few people who have had- well, a lot of other things suddenly crop up in their life – a divorce, some mental health issues, any and all of the above- and then some precipitating event just manages to hit all their buttons and send them off the deep end and they’re no longer being rational, often in ways that would have (and will, when they’ve evened out again) horrified them.

                  This is a not a defense of her actions. As a friend of mine says, “you’ve got to own your shit.” You’re still responsible for yourself. But it doesn’t seem impossible to me that this has come out of nowhere.

                  And I have trouble with the reasoning that they’ve paid her less because she’s unprofessional. If she were that unprofessional, I have trouble imagining that they would have hired her in the first place. God knows the UK economy isn’t exactly a job seeker’s market.

                6. JW*

                  Does anyone else here question why a company allowed a superior with more responsibilities (claims the OP) to be paid almost half as much as her subordinate?

                  Sure, she handled the situation poorly and she is obviously a terrible negotiator. But this company should be disgusted with itself allowing for that much wage variation considering she has more responsibilities than him.

                  Maybe I’m being naive, but I do think that should be a responsibility of the company.

                  I say that Debbie take a breather, calm down, and go apply for a job somewhere else and negotiate for the salary she’s worth.

        2. E*

          Perhaps it simply reflects her lack of understanding of work environments. She didn’t negotiate as well on her salary and now she also doesn’t seem to understand that her reaction just isn’t done at work.

        1. Melissa*

          Sure, but it doesn’t apply here. Bill wasn’t saying that her professionalism caused this problem, much less that it *had* to have; they could both have a joint cause (e.g., be symptoms of some larger problem around work).

          Besides, people always say correlation does not always mean causation, which is true. But sometimes correlation does mean causation and we don’t know it yet. Debbie’s lack of professionalism is absolutely a potential cause (perhaps one of many) of her lower pay.

      1. copperbird*

        It isn’t good and she should have managed it better, but it is genuinely shocking as a female engineer when you realise just how sexist engineering workplaces are. It is completely common for women to be paid less than men, and this is a particularly bad case because she is managing him.

        I’ve had my moment of bursting into tears while arguing for a raise because I’d just found out how much more than me some of the male engineers who weren’t in any way as good as I was were making.

        What she should do is hand in her notice and go find a job that won’t make her this upset.

    3. Observer*

      I’d leave out the “I don’t think he’s overpaid” bit, too. On the other hand, I might point out that expecting anyone to take a pay cut because someone else is underpaid is rather ridiculous.

    1. Hotstreak*

      My reaction exactly! At first I felt bad for Debbie, but after reading the way she reacted, she sounds like a bit of a mess and I question whether her work is not up to par, too. As far as Dave goes he probably shouldn’t have laughed at her, but if someone asked me to take a pay cut to make them feel better about themselves, I might have a hard time taking it seriously.

      1. cuppa*

        Agree with you on Dan. If I had no idea all this was happening and then I was approached in the cafeteria? I’d probably laugh, too. Not saying it’s the best response, but it’s understandable.

      2. ella*

        Even if it was up to par before, if I was Debbie I would have a hell of a time finding the motivation to continue working at the same level I had been, knowing how underpaid I was (I realize this is an entirely unprofessional reaction and I would do my best not to give in to it, but being honest, that would totally be my reaction).

        1. Adam V*

          You do your best because they’re going to call this company up someday and say “hey, do you remember a Debbie who worked there? How was she as a manager?” and you don’t want them to respond “oh, she was fine… until one day she got upset about her pay, and after that her productivity dropped significantly until she quit”.

        2. Observer*

          I hear you. but what’s going on goes way beyond not keeping her work up to par. The idea of even asking, much less demanding that someone take a pay cut because you are underpaid id outrageous and so ridiculous that there is simply no way to justify it. And the rest of the drama that she seems to be bringing to the office is also way over the top.

      3. Sans*

        It’s not Dave’s fault that Debbie is underpaid. It’s absurd that she thought he could help get her a raise and it’s a million times more absurd that she expected him to take a pay cut to help her. And it’s a billion times more absurd that apparently there are people in the office who actually agree with her and think Dave should take a pay cut. (And if someone approached me and expected me to take a pay cut to help them, I might laugh, too. Because it’s a crazy, crazy request.)

        Debbie can be mad at her manager, at HR, at her friend who told her, and definitely at herself for not negotiating — but none of this is Dave’s fault. He didn’t demand they take the money out of her salary to meet his demands (as she is). He just negotiated what he felt he was worth, and did a good job of it.

        Doesn’t matter whether people like Dave or Debbie better. No, you can’t do anything about the situation, but I would push back if I heard people expecting Dave to take a pay cut, because that is ludicrous.

        1. fposte*

          Right–none of this is a Debbie vs. Dave thing, and she’s wrong for framing it that way, and people shouldn’t be accepting her framing. The pay problem is an issue between her and management.

      4. The IT Manager*

        Yes. At first I was feeling sympathy with Debbie, but that fled the moment she went bat shit crazy And by that I mean went to her subordinate about something that can only be resolved with her management, asked her subordinate to take a 16,000 pound (that’s $23,000!!!) cut in pay because of “fairness,” made a scene in public. I understand why she’s upset, but the steps she’s taking to resolve the problem are completely unprofessional.

        So I am with Alison. Do not engage anyone at work about this. “That’s management’s decision.” “That’s between Debbie and her manager.” etc. (“It’s above my pay grade” is probably an inappropriate comment given the situation.) Since you say you are friends with Dave, you might suggest that he develop some similar stock phrases.

      5. Jipsy's Mom*

        I would absolutely laugh if someone asked me to give up part of my salary to give to them to create parity. It’s so ridiculous, that would be my first reaction…even if I felt badly for them. For Dave to be called selfish for refusing to do so? That whole place is messed up.

    2. Is This Legal*

      “Prisoner’s dilemma”

      Here is the issue, you get paid what you ask for, I get paid for what I ask for, which we can assume it’s what we’re worth. These are mutually exclusive situations. Society will always have a problem if we try to compare. It’s called “behind closed doors.”

      Are you happy with your salary regardless of what someone else makes? If yes then ignore the rest and focus on your job. However, if you are not happy with your salary, negotiate on your own merit. You don’t know what someone else put in to be “worth” what they received.

      1. Artemesia*

        Since women are often punished for negotiating and lowballed when they don’t, I think this approach is unnecessarily smug. The company really screwed up when they lowballed Debbie while at the same time paying Dave lots because — well it is hard to not assume it is because he is a man as well as that he negotiated. Do we really think they would be paying Debbie 15K more if she had ‘just asked for it?’

        I know women who have been treated badly by managers after successfully or unsuccessfully trying to negotiate for higher wages at entry. They get the reputation of being b@#$s just for doing what men are expected to do. There are examples of women having jobs withdrawn when they tried to negotiate. So women are damned if they do and if they don’t.

        Yes Debbie has behaved badly. Yes, she is hurting herself. And it boggles the mind that she thinks that Dave taking less money somehow makes her whole. BUT she still got screwed by this company as so many women do in this catch22 employment situation.

        1. Chinook*

          “Do we really think they would be paying Debbie 15K more if she had ‘just asked for it?’”

          But that’s just it – we don’t know. Dave played hardball, Debbie didn’t. Dave took the risk of looking too aggresive and having his offer revoked. Debbie took what was offered and was happy until she found out about Dave.

          While it is true that there may be sexism at play, the reality is that there are not enough data points to tell if this is a trend or just the result of two different personalities dealing with the same situation of negotiating.

          1. Cimorene*

            You can’t compare the risk that Dave took to the risk that Debbie took, though. When women negotiate, it’s a huge risk; that is not true for men. For men, it’s just a small or normal risk.

            1. Connie-Lynne*


              Debbie’s behavior after finding out is thoroughly inappropriate, but women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. A supervisor _offered_ 65-75% the rate of one of their team members at the outset smacks of deliberate lowballing on the company’s part.

              Her company could stand to take a page from a number of companies that are actively trying to do away with pay inequity through greater transparency or other deliberate moves.

              1. The IT Manager*

                You don’t know this. In fact the letter makes it sound like Debbie and Dave were interviewing at the same time so Debbie’s salary could be determined before Dave’s was.

                Perhaps company offered Debbie 26K (on the low end of the band) expecting Debbie to negotiate up and she didn’t. And then Dave was offered less than 26K, but he came back with I make 35K right now with great benefits so I’ll need more like 40K to take this job.

                1. Cari*

                  That is how it reads tbh. Unless the supervisor job isn’t that involved, and doesn’t require the same level of work or more as the engineer position, it seems a bit odd that the original salary wasn’t in a higher pay band to that of the engineer job when they interviewed…

            2. DJ*

              Um…Says who? What (other than your opinion which you’ve boldy stated as fact) do you have to support that when women negotiate its a “huge risk” as opposed to a “small risk” for men. You don’t even know the relevant details here for you to be making such a long-winded assumption.

              Heck, lets be charitable and assume your slightly nonsensical assumption regarding gender and risk is true. What if Dave is a minority? Or disabled? Or obese? Or has red hair? Do these also affect his risk level? Please, oh arbiter of all things risk related, please let me know how these various permutations will affect his “small or normal” risk?

        2. fposte*

          But it really is quite likely that she’d have gotten more money if she’d negotiated. Yes, the system works against women and sometimes they’re not liked as much if they negotiate, but ultimately there are pretty reasonable indicators that negotiation gets them more money.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            She would have received more money, but probably not more than Dave. The pay disparity is just too great. They offered her 26K to Dave’s 40K. That means that Debbie would have to negotiate a 50% increase without incurring any social penalty. That’s unlikely.
            The company pay bands are way out of whack if they allow this kind of disparity, especially in engineering. First line managers are usually the technical expert, which means that Debbie not only has supervisory duties but is also the technical lead.
            In know that AAM said that Debbie is mostly at fault in this situation. I strongly disagree. The company is the one that is most at fault for allowing this kind of discrepancy exist. And now all the other women will be questioning their pay. And all the honest people will be questioning a company that refuses to correct a great wrong based on a “technicality” (contract).
            I hope someone turns them in to the pay commission, because their going to have a hard time explaining that kind of pay differential.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Yup, I’m with you, EngineerGirl. While Debbie reacted (very) badly and has done serious damage to her reputation, it’s the organization that created this situation… and likely did so due to conscious or unconscious gender discrimination. That’s what I’d be worrying about if I worked there. Sucks.

              1. Megan*

                Super late here, but I wonder if it’s possible that the people responsible for hiring were different between the time of Debbie’s hiring and Dave’s hiring? That might account for a lot.

            2. fposte*

              I’m not suggesting that negotiation would have been enough to make up the difference here, though. I’m responding to repeated mention of the negotiation penalty women are known to suffer by pointing out they lose a lot more by not negotiating.

              I don’t disagree with the fact that negotiating gets held against women differently, but I really hate letting that stand unopposed as the last word on the matter, because that ignores the greater penalty of *not* negotiating–and because it supports the tendency toward risk aversion that a lot of people hang onto ferociously because of how safe it feels even when it hurts them.

              1. Elizabeth*

                So you’re saying that the penalty of a reduced salary is worse than the penalty of a job offer being withdrawn? Because there are reports of the latter multiple times in the comments on this thread, which mirrors what I’ve seen in almost every discussion of the subject.

                That makes no sense to me. Women routinely risk having the entire offer withdrawn when they attempt to negotiate. That’s a fact. I’ve yet to see reports on the same scale for men in any discussion of the subject.

                1. fposte*

                  Yes. I’m seriously saying that research about women making more money overall if they negotiate outweighs individual anecdotes about women getting offers withdrawn.

                  *Everybody* risks getting an offer withdrawn, for any number of reasons. Unless you’ve got some basis beyond anecdote for claiming that there’s a high chance–not some chance, but a high chance–of women, and women only getting an offer withdrawn if they try to negotiate, I’m sticking with stating that not negotiating hurts women more than negotiating.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Agreeing with fposte here, strongly. There is not a high chance of having the offer withdrawn. There is a very low chance. It is absolutely not happening routinely.

                  I am worried that the attention paid to this (which is a good thing to have attention paid to) is causing people to dramatically overestimate the likelihood of it happening and its impact on women overall, and as a result causing them to draw really wrong conclusions about what’s in their best interests.

                3. fposte*

                  What’s kind of interesting is that I was going through the scholarly literature to see how much research I could find, and a lot of it is buried info in studies that show men get bigger bumps than women do when negotiating. Yes, but women still get a bump from negotiating. Way to bury the lede, researchers.

                  Sure, not every single woman in every position. But overall, there’s demonstrable advantage there. I feel like these negotiation penalty stories are the equivalent of plane crash stories. Yes, planes can crash, but that really doesn’t mean driving is a better idea.

                4. DJ*

                  “Women routinely risk having the entire offer withdrawn when they attempt to negotiate. That’s a fact.”

                  Care to site that “fact?”

            3. Steve G*

              I like your comment but I have to ask why you think that she shouldn’t make more than Dave. At past co, we had an energy/building systems/HVAC/building commissioning engineering Dept (in NY) and people 2 years out of school made about $60K, but someone 7 years out of school would making about $80K (about 50K pounds).

              People 2 years out of school were VERY limited in the type of tasks they did. They tended to be assigned energy rebate applications and building walkthrough/note creation. They definitely weren’t worth the same as a more senior engineer.

            4. illini02*

              I don’t know that a contract is really a technicality. If a company hired you on contract, then realized they are over paying you, would YOU be ok then taking less money? A contract is a binding agreement, ,that she signed. If you want to say it was bad faith, fine, but its definitely not a technicality.

            5. Melissa*

              Alison was saying that Debbie is mostly at fault in the entire situation, not the pay disparity. She was mostly referring to Debbie’s over the top behavior in response to the pay disparity.

          2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            This doesn’t mean that sexism isn’t still in play – the company may be equitable while the broader society is not. Women are socialized to be more agreeable and complacent, which leads to many women being less comfortable negotiating. This isn’t the company’s fault, but IMO a truly laudable company would keep an eye on salary vs. gender to directly counteract this society-wide sexism. For example, they might do an audit every five years comparing salaries of women and men with comparable levels of experience and responsibility to make sure there wasn’t an across-the-board disparity, then adjusting raises accordingly if there was.

            A moderately-reasonable company might not go that far, but would look into raising Debbie’s salary if she approached them reasonably. However, it doesn’t sound like she approached them reasonably *at all*, which has become its own problem. If I were Debbie’s manager, my top priority would be getting Debbie to understand that involving other people in this has to stop at once. After that was settled, we could come back to the salary issue.

            1. DJ*

              “Women are socialized to be more agreeable and complacent, which leads to many women being less comfortable negotiating. This isn’t the company’s fault, but IMO a truly laudable company would keep an eye on salary vs. gender to directly counteract this society-wide sexism.”

              I couldn’t agree more with your first sentence, and less with your second. Asking a business in a capitalistic society to engage in social engeineering to redress social wrongs that have not been cause by said business strikes me as naive at best.

              If society as a whole is doing women a disservice by asking them to hold their tongues and be “lady-like”, then it will take society as a whole (and nothing less) to recognize that women shouldn’t be held to different standards as professionals in the workplace. This isn’t some random company’s job. Its all of our jobs.

        3. bearing*

          We also don’t know (I think?) the order in which that happened. I am more sympathetic to the company if Debbie was hired first.

      2. LQ*

        I don’t understand why we require negotiation at all. I just don’t get it. If my job is in or significantly involves negotiation ok. But otherwise it’s like asking me to do someone’s make up to get a job. It’s so incredibly out of anything I’d ever do in my line of work that it’s absurd to base my pay on it.

        1. PlainJane*

          Exactly this. Set a market-based salary range for each position, publish that range in the position posting, and offer something within that range based on the person’s experience and skills. Review salaries in the same pay grade periodically to be sure they’re still in the range and equitable based on skills and experience and correct inequities when you find them. Fair, market-based, gender-neutral – and will eliminate a lot of pay-related drama.

          1. Michael*

            Negotiation is setting the salary based on the market, though. I think you mean employees should be assigned an ombudsman who negotiates on their behalf if they perceive a deficiency, and the company should be assigned an ombudsman who negotiates salary down if they perceive an overage. Of course, the employee and their management would still be able to influence this with the exception of very large, inflexible organizations.

            Another idea is to require all candidates and employees to negotiate inside a structured game (which they learn) that has been shown to provide unbiased outcomes. I think this one has more legs because it doesn’t require a new role and new research time (might save time, actually.0

            1. Amy*

              I think they’re suggesting that the company define a pay range they’re happy with (say, a range of £5,000), and negotiations happen within that band dependent on experience and skills. At least then both sides are negotiating from an educated position- if someone offered me £26,000 for a role, I wouldn’t imagine that they were willing to negotiate up to £40,000. And I doubt Debbie did either.

              I would be entirely upset and pissed off if I were in her shoes (although I would hope to handle it far better- she does deserve a lot of criticism, but she has also been screwed).

          2. bearing*

            And then a candidate comes along who’s really strong, and knows it, and says “I would like to make more than you’re offering, and I have other offers.” Are you supposed to be… not allowed to offer more if you want to retain him?

          3. Bunny*

            Exactly, and this is where I see negotiating as a fair and normal thing. When there is an advertised salary range, it makes sense to negotiate *within that range*, or possibly a little outside it, according to experience, qualifications, and so on. When there is no *advertised* range, there is usually still one that HR and the people making hiring decisions have to work from when trying to recruit talent.

            But I have never heard of a salary for a position that had a range that is so large the upper end is a whole 50% higher than the lower end. And I have NEVER heard of a salary range so broad that a supervisor can potentially earn 2/3 of what their team do.

            Which is why I think, while Debbie behaved appallingly in how she’s reacted to what happened, there is a definite case for people mentioning sexism in the comments here. A more experienced woman in a senior position is earning 1/3 less than a less experienced man below her in the chain of command. Gaps that large don’t happen based on negotiating skills alone. That tells me the opening offer made to both people is likely to have had a substantial difference in it to begin with. Because I doubt even Dave was ballsy enough to negotiate a $15k increase on a wage that started in the mid-20s, nor that there is any level of expertise or job skill that can account for such a large discrepancy *as a starting wage*, assuming the original offer was at least in the ballpark of market rates.

            1. Snork Maiden*

              This. This is a huge discrepancy. And even if Dave was able to negotiate 15k more…that also tells us a lot about everyone involved, too.

            2. AnotherFed*

              This situation is totally normal in tech and engineering. My manager makes less money than me by a decent chunk (I’m not sure of the specifics) despite many more years of experience and being above me in the chain of command. The difference is that I have some specific engineering skills that my manager does not have.

              And guess what, my manager is male and I’m female. Does that make us a sexist organization?

              1. Treena Kravm*

                No, this is different. Your situation is that you have a marketable skill set that deserves that additional wage. With all the gossip and drama around this situation, I doubt we wouldn’t have heard about an additional skill Dave has.

            3. Treena Kravm*

              Your point is even more valid because it’s not a $15k increase, it’s 15k pounds, which is ~$30k. That’s beyond huge.

              1. Bunny*

                It is! I’m a Brit, but I tend to assume everything online is in $ these days.

                But yeah, £15k is higher than what most of my previous jobs paid. I’m currently sitting pretty on a tidy £18k pa and feel like I’m swimming in dosh! At the level the people in this letter are getting paid, £15k difference between one person and the next is huge. I could see that sort of gap in a £60k+ job, but not at this sort of level.

                Also, £35k is well above average income in the UK, but still not so high that the guy in this situation can point to being especially specialised or unique in his skillset to justify the size of gap, unless the entire company is massively underpaying *all* their staff for the roles they’re performing, aside from him.

                1. Amy*

                  Yes, to put it in perspective, a full time employee on minimum wage would be earning £12,675 per annum (gross). So Dave earning £15,000 more than his manager is absolutely shocking.

        2. Tom*

          I would love if this was the case — I hate negotiation with a passion. But really, most people have to make decisions about what things are worth all the time, and live with those decisions… major purchases like a house or car, or just how much to tip your wait staff, spring to mind. I think it’d be difficult to take salary negotiation out of the hiring process, without a great deal of regulation.

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          I kind of see your point but negotiation is a skill one ca use in other areas of life

      3. Tom*

        This sounds good in theory, but in reality I think that what other people make matters a lot. Both candidates and employers often use figures based on market research regarding what other people are earning — otherwise, it is very difficult to calculate in the “supply and demand” aspect of things.

        I think AAM’s analysis here is apt, with some of the thoughts about what could be done at this point and what should have been handled differently, but I can certainly understand Debbie being upset about this. The couple of times that I have been made aware of a significant pay difference between myself and somebody else at my employer, I either make sense of it in my head based on what they are doing differently… or I start looking for somewhere else to be.

        1. Observer*

          he couple of times that I have been made aware of a significant pay difference between myself and somebody else at my employer, I either make sense of it in my head based on what they are doing differently… or I start looking for somewhere else to be.

          Looking for a new job makes sense. Even talking to management makes sense. In fact, I’d probably say that a good first step, before job hunting.

          Making a fool of yourself and using it as an excuse to bring your home drama into the office as well is, well, not reasonable.

      4. Joey*

        Ack. Using this philosophy totally perpetuates past discrimination. One key way you know your own merit is by knowing that you’re paid fairly compared to your peers. Meaning there should be some legally defensible reason for paying someone differently for doing the same job. I don’t know if you’re in the US but that’s what the equal pay act is all about.

        1. Chinook*

          “One key way you know your own merit is by knowing that you’re paid fairly compared to your peers. Meaning there should be some legally defensible reason for paying someone differently for doing the same job. ”

          On this I agree. That is why I agree with AAM that Debbie dealt with this poorly. The better way would have been to go to management and ask them for the reason for the pay discrepency and what she should do to make the same wages as Dave. If it is based on sexism, it will become clear quite quickly and can be dealt with accordingly.

          1. Judy*

            I’ve had a few too many conversations like this:

            me: “What do I need to do to get this promotion that we agree I meet the criteria for?”
            mgr: “I think if you X, Y, Z there would be no reason not to promote you.”
            me 3 months later after completing X, Y, Z faster than anyone: “OK, I’ve X, Y, Z, when can we start the paperwork on my promotion?”
            mgr: “I think if you A, B, C there would be no reason to promote you.”
            etc, etc, promotion 3 years later…

            Note that X, Y and Z were things required to be promoted to the level above where I was asking for the promotion. Also note that during this time, other engineers were getting this promotion who didn’t meet the criteria listed on the promotion form, which I did at the time of the first talk.

            1. caraytid*

              sadly, this has been my experience as well. meanwhile, my supervisor was making close to 3x my salary (in an 8 person company).

            2. Joey*

              Yes. Good point. It’s not “what do I need to do”. It’s “what has Dave done that I haven’t yet done to deserve that pay?”

                1. Joey*

                  “No this is about understanding why a male who has less responsibility and less experience than I do makes significantly more.”

            3. Connie-Lynne*

              I have learned to get that stuff in writing. Still not sure it helps, but at least then there’s less ability for the PTB to move the goalposts.

              Mostly it just lets me have a politer conversation for my exit interview.

        2. Is This Legal*

          Joey, you know what the law of averages says, in the end it will be just that—average. That average comes from all protected discrimination practices; you name it – age, gender, sex. But still, we take that average as a starting point to determine what we’re worth. All I’m saying pick a number, at most you have a good idea what that number should be and adjust it accordingly. The problem I’ve with looking at the next person to determine your salary is, you don’t know what that person put up with to value himself that much.

          1. Joey*

            That’s why i suggest asking what that person did to deserve that salary. courts don’t typically accept the “well the man negotiated better” as a defense to an equal pay act claim.

      5. Melissa*

        The prisoner’s dilemma is sort of by definition not mutually exclusive, because your outcomes are dependent upon what someone else does.

  2. Kara*

    Wow yeah. Don’t agree with how the company handled the pay issue to begin with, but Debbie shot herself in the foot, big time. My advice would be for her to start looking for another job and brush up on her negotiating skills before she accepts another offer.
    Basically she did everything that justifies the “hysterical woman” appellation that gets thrown around. And demanding that someone else accept a reduction in order to GIVE part of their pay to her? Had I been Dave I’d have laughed in her face, too.
    I would not be surprised if 3-6 months from now Debbie got “let go” – for some random and totally unrelated reason or restructuring.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      It’s very hard to dismiss someone in the UK so I think Debbie’s job will be safe as long as she wants it, but she should definitely start looking elsewhere.

      1. TheLazyB*

        You’ve said that before, about being hard to get sacked in the UK, but my DH was sacked and had basically no comeback even though it was grossly unfair (the person who sacked him said so, FFS!). I think it’s easier than you think.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          I don’t mean to imply that it can never happen, but it is hard to sack someone, you have to show good reason and follow a fairly strict legal process and there is protection in place for employees that are dismissed outside of that process.

          I’ve had a stack of jobs I the UK and can count one hand the number of people I know have been sacked and out of them nearly all are for theft or assault.

          1. Joolsey woolsey*

            As long as they’ve worked at the company for more than 2 years, if it’s less than 2 years you don’t have any employment rights, thanks to David Cameron

      2. MK*

        Or get herself a good lawyer. In the EU an employer violating the “equal pay for equal work” principle is actually breaking the law, without even taking gender discrimination into account.

        1. Cari*

          That would depend on if their work is equal or (I assume) Debbie’s work is greater than Dave’s, wouldn’t it. It is possible the position she’s in and the work she does, is less than that required of Dave, even if she’s senior to him.

    2. Sans*

      Yeah, I could see talking calmly to the manager, and show actual reasons why she deserves more pay than Dave. And if that didn’t work, I’d be looking for another job, and determined to do a better job of negotiating salary. But all the hysteria and crying and demands — she couldn’t have handled this any worse.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        I don’t know, I think I might be looking for another job regardless. Debbie does bear some of the responsibility for ending up on the low end of the salary spectrum, but I think it’s horrible that the company seems to be fine with paying her less than her subordinate for work that requires higher level skills. At the very least, it seems to me like there should have been some re-evaluation at some point once Dave was hired on for significantly more money. I don’t think that’s a place I’d want to continue working, barring some weird oversight where somehow no one was aware of the disparity until now, because, frankly, I’d always question my value to the company and wonder if I could do better somewhere else.

        1. Adam V*

          > for work that requires higher level skills

          I don’t see that in the post – I see “more responsibilities”, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to “higher-level skills”. For instance, Dave could be an absolute master at CAD software or Photoshop (something that’s the complete focus of what the company does), so Dave gets paid a premium for his skills, but Debbie is a typical supervisor (managing his time and tasks), so there’s no particular premium to be paid for her.

          Does that explain the entire 16k difference? (Does it explain any of it?) Who can tell for sure?

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            This is true. I must have translated “more responsibility” into “higher level skills” as I was thinking about this.

            I don’t think we have enough info from the letter to say for sure, but my sense from reading the letter is still that this is a crappy company and if I were Debbie I would be looking elsewhere. However, this is probably partially colored by my own experience here, so it’s certainly possible that Dave in fact has more valuable skills and each is being paid appropriately for their skills.

            1. Glorified Plumber*

              Actually, I think it could depends heavily on how big this firm is, their structure, their clients, etc.

              OP does not specify what kind of engineering this is. Is this a engineering firm doing civil or oil and gas engineering… or did she mean this is a software shop and Dave and Debbie are software developers and they mean that kind of “engineering.”

              I am the lead engineer for a big client… call me “Dave-ish”, my “engineering manager” “Debbie-ish” is involved in more or less ZERO technical decisions. This is mirrored across all the other clients / leads and the manager.

              The engineering managers job is staffing and administration. Technical leadership is left up to the leads.

              Our senior engineering leads and technologists CERTAINLY make more money than she does. Salary here = experience level and how great you were at negotiating.

              However, our current engineering manager is a FORMER lead, and a VERY VERY good engineer… she just doesn’t do that “now”. Fast forward two years, when we have a new manager, she’ll go back to being a technical lead… and depending on if the engineering manager we “promote” or hire to replace her, will make more or less money than that new or existing person.

              1. Cari*

                This is pretty much how it was in the places my dad worked. I don’t know if once he hit manager level (above having to do any of the technical work that makes the company money, but still beneath the project manager level that has all the responsibility and makes the company money), he was paid more or less than those doing the technical work, but the mid-level management positions were the ones to go when they had to make redundancies. He took that as an indicator that position he was in, wasn’t valuable for the company. It’s possible Debbie’s supervisor position is a bit like that.

        2. QAT Contractor*

          Debbie applied to be a supervisor/engineer which could sway one of two ways: either she has more responsibilities as a supervisor as well as doing engineer work, or she only needs to know high level engineer information and is expected to be more of a supervisor/manager of the others.

          If the first point is true, then yes, her pay should be higher than other engineers (unless the others have more specialized technical skills or something) because she is doing the same work plus supervising the others.

          If the second point is true, then I could see why her pay is lower as she would be considered less technical and more managerial.

          The fact that she was offered 26K (the low end of the pay scale) and she accepted without negotiating tells me she wasn’t making a lot at her previous job (she has 7 years experience and is in her late 20’s??). It also tells me that she felt this was a significant boost either in pay, environment or benefits for her and was happy with the amount offered. Was she under paid in her previous job(s) as well then? Likely.

          Dave had been making 35K already and to switch jobs usually means a pay increase, not decrease, although there are circumstances where a decrease happens/makes sense.

          To me it sounds like the company may have intentionally low balled Debbie due to knowing they would be paying Dave more based on his historic earnings. I don’t know if that’s what actually happened, but if it was, that’s just a crappy sexist company. If Dave did not factor into their decision on how to pay Debbie, then it’s still crappy to lowball her, but also her own fault for not fighting for more or knowing the industry standard pay rates.

          Her friend is a total ass though and should be fired. I understand the friend was looking out for Debbie and wanting her to make more money, but confidential information should remain confidential. It’s as bad as insider trading.

    3. Fight! Win!*

      Unfortunately, Debbie just reinforced the social stereotype of women who base weighty decisions upon feelings instead of facts. This is very unfortunate.
      OP, distance yourself as much as possible from this situation. In general, I would be associating myself more with Dave than with Debbie. It is very unlikely Debbie will continue at the company considering the state of affairs. It’s ridiculous that Dave is being faulted by others in the office. He negotiated successfully and was rewarded for his efforts. I would want to hear all his tips and strategies if I were you! Isn’t successful negotiation a skill we all want? Since it’s relevant to this conversation, I am a woman. :)

    4. Kate M*

      Yeah, let’s not say that she fit’s the “hysterical woman” stereotype. She handled this really badly. But if every time a woman gets upset at work, people say, “well she’s just doing a disservice to women by fitting into the stereotype,” then you’re the one perpetuating the stereotype. It causes the stereotype to continue to exist if you keep pointing to the the 1 in 2500 women who would act like this. On the other hand, if a man gets in a rage or angry about the same issue, there’s no stereotype that you would point to for him as a justification for why men might be treated badly. People would say that he was an ass, probably, but nobody would say, “ugh, typical male, this is why they don’t get ahead.”

      1. Three Thousand*

        Exactly. Stereotypes aren’t somehow vindicated if one particular person’s behavior calls them to mind. Women and other minority groups don’t have any extra responsibility to represent their groups by being on their best behavior all the time.

        If you take stereotypes seriously, you’re the problem, and you’re wrong. You. Not anyone else.

        1. AnotherFed*

          That doesn’t mean we can’t cringe inside – when there are always fewer individuals of a particular minority/group around, the behavior of one individual is given more weight just due to sample size. Whether that group is based on gender, favorite color, degree, or something equally unrelated to performance doesn’t matter. People are still going to see horrible behavior like this and leap to conclusions like “Debbie only got this job because she goes to the same church as the hiring manager/went to the same uni/is a minority/belongs to the same sports team/whatever and that’s why she’s so badly paid.”

          1. Kate M*

            Let’s not pretend that people are stereotyped as a group based on their favorite color here. And you actually point to the problem – it’s only minorities or people without privilege that have their behavior extrapolated to the entire group. When a woman gets emotional, women are hysterical. When a man gets emotional, he’s either “not acting like a man” or is just considered an ass based on his behavior, but nobody says “men are hysterical.” When a black person commits a crime, black people are thugs. When a white person commits a crime, it was one person who made a mistake (and find 230538 reasons to justify why this doesn’t extrapolate to the entire white race).

            Nobody is making you jump to conclusions based on “sample size.” If you’re cringing on the inside, then maybe you should examine your instincts and reactions. Not to say that everyone doesn’t have racist or sexist thoughts go across their mind sometimes, but you don’t let those go by without examining them. I heard a saying once that “the first thought that crosses your mind about a person is what society has conditioned you to think about them. The second thought shows who you really are.”

            1. Cari*

              Wouldn’t saying a man being emotional “isn’t acting like a man” be stereotypical though?

              1. Kate M*

                Yes – sorry let me clarify. I’m not saying that there aren’t gender norms that men are expected to adhere to, but that when one member of a privileged group (such as men) act in a certain way, it isn’t automatically extrapolated to the entirety of men. So a man acting emotional (and yes, anger is an emotion) wouldn’t lead people to say “all men are so emotional, it’s no wonder they can’t do the job.” A white person commits a crime, but there are no news stories saying that white people need to address violence in the white community.

                There are ways that men are harmed by gender expectations. But usually, especially in job settings, they go in with a blank slate. There aren’t bad stereotypes that they have to fight against up front (with a few exceptions, such as childcare). Women, on the other hand, are often stereotyped off the bat, and have to fight against those stereotypes. (A more accurate way of saying this might be that the stereotypes for men make them seem more acceptable to the business world, such as being aggressive and confident, whereas if a woman were to go against the stereotypes for women and act the same way, she would be penalized). And if the man ends up messing up, it was just a bad hire. But it’s much more likely that if a woman messes up (like in this situation), it feeds into the existing stereotype that women are overly emotional (like some commenters above me just claimed).

            2. AnotherFed*

              Interestingly, if you survey media reporting of crimes, if an African American commits a violent crime, it’s reported as “A middle aged man commited crime X” WITHOUT listing race far more often than if a white individual commits a violent crime.

              Nugget aside, you’re right, favorite color isn’t usually the thing used. But I’ve seen everything else on that list become a factor, and affirmative action programs that deliberately promote less qualified minority candidates to increase the numbers of minorities in high profile positions worsens the situation for people of that minority. Sure, it isn’t right or fair, but it is what happens. So yeah, I’m going to cringe because I know that another minority member’s behavior will be reflected at me by those who don’t know me well enough to judge me on my own merits.

              1. Treena Kravm*

                I’d be really interested to see that survey, because I’ve been under the impression that it is the exact opposite.

                1. AnotherFed*

                  I don’t know of an official survey, but for a stats class in 2012 or 2013 we took several major US news outlets (Washington Post, Fox, and two others I can’t remember right now) and used their online archives to pull 1 year’s worth of crime news. We started out just looking at the pretty standard crime by race/gender breakdowns, but as the class and project continued, wandered down the road of exploring the correlation between inclusion or exclusion of pieces of data and use of particular word choices (like use of murder vs. slaying vs. homicide) in the headlines. We expected to find a higher correlation between no race listed and white perpetrators than between no race listed and minority perpetrators, but found the opposite to be true for African Americans. This trend was especially prevalent when the crime was committed against a minority individual.

                2. Julia*

                  Just spit balling here. Is this, perhaps, because it’s seen as an aberration? Like, no one talks about “male engineers,” just engineers. Of course they’re male, they’re engineers! It’s only when they deviate from the norm–when they’re women– that they need to be identified by their gender. I wonder if a similar motivation is at play here. The default criminal is a male POC, so women or whites who commit crimes are the ones who don’t fit the norms. You don’t need to say “black criminal;” that’s already assumed.

          2. Melissa*

            It’s not “just due to sample size”. Women or minorities can actually be in the majority in a particular place, and they are still seen less as individuals and more as part of a hive mind simply because of their race and/or gender. If people see horrible behavior like this and leap to conclusions that it is because of her race or gender, that is their issue – not Debbie’s and certainly not the other women that they discriminate against because of this erroneous thinking.

      2. Belinda Gomez*

        Having a scene in the employee cafeteria sounds pretty drama-queen to me. And why did she think that asking/demanding Dave ( a man) assist her in making her case to the higher-ups doesn’t sound like she’s capable on her own. She can blame the system and the patriarchy but she’s the person who chose this course of action.

      3. RS*

        Agree, completely Kate.

        What’s more — why are we treating emotions like a dirty, dirty thing? I’d argue its the very fact that they are seen as feminine traits. It’s all part of a much larger societal problem that denigrates and relegates anything feminine as trivial or unimportant. Except being barefoot and pregnant, of course. But if you do that, you’re dumb. Can’t seem to win this one, hey?

        1. Melissa*

          I was thinking the same thing. Most people make decisions on some combination of facts and feelings. That’s okay, and honestly, we probably should – for example, just because Job A pays more than Job B doesn’t mean you should take Job A, because maybe your gut is right and telling you the manager is horrible and everyone works 100 hour weeks and eats smelly food at their desk every day.

      4. Melissa*

        Yes, thank you for saying this. Yes, she behaved badly, but her behavior is NOT justification for others to point to it and say “see, this is why we don’t like to hire women” or something.

  3. Apollo Warbucks*

    “Debbie took it very, very badly.”

    I’m not surprised people get pissed when they are being ripped off and that is the consequence of the firm low balling her and trying to pay the bare minimum. It’s disgusting to treat an employee like that and not expect some sort of fall out. (That said it’s nothing to do with Dave and Debbie should have handled it better)

    1. Meg*

      I’m curious about what you think is so “disgusting”. I completely agree that the company shouldn’t have lowballed her – it was a short-sighted financial decision that often doesn’t work out in the long term. But “disgusted” seems like an awful strong word. After all, Debbie was the one who didn’t negotiate for more money.

      1. Colette*

        If it were a few thousand, I wouldn’t think anything of it, but Debbie is apparently making 65% of what Dave is making. I doubt the company was leaving room to double their offer when she negotiated.

        1. A Cita*

          Such an important point. Even if she had negotiated, it’s doubtful she would have been able to negotiate almost twice the offer.

      2. Mike C.*

        Debbie isn’t the one who decided that women who negotiate in their best interests are often labelled as pushy, bitchy or worse. People should be paid on the value they present to the company and other similar concrete business related criteria.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed. I am not seeing where “the company was stupid for allowing Dave to bully them into a higher rate of pay.” The problem seems to be with Debbie’s inability to do hardball negotiations.

      3. Althea*

        “After all, Debbie was the one who didn’t negotiate for more money.”

        I think this is a problematic statement. We live in a society that penalizes women for negotiating, even though it rewards men for the same. And then we blame women for not negotiating? So women are damned if we do, damned if we don’t?

        Not too mention, that’s an enormous gap to start from. How many people in the world get a 26k offer and genuinely feel like they could name 36k as their counter? A 38% increase over the offer?

        1. fposte*

          I agree that it’s a mistake to frame the original problem as being Debbie’s fault. However, I think the penalizing for negotiating thing gets overblown, and there are behavioral reasons people pay more attention to that penalty than the massive penalty for *not* negotiating.

          If you’re damned either way, might as well be damned with better pay.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            But, aside from truly extraordinary circumstances, you’re not going to negotiate a 54% increase.

            1. fposte*

              I absolutely agree. However, as I said upthread, I think it’s a real problem to let the negotiation penalty be the last word, since it reinforces some problematic tendencies and there’s a lot bigger penalty if you don’t.

              As I said, negotiating may not get women the same money as men, but it’ll still overall get them better money.

              1. Ultraviolet*

                I think it’s reasonable for people to judge that the “negotiation penalty” is bigger than the no-negotiation penalty though. The negative consequences of being viewed as bitchy and not really a part of the team can snowball into serious career disadvantages. It’s very reasonable to weigh those possible career consequences as worse than a lowish salary at your current job.

                1. Elsajeni*

                  Well, except that the no-negotiation penalty isn’t just “a lowish salary at your current job” — it also snowballs, because so many companies base part of their decision about how much to offer you on how much you’ve made at previous jobs. Dave got his higher salary in part because he was coming from a job that already paid him $35k (please pretend that is a pound sign); if he’d instead been coming from a job where he was only making $25k, he presumably would have gotten less at this job, too. The pay you accept at your current job shapes the kind of offers you get, and the kind of offers you’re willing to accept, in the future.

                2. Ultraviolet*

                  @Elsajeni – Low salary at one job can definitely snowball into long-term low salary as you describe, but in many cases that’s more easily overcome than the consequences you might face after alienating the employer during negotiations. Being excluded at one job and overlooked for promotions, praise, good projects etc. makes it even harder to get the next job, never mind the salary you might be offered for it.

                3. fposte*

                  If they’re one thin dime away from starvation for them and the kids, sure, take anything, I get it.

                  But in practice? In longterm salary? I’m not seeing anything that suggests what you’re proposing does have the longterm effect you suggest for negotiators (it’s worth noting that the social cost studies tend to be about whether you’d want to work with this test subject, not down-the-line impressions about the woman you negotiated with and subsequently did work with). So no, I don’t think it’s reasonable to be risk averse just because bad things might happen to you if you ask for what you want, given that the good things are pretty well documented too and seem to outweigh the bad things.

                4. Ultraviolet*

                  @fposte –

                  To be clear, I’m not saying the negotiation penalty (or at least, the most significant part of it) is financial. It’s more about not fitting into your workplace enough to get mentoring, to be treated as a team player with something to contribute, to be recruited for important projects, to be included in discussion…

                  I was responding specifically to your statement that “there’s a lot bigger penalty if you don’t [negotiate].” I’m arguing that the penalty for negotiating is worse–losing 10% of my salary doesn’t sound nearly as bad to me as experiencing the exclusion described in the above paragraph–but I do actually agree that most people at most points in their careers are better off taking the risk by negotiating anyway. In retrospect my comment didn’t accomplish much except to show my sore spots. I’m still figuring out how best to comment.

                5. fposte*

                  @Ultraviolet–Yeah, those are daunting concepts, certainly. But I really don’t think they’re particularly common in real-world situations, and I think they’re more chimeras we scare ourselves into inaction with.

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Agreeing with fposte here. It happens, certainly, but it’s not the majority of situations, by far.

                  It’s actually really damaging to talk about it as if it is — you’re discouraging women from speaking up for themselves when in all likelihood it’s going to work out fine for them.

                7. Ultraviolet*

                  Yeah, I was wrong to pile on. I’m stuck in a bad work situation like the one I described so its relevance to the conversation ended up magnified in my head. And I didn’t even get there by negotiating (not an option under my union agreement)! I’ll think more carefully next time about why I’m talking.

            1. fposte*

              The fact that women who negotiate make more money. Whatever the being perceived as bitchy penalty is, it doesn’t have as great a financial effect downward as negotiating does upward.

              That doesn’t mean I think the research isn’t true, but the fact that this research is all over this post and the benefits of negotiating for women aren’t really disturbs me. I’m troubled by the prioritization of the message that women should be risk averse and take no chances, both in general and because it literally costs us.

              1. Melissa*

                It’s especially disturbing because it ironically, and conveniently, fits in really well with the stereotypical narrative of how women should “behave.” Oh, women get a penalty at work and are seen as bitchy if they negotiate – so they shouldn’t negotiate and should just take whatever they are offered. The problem is that there are problems on both sides, because that lowballs your salary (potentially for a long time). And personally, I’d rather make more money and come across as bitchy than make less and have people thinking I’m all sweet and nice. Plus, if I get the job at the salary I want, I have some time to dispel the myth that I’m bitchy.

        2. Meg*

          I’m with fposte – I think the “penalizing for negotiating” aspect of this is getting overblown in this situation. I’m certainly not saying it doesn’t happen – I’ve experienced it firsthand and I would normally love to debate the gender/wage gap issue that exists in many countries. But since we don’t know enough about what happened during the negotiation process, I’m hesitant to blame the company for gender discrimination when it seems just as likely that they were just being cheap and short-sighted.

          And FWIW, I don’t think the original problem was all Debbie’s fault – I think she and the company both bear responsbility (although the company definitely bears more when it comes to paying Debbie a fair salary).

          1. Althea*

            I think you have to distinguish between faults here:

            The company is at fault for lowballing (based on gender discrimination or some other reason)
            Debbie is at fault for not negotiating.

            The issue I have is the second one – blaming Debbie for not negotiating, which is the part I called problematic. The company has its own faults, but they are separate from statements like “after Debbie is the one who didn’t negotiate.”

            1. Meg*

              I see what you mean and I totally understand; I realize that Debbie’s decision to not negotiate wasn’t made in a vaccuum, and there are social conditioning behaviors that come into play as well. I do stand by my statement, however. If Debbie doesn’t negotiate at all, she’s leaving money on the table, and absolving her of all responsibility and blaming it on negotiation penalty, which may not even have been a factor in this case, is also problematic.

              1. Althea*

                I don’t see how you are reconciling your POV. The penalty for women is always a factor for women, in every negotiation – it’s not blaming everything on this factor so much as recognizing that women have to always factor it into their actions. So why is the blame always put on the woman if she doesn’t negotiate? I still see you blaming a woman for “leaving money on the table.”

                In a vacuum of information, like in a negotiation, there is no way to know if you will suffer more from negotiating or not.

                Particularly in one as egregiously low-balled as this. If I’m sitting here thinking that market should pay about 35-40k and I get an offer for 26k, I’m faced with a choice of asking for a HUGE increase. That puts me in the position of (potentially) looking like a grasping foolish *woman* way off in her expectations and jeopardizing the offer entirely. And I may know that a man would not have that offer pulled over a similar counter-offer. So where does that leave me? Maybe I decide to negotiate anyway, but a smaller amount. Great, that’s the penalty at work, because I’m still paid less than I might have been had I not know I might be punished for the negotiation.

                1. Meg*

                  Well, the reason you don’t see how I’m reconciling it is because I’m not. I understand your point of view and I think at the heart of it, we agree about how the negotiation penalty can negatively affect women. But negotiation is a two-way street, and I just don’t think it’s reasonable to lay all the blame for Debbie’s salary on the company’s shoulders.

                2. Nikki B*

                  Honestly, if you know that the market should pay about 35-40K, you should ask for it. You have nothing to lose really – because a company that is offering below market rate is going to be skimping elsewhere as well. (unless of course there are intangibles/ benefits that you want – that bring up the total package – in which case get that in writing in the offer). BUT…. you have to know the market and where its heading, and have confidence that you are worth it.
                  Speaking as a female engineer who has always negotiated – and got – bumps from the initial offer, or walked away.

              2. Cari*

                Considering Debbie didn’t have a problem creating a scene and ruining her reputation and future prospects in that company once she found out about the disparity, I’m not sure the negotiation risk was such a big factor in her case.

                People say it’s hard to get fired here in the UK, but I’ve known people get fired for things like “gross misconduct” when working in fast food and giving a larger size drink to a colleague (because they’d seen their manager do it). There were probably other things that factored into the company wanting shot of them, but being able to cite “gross misconduct” as the reason could have been easiest legally for the company.

                1. Brit*

                  Generally speaking, it is a lot harder to get fired in the UK than in the US, because at will employment is so common in the US and not used in the UK.

                  “Gross misconduct” refers to theft, physical violence, gross negligence or serious insubordination. Debbie probably wouldn’t meet that. She could still be fired would but would need to be given at least one written warning first (if the misconduct is considered ‘serious’), and possibly up to three performance meetings (if it’s just plain misconduct).

                  Gov.uk explains fair dismissal here: https://www.gov.uk/dismiss-staff/dismissals-on-capability-or-conduct-grounds

        3. AnotherFed*

          It sounds like Dave might have, and he did it by saying “I currently make 35K, so I am not willing to leave my current job for a pay cut.”

      4. Apollo Warbucks*

        Well in my last role I was paid $15,000- $20,000 less than my co-worker for a very similar job if anything I had better technical skills than them, so to me its very personal to me the firm were clearing saying we don’t value you, your skills or what you do for us. It’s a massive F**k you and its no way to treat someone. I posted a link to an article below that Alison wrote that explains why pay gaps exist and that really helped me get some perspective on the issue. I raised it a number of times with my boss over the course of 18 months and nothing was done so I left for a new job with a $10,000 raise.

        I think it’s disgusting because it’s manipulative and exploitative. The company would have a good idea what the market is paying for that skill set and would have set a budget accordingly they decided low ball Debbie and pocket the difference hoping that she would never find out. I know there are no friends in business but to be treated so baldly is bound to leave a bad taste in Debbie’s mouth.

      5. brighidg*

        The disgusting part is if Debbie were Dennis with all the same qualifications and the same unwillingness to negotiate, Dennis would still be making more.

        Debbie shouldn’t have bothered storming into anyone’s office, she should have lawyer-ed up.

        1. Adam V*

          “Lawyer up” because two people are paid differently? Build a case first – go around to men and women who used to work at the company and get their salary histories, so you can show a history of discrimination by the company. *Then and only then* do you talk to a lawyer.

          Otherwise the lawyer is likely to tell you “it’s not illegal to pay different people different amounts, that’ll be $500 for the consultation”.

        2. Chinook*

          “The disgusting part is if Debbie were Dennis with all the same qualifications and the same unwillingness to negotiate, Dennis would still be making more.”

          Here is the thing – you don’t know that. It is quite possible that it is standard practise for the company to lowball every negotiation with the hopes that some people take the first offer. It may have nothign to do with gender (and I know some may call be naive, but the only way to know if it is based on gender is to see how female salaries in that company stack up against male salaries in that company). Is this a sign that someone should investigate – absolutely. But comparing only two data points doesn’t make a trend obvious.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            But it’s not only the intent that matters; it’s also the outcome. If a company lowballs everyone and all the men negotiate higher salaries than the women, the company has both an ethical (in my opinion) and legal (in the US) obligation to change their systems of determining pay.

            1. SystemsLady*

              I completely agree…and feel I should add that a difference of this magnitude is a serious issue for the company whether it’s causing a pay gap or not.

          2. Three Thousand*

            You can’t be 100% sure, but you can be 95% sure. So you don’t absolutely “know that,” but if you find yourself wanting to focus extra hard on that 5%, you might want to think about why.

        3. nona*

          We actually don’t know that. It’s likely the case, since sexism is so common, but we don’t have enough information from the letter to say this.

        4. Meg*

          You don’t actually know that, though. We don’t know nearly enough about the negotiation process to determine that.

        5. Cari*

          Not necessarily. Men who don’t go the cut-throat macho route (even in the IT industry), also get shafted when it comes to pay, opportunities and promotions.

      6. Brett*

        Just wanted to point out that the OP says that Debbie _did_ negotiate but agreed to a lower salary, while Dave “negotiated much more forcefully”.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t know that that’s in the post–it doesn’t explicitly say Debbie negotiated, it’s just implied by the comparative on Dave’s negotiation. So you may be right, but it’s not clear. (And if so, how low was their initial offer??)

      7. Seattle Writer Girl*

        The disgust comes in when the company hired Dave on for $15k more and CHOSE not to adjust Debbie’s pay accordingly.

      8. MK*

        Because an ethical company wants to compensate their workers fairly. It’s one thing to make a good deal and another to take advantage of someone, even if that someone should have done their homework better.

    2. Colette*

      Yeah, the company was out of line to start off and they might want to think about how they handle offers in general (and announce to the company that they’re doing so, because I would bet a lot of their other employees are wondering if they’re being paid fairly).

      But both Debbie and her friend were out of line, and they both should be having serious talks with their managers, if they’re not let go.

    3. Sunflower*

      This reminds me of the comments on the ‘how to determine what salary to ask for’ the other day and how someone said that if a candidate said they’ll be happy with 35k but your range was 38-43k you should pay them the 35k and everything will be fine. This is exactly a case of when everything will not be fine.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I can’t agree she’s being “ripped off.” She accepted a salary that she presumably found to be a fair trade for her work at the time.

      1. Mike C.*

        There are lots of reasons someone takes a job any pay offered. Acceptance does not always mean that the deal is a fair.

              1. Joey*

                Paying a more qualified female manager less than her subordinate male is a pretty good prema facie case of sex discrimination. In other words, based on what’s in the letter it seems like discrimination.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But the letter has zero details about the things that could be behind that pay disparity. There’s really not enough here to say either way. It might be. It might not.

                  We do ourselves no favors by not recognizing the other factors that could be at work here.

                2. Joey*

                  True, I’m just going off of what the letter says. Of course there is the possibility there is some legally defensible reason. All I’m saying is call them out on it. Ask why to give them an opportunity to disprove what it looks like on the surface.

                3. MT*

                  From the context of the letter “She noticed the massive pay disparity and told her, and Debbie took it very, very badly. She stormed into her manager’s office and complained how unfair it was. Her manager told her she had signed a contract and just had to deal with it.” The employer may have explained. That entire conversation between the supervisor and her boss, the OP didnt witness it, so no one knows if Debbie’s recounting of it is the full story.

                4. Rae*

                  In the IT world, thats not really true. An engineer will make more than a supervisor who handles them and clients….so you could have a superior paid less, it happens frequently. It’s like if someone was the manager of a Doctor’s office. The office manager dosn’t get paid nearly what the doctor’s do, yet they have to do what he or she says to them as far as scheduling, etc.

                5. Engineer Girl*

                  I agree with Joey on this one. The pay disparity is just too great for the skill sets. You’d have a hard time proving it if Debbie made 36K and Dave made 40K. But 7 years experience for 26K and 2 years for 40K? Umm. No.

                6. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  I disagree, Alison. The letter has a lot of details: their ages, gender, years of experience, basic job responsibilities, salaries, salary history (in Dave’s case), and some third-hand details about how they negotiated (how does the OP know this? Maybe from Dave, who is her friend?). The only thing in there that points to an explanation for the disparity is Debbie’s gender.

                7. Mike C.*

                  Joey’s right, this at the very least deserves a close analysis to ensure that there isn’t a pay gap across genders when business-related criteria is taken into account. Who knows if there’s a fire here, but I’m smelling smoke.

                8. Lindsay J*

                  @Engineer Girl

                  Presumably, though, they each took a salary that was the same or slightly more than their previous job. We know for a fact, in fact that Dave made $35K plus great benefits in his last job and so the company going up to $40K for him was not that big of a stretch.

                  I’m also going to presume that Debbie didn’t come from a job where she was making $35K, otherwise she would have not accepted such a large paycut for taking this job.

                  This, to me, indicates that there are other factors at play. This is not just one workplace valuing these employees drastically differently, but two different employers for each employee.

                  Now, could there be extenuating circumstances? Yes. But those also probably factor into worth.

                  Maybe Debbie took such a low salary because she is trying to get back into the workforce after a long time off after having a child or taking care of a sick relative. So maybe it was a big paycut from her previous job but she had to take what she could get. However, in that case – especially since we don’t know what field of engineering this is – maybe Dave’s 2 years of recent experience are infinitely more valuable than Debbie’s 7 years because maybe now all of Debbie’s technical skills are completely out of date.

                  Maybe Debbie was unemployed more short-term and still felt that she needed to take the first offer that came her way – however maybe she was fired for cause (or even for gross misconduct) from her last job and the company felt like employing her was worth the risk but that employing her at a large salary on contract was not.

                  Or maybe Dave is a rising superstar and they just don’t think that Debbie has that potential so they’re willing to pay him an overinflated salary for the position he’s currently in while he’s groomed for the top, while Debbie is just being paid market rate for her position.

                9. ScaredyCat*

                  I think the problem here is that “manager” can have different meanings to some people.

                  eg. To me, a manager is a Project Manager, or a Department Manager, or a Section Manager etc. The idea is that he/she supervises a team of [insert your profession of choice here], and is responsible for ensuring their work is up to standards. In other words, if someone bad happens, it’s generally this manager who ends up getting blamed, as he/she was responsible with supervision.
                  Form that point of view, I would totally agree that a manager deserves to be paid more, since it’s a much more stressful job.

                  On the other hand,my company used to work with this small start-up, where 99% of the employees has “manager” in their title. Most of these people weren’t supervisors, they managed certain processes and thus had the “manager” in their title.
                  Like Rae gave an example with an office manager in a Doctor’s office. In this case, the boss is clearly the doctor, NOT the office manager.

                10. RS*

                  Agree, Joey.

                  AAM — you are saying there is not enough evidence to know if it’s discrimination, yet you assume that she must deserve it at the same time. Funny how your standard of evidence changes!

            1. Chinook*

              But being ripped off is not the same as being treated unfairly (it is sort of a subsection of being unfair). If you get paid the amount you agreed to, then this is a completely unfair transaction done in good faith. The unfairness was in the assumptions the negotiations werre based on, not in the payment for the work completed.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Debbie could have been hoping that the job would work into more money later. And she took the job under the current agreement because of being desperate.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          So very, very true. There are lots of reasons to take a job for lower pay than you wanted, even knowing that it is a low offer.

        2. illini02*

          Its not about being fair. Its about what you accept. If I accept a job at a rate far below my worth, I can’t then be mad at the company 2 years down the road.

          1. baseballfan*

            Yes, this. Years ago I was unemployed and was seriously looking at jobs that I was overqualified for and would undoubtedly be underpaid for relative to my experience, because the range was simply that low. I would have taken one of those jobs because, well, a girl has to eat. But that’s not the company’s problem. Being desperate for work does not = a company being unfair for offering you a salary within the range for the advertised position.

            This is related to the whole recent discussion about whether or not a person should be paid commensurate with his/her expenses. (The answer being no).

          2. Melissa*

            Of course it’s about being fair. That’s why we have pay discrimination laws.

            And sure you can. You might be primarily upset with yourself, but if I find out a couple of years down the road that a company greatly underpays me, of course I can be mad. The difference is that I’d address it differently – channel that anger into negotiating a higher salary or looking elsewhere.

      2. Cimorene*

        But the way we define “fair” in a world structured by sexism is inherently unjust. Im less concerned with fairness and more concerned with justice. And whether we like it or not, justice in wages–and the wage gap–is determined by the society-wide accumulation of individual instances of wildly unjust wage distribution.

        Whether or not Debbie reacted badly doesn’t make the inherent injustice of the wage gap irrelevant.

        1. A Cita*

          Seconding a yes! It’s like any form of structural discrimination and “equal treatment.” If you’re structurally discriminated against, you don’t want equality. You want equity. Until things level out.

      3. jen*

        i find that rationale to be extremely problematic. how do you know she was happy with it? maybe she was just desperate. you simply can’t draw that kind of conclusion. accepting a particular salary does not necessarily mean you think it’s fair trade or that you felt satisfied or that you felt it was what you were worth – it just means you needed money. it’s also problematic because employees are usually working with incomplete data on their worth and market value and the company’s norms, the company will almost always be in a significantly stronger negotiating position, plus we have the fact that women are penalized for aggressive negotiating. so yes. they ripped her off. they did it because they thought could get away with it. her agreement to the salary doesn’t make it any less so.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Right on. I know lots of people that take jobs and are unhappy with the pay. If employers decide to only hire desperate people there are plenty of well-paid people who would become verrrrry worried.

        2. Melissa*

          Exactly! I do keep seeing people say that she should have negotiated based upon her market worth, but as someone who is currently hunting for a job after several years in graduate school, I am having a hell of time trying to find reliable salary information in certain roles. And some of it is wildly disparate.

      4. MK*

        Alison, if the OP is in the UK, as seems likely by the stated currency, the company is probably breaking employment law. In the EU, the employer has to give equal pay for equal work to all their employees. It doesn’t even have to be about gender discrimination, it would apply even if both were men. And the obligation doesn’t go away if the employee didn’t negotiate. Unless they can show that Debbie was hired to do less/less important work, the company is clearly in the wrong.

    5. ThursdaysGeek*

      Yup. In my case, my Dave and John said it was obviously time to move on, and I agreed. Then I asked if they were comfortable working for a company that would pay the woman on the team less like that. So we all three quietly moved on, leaving them zero people in their department in a matter of weeks.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Just this. People don’t want to work for a company that acts this way. You’ll always lose more than the one person when you treat them badly.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          It wasn’t really a choice for me, but it did feel good knowing my male co-workers agreed, especially after one got a nice and one a significant raise.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Ditto from me. Your story is a breath of fresh air.
          I hope management realized what caused their sudden loss of an entire department.

  4. Meg*

    I can completely sympathize with Debbie about being frustrated over her realization that she was lowballed – it can be demoralizing to find out that a direct report makes more than you (I don’t work in IT, or any other industry where this might be common). By oh my goodness, you just don’t handle it like this.

    I’m also not entirely sure why Dave is getting so much flak for this. Laughing in her face was probably not the most professional thing to do, but asking him to surrender some of his pay?! In front of other people?! I might have laughed too out of sheer awkwardness. The fact that other people in the office are also side-eyeing him for not taking a pay cut is very weird, as well. I just don’t think that’s a reasonable thing to expect of someone, regardless of the circumstances.

    1. Hotstreak*

      Especially true due to no indication that her pay was lower due some budget issue caused by his higher pay. Dave successfully asserted himself in regards to what pay & work/life balance he wanted and is being treated as he asked. Debbie is also being treated as she asked (she just didn’t ask for much).

    2. Anon in SC*

      Yes. I was trying to write a post, but you said it better. It’s a horrible, unfair situation that has been handled badly by everyone. But I actually think Dave is the least culpable person. People may not like him in general, but refusing to give up his pay shouldn’t be part of it.

      1. Anon in SC*

        Oh – and OP, stay out of it. Especially at the office. You can privately sympathize with Debbie, but I’d tell her to look for a new job if she was my friend. Things won’t change salary-wise, and she’s destroyed her reputation there. I guarantee stories about her will live on for YEARS.

      2. Meg*

        Exactly. I wonder if the dislike against him is more related to office culture – if the rest of the office tends to get together for after-work drinks, work longer hours, or just generally be more friendly while stays more aloof, people might be prejudiced against him. I don’t think that’s fair, but it does happen.

    3. Colette*

      I probably would have laughed, too. IMO, it depends what else Dave has done. If his only other response to questions/gossip has been “I negotiated for my salary, which I believe is fair”, then that shouldn’t be held against him. If he’s said more inflammatory things, that may have caused some of the conflict.

    4. BRR*

      I probably would have laughed too given the situation of my boss asking for my help getting a raise by talking to her boss (what would I say) and then being asked to lower my pay. I would have not seen either of those requests coming. The laughing could have just been at the surprise and ludicrous request. Or perhaps he laughs when he’s uncomfortable. Dave doesn’t even make a large amount (arbitrarily, obviously not his industry salary).

    5. K.*

      Yeah, it’s baffling to me that Dave is getting flak for not taking a pay cut. It’s a profoundly unreasonable request and I might laugh because I assumed the requester was joking, because it’s so unreasonable. (Also, I feel pretty confident in saying that those people side-eyeing Dave wouldn’t take pay cuts to help Debbie either. I doubt any of them are volunteering to make less.)

      I can’t be sure because I don’t know her salary, but I suspect I was making more than my last manager. I was hired into a role more senior than hers (though we worked in different departments) and negotiated a bit more than the offer. A couple of years later, after a restructuring, she ended up my (and three others’; she had never managed before) manager – but senior management was clear that there were to be no raises with this restructuring. (In my opinion, a promotion without a raise isn’t a promotion, but OK.) Was it unfair? Absolutely – her responsibilities increased, and her pay should have as well. Would I have taken a pay cut to “even things out” if asked? Absolutely not, and I wouldn’t have felt bad about it.

      1. Martin*

        It’s more than just baffling! When you look at it, Debbie should have been thanking Dave for what he negotiated. If Dave had never negotiated the increased salary, presumably Debbie would have remained content with the salary she was offered, accepted and working for. But now there was proof the company was willing to pay a higher salary for the position, and she could possibly have leveraged that into a (much) higher salary increase, if handled properly. Clearly she didn’t handle it properly, but the main point was that Dave’s negotiation could have helped her increase a salary she was assumedly already satisfied with.

    6. ella*

      While the gap between Debbie and Dave is certainly egregious, I would be curious what Debbie makes in comparison to other managers. I know that’s still not a perfect comparison (different ages, histories, skill sets, etc), but it seems like a better comparison than comparing two people whose jobs are presumably nothing alike.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m going to be a jerk for saying this but I don’t care: kudos to the finance person for blowing the whistle on this BS.  Yes, it violated confidentiality but this was downright discriminatory, and it’s this nonsense that allows the wage gap to persist.  

    Yes, Debbie should have pushed for more but research shows that a) women are consistently penalized and viewed as less than when they ask for raises or other benefits that go to men without stigma and b) women only know what they know and what they know tends to be untrue.  When the person you’re negotiating with is knowingly giving you false information, then there’s no way for you to negotiate better.

    I know that wasn’t stated in the letter, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  (It has happened to me!)

    I consider the intentions of the finance person to be noble not gossipy or mean.  That’s the difference to me.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I agree completely that finance person should have shared the information, but it might not be discriminatory and the firm may well have low balled a guy if they could have. I think the bigger problem is with the firms ethics rather than sexism.

      In my last job I was paid a lot less than someone else in my team for a very similar role and it was a woman that was paid more than me, I was able to see a number of reasons that the pay difference exists and none of them were gender related.

    2. Vin Packer*

      Amen. This isn’t just a small 3 or 5% salary discrepancy that would be totally normal and the result of the negotiating process. Dave is making way, way more than Debbie. It’s egregious enough that I am also fine with the fact that Debbie didn’t “calmly asking for a raise based on merit” as if her salary has nothing to do with Dave’s; I think it’s ok for her to say “this is BS, and you need to correct it, pronto.”

      Asking Dave to take a pay cut is definitely weird. Nobody behaved perfectly, but I think declaring that Debbie was the worst kind of sucks, frankly, and calling out the finance person should be the absolute last priority here.

      1. Fuzzyfuzz*

        I totally agree. I would be incensed to have to make a case based on ‘merit’–which is often incredibly subjective–about something that was totally out of step to begin with.

    3. SJP*

      I’m inclined to agree. I mean Debbie handed it awfully but when you find out something like this massive pay gap then i’d be flummoxed and my knee jerk would be to lose it, but I wouldn’t. I’d probably have to go somewhere to vent either to someone or alone

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Here’s the thing about Debbie’s reaction though.  It sucks, but I’m not going to blame her all that much.  If the employer had been fair and cognizant about this in the first place (instead of trying to get more work out of someone on the cheap), then this wouldn’t have happened.  

        Tone policing Debbie here is a distraction from the real issue transgression, which lies at the employer’s doorstep and no one else’s.  

        Besides, how well would any of us react if they found out something similar?  I had a fit myself, but yes I literally took it outside because I knew I couldn’t control my anger.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          This isn’t about tone. It’s about a pretty outrageous, disruptive, and frankly unwarranted reaction that’s making Debbie rightly look like a loon. Think about what she’s doing to Dave, as well. Calling it tone policing is really missing what’s happening (in my opinion).

          1. SJP*

            Look like a loon is a strong way of putting it..
            I mean yes she’s handling it wildly outside of norms but she may be naive, or inexperienced or just something else entirely but unfortunately when someone gets this sort of massive news they don’t always react in a rational way

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’m willing to cut someone some slack on their reaction in the moment. But this has gone on days/weeks. So yeah, I’m comfortable with “loon.”

              1. SJP*

                Don’t mean to be patronising but loon is short for lunatic.. Someone suffering from mental health issues.. which she very well be suffering from and this situation set off a previous condition.
                Sorry but it’s derogatory. Comments on this forum have raised voices before about people sending in letters referring to people as crazy etc and I just feel that it’s not nice to refer to this women as such as she could have suffered some sort of break..

                1. brighidg*

                  Debbie’s just being hysterical about systematic sexism in society. You know how ladies get. Maybe it’s her time of the month?

                2. fposte*

                  Everybody everywhere could have suffered some sort of mental illness, but I don’t think we need to avoid all negative characterization just in case something happened behind the scenes to somebody we don’t know.

                  In the US, loon’s lost its linkage with its derivation anyway; it’s not the same as calling somebody a lunatic any more than calling somebody a fan is calling them a fanatic.

                3. A Cita*

                  I always thought loon was connected to the bird, and calling someone that was saying they were flapping their wings and squawking madly about like an irrational, angry bird. Huh. Learned something new.

                4. fposte*

                  @A Cita–I think in the US that’s the larger association even if it’s not actually the origin of the term.

                5. Chinook*

                  “Don’t mean to be patronising but loon is short for lunatic..”

                  But that can be patronising. I have a coin in my pocket called a loonie named after the bird, the loon, on it that, when it makes a call, can sound quite weird and eerie and has red eyes (quote scary). Just because you associate the word with one meaning doesn’t mean everyone does or that yours is the only correct interpretation.

                6. ComputerGeek*

                  Better to go with the full phrase, then…

                  “Thou cream-faced loon!”

                  If it’s good enough for The Bard, it’s good enough for me. :)

                7. ComputerGeek*

                  I was curious, so I looked it up… Loon comes from Middle English loun. Lunatic comes from Latin luna.


                8. fposte*

                  @ComputerGuy–okay, you made me go full OED now :-). You’re right–I learned a bad etymology here. However, A Cita is right in that the “crazy as a loon” notion comes from the loon bird, and that “loon” has a *different* etymology–it comes from another bird term, “loom.”

                  A complication is that the adjective “loony” is in fact derived from “lunatic.” You’d probably have to be a psycholinguist to determine whether people are backforming to “loon” from that rather than using “loon” from the bird.

                9. SJP*

                  Yes I get what you’re saying Fposte and Computergeek – but in the UK where I am we don’t have Loon birds and Loon is short for lunatic so if someone to refer to me as a loon i’d be pretty annoyed about that…

          2. Sammy J*

            I have to agree with SJP — I don’t think it’s at all necessary to resort to calling her a loon and distracts from having a sympathetic conversation about the issues.

            1. sunny-dee*

              I’m actually not sympathetic to Debbie. She is reacting horribly and is creating an environment that could easily drive two people (her and Dave) out of their jobs, while disrupting everyone else.

        2. nona*

          Tone policing, really? Her employer’s responsible for the huge pay disparity, but no one but her is responsible for her own inappropriate behavior. I would hate to be around that.

        3. Mike B.*

          It bothers me when useful terms like “tone policing” are pressed into service where they don’t apply; it makes them look petty and gives ammunition to their targets. It’s already happened with the very apt “check your privilege.”

          Angrily confronting your managers and your coworkers, making wild demands that violate your existing contractual obligations, having crying jags in the office…this is all unacceptable behavior even if there is a very legitimate grievance. Defending it with charges of “tone policing” demonstrates such misplaced priorities that it devalues the term.

          1. nona*

            I agree, and I don’t like seeing “tone policing” used to shut down complaints about inappropriate or worse behavior.

        4. Marcela*

          I can tell you how I reacted when I knew I was earning less than 40% of what my coworker made. I wasn’t in the office, luckily, but in a bar with friends. I was so angry I had a headache, and I had to ask for PTO because I could not suffer being in the same building as my boss’s boss. I only talked to my coworker about this when I was leaving, because he wasn’t involved in any way in the way my salary was decided.

          The core of the matter was very complicated. And it cemented my boss’s belief in openly discussed salaries. The thing is, my coworker has a degree in Computer science. Mine is in Physics. We have comparatively experience. But I came from the scientific world, so I was used to our salaries of $35k, $40k if you were very, very good and had a great relationship with the group’s principal researcher (PI) from the beginning. That’s what my husband was earning in one of the top universities in the world. My coworker, on the other had, has been working in industry, so for him salaries were around $100k.

          In my case, I don’t think it was sexism. I discovered the gap in the middle of some “gossip” about salaries in the whole office. The PI, my boss’s boss, used to brag about how he paid us the same, in our categories, so all phd students earned the same, all postdocs, admins and deverlopers earned the same in their category. But no. After we started comparing salaries, we discovered we were not paid the same, and my case was one of the outrageous differences. For postdocs the difference wasn’t more than $8k, except one postdoc who was being tempted by a famous company, so the PI paid him $100k to keep him In the group.

          You know what the PI said when asked about my salary, several weeks later when I could stand to be in the same room as him? He said my coworker was an expert with demonstrable experience. I had references and demonstrable pieces of work. Now reading some comments I wonder what the hell could I have done to not to put myself in this situation.

    4. nona*

      women only know what they know and what they know tends to be untrue.

      Could you explain this? I’m familiar with research that found that women often negotiate less than men, but haven’t read about (b). And (b) would be true for anyone interviewing with a person who gives bad information.

        1. nona*

          Okay, that shows that women in these studies were much more likely than men to be lied to. It doesn’t show that what women know tends to be untrue, which is a pretty different idea.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            I think a major problem is that women tend to undervalue themselves and lack confidence due to a host of reasons, such as the bias against b*tchy women who stand up for themselves/negotiate. A woman won’t apply for a job unless she feels she meets 100% of the criteria, a man maybe 60%. Women don’t believe, generally speaking, that they are capable even when they have demonstrated it. I’ve been reading The Confidence Code and the first bit (which is all I’ve done so far) has a lot of this, women over preparing or thinking they don’t deserve to be where they are. So, the belief that you are not good enough could be patently untrue, you’re just more willing to believe it as a woman.

            I can see how Debbie might have been lead through previous jobs, school performance and other societal factors to believe she does not deserve a high salary, so when she was offered a job, took that salary not expecting that things would be any different for anyone else. Since these things aren’t public knowledge, how was she to know? I was once told no raise would be happening because the company was going through a bad time, which I knew. I hadn’t expected to get a raise but then I found out that other people were getting 10-20% and uh… what? You can’t even give me a COL raise? If you don’t know, you just don’t until you find out. The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. Debbie needs to start looking for a new job and this time ask for a salary comparable to Dave’s from the get-go.

            1. Cari*

              That happened in my first proper job too. I was the only woman there, there were ~15 of us and only 4 had been given small but secret raises to some who had asked, on top of CoL which we all had.

              I was miffed at first, and still think the company should not have lied about not giving raises at all, but I can’t deny the colleagues that did get them deserved them, nor would I ever hold it against them for asking in the first place.

          2. Snarkus Aurelius*

            If someone is lying to you, then what you know is untrue.  

            My hunch is that employers tell women the ceiling is X, when in reality it’s Y.  So if you only negotiate to X, then is it really your fault when others who don’t have as much experience as you make Y?

            How was Debbie supposed to know the ceiling was 40K when they were offering her the low end of 26K?  That’s a HUGE range not 1K or 3K.

            My situation was the same.  I got told there was $0 available for raises when I came to find out there was actually $10K for raises that one person got.  What am I supposed to do?  Call my employer a liar to her face?  Argue with her when she says there were $0 available?

              1. Snarkus Aurelius*

                It was the same raise period. I asked and got shot down. He got a $10K raise in that same period. There could have been more money for raises. I don’t know, but I know that’s what he got.

                This was a government job so all salaries are public.

                I still say my bosses either believed that I couldn’t read and do kindergarten level math or they didn’t care.

    5. Althea*

      I think it might have been better for him/her to advocate through their own chain of command or HR. I’ve advocated for someone to be paid more when I thought she was underpaid and we might lose her as a result. If I was in finance and noticed a gender-based pay gap, moreover, I wouldn’t care if I didn’t suffer from it – it’s worth making the case for rectifying it.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s no evidence that it’s discriminatory. There are lots of reasons that could explain the disparity beyond gender. We’d need to see a pattern of gender differences in pay at the company to say that it’s discriminatory. And regardless, the friend in Finance abused the information that her job gives her access to; that’s not okay to do and expect to still have a job.

      1. YandO*

        I don’t think it is fair to say there is no evidence of sexism here

        They have a female in a supervisory position to a male, where female has 8 years of experience and a male has 2.

        Their pay difference is beyond simple negotiation tactics. It is beyond anything reasonable and whoever made this decision is a huge glassbowl.

          1. cuppa*

            Agreed, not saying it’s not sexism. Maybe it is. But you can’t determine that from information in the letter.

          2. YandO*

            I agree we cannot declare this sexism without additional information, but this situation is contributing to pay gap between genders, whether intentionally or not.

            I think it would seem a lot less egregious if Debbie did not have 4 times the experience and supervisory role.

            1. sunny-dee*

              It’s 7 years, not 8, and all we know is that Debbie has more time. It’s not looking to me like she has more experience. Dave had a much higher-paid previous job than Debbie, which says something. Her behavior is extremely unprofessional and erratic, which could have contributed to worse references or lower payscales which affected her offered payscale at this job. He may be more valuable for technical skills. We don’t know.

                1. MK*

                  OK, but this makes the decision to hire her, as Dave’s supervisor no less, somewhat odd.

                  My own feeling is that the title supervisor is probably theoretical in this case and that Debbie and Dave do the same work. And that they hired her because she was cheap.

              1. Helen*

                If Dave was a better worker – i.e. justifying the salary – why didn’t they hire him as a supervisor and not Debbie? It’s not unheard of to say “Hey, you’re interviewing for this job, but we have another role that would be perfect…”

                I agree Debbie has behaved disgracefully, but so has her company.

                Screwing an employee over that badly? Telling the employee to ‘just deal with it’ when they find out? Leaving Dave to handle the fallout?

                It’s all awful.

                1. Chinook*

                  “If Dave was a better worker – i.e. justifying the salary – why didn’t they hire him as a supervisor and not Debbie? It’s not unheard of to say “Hey, you’re interviewing for this job, but we have another role that would be perfect…””

                  Easy – because being a better worker doesn’t equate with being a better supervisor. That comes down to different skills sets that don’t necessarily equate with each other. Plus, Dave probably didn’t apply to be a supervisor (maybe because he didn’t want to be one) and Debbie didn’t apply to be just an engineer.

      2. Sunflower*

        I’m not sure how roles in finance work: We know it’s illegal to prohibit employees from discussing their pay with each other but how does that work for people in finance who have access to that information. Do they have to sign a confidentiality agreement, is it an implied confidentiality thing?

        1. Chorizo*

          I have been in accounting/auditing my entire career and the general consensus is that ALL financial info is confidential unless and until it is released to the public.

      3. Vin Packer*

        A woman in a male-dominated field is making 65% of what one of her less-experienced male reports is making. I don’t see how that wouldn’t set off alarm bells. What could possibly justify a gap like that?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Differences in skill set, overall work quality, results, market for their relative skill sets, desire to hire him being far stronger than desire to hire her, salary history if they’re a company that bases offers on that … all sorts of things.

          I’m not saying it’s not sexism. I’m saying we can’t know if it’s sexism or something else because this kind of thing happens all the time with employees who are both women or both men. There are other possible reasons for it.

          1. IndieGir*

            I’ll give a great example of this from my company. We had some special, technical employees, all men, paid in the $150K range. My boss wanted to hire a specific person he knew, who was already making $225K. My boss really, really wanted this person, and had to pay $225 to bring him on board. Later, we brought on some women in the same role, in the $150K range. Some of the men making $150K left over time, now we had one man and two women at about $150K, and one guy at $225K. Sex discrimination? Absolutely not — it about the job market for this skill at the time.

            The market has changed, and $225K guy probably couldn’t get that if he left today, but who would want to work for a company that retroactively decreases your pay? And it’s not feasible to raise the pay of 5 other people to match.

          2. RS*

            It could, theoretically, “happen all the time” with genders reversed.

            And yet, it doesn’t.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes, it does. I’ve seen plenty of it. I’m sure that other managers here have seen plenty of it too. It’s not reasonable to post all over this thread making claims based on nothing, which at this point is what you’re doing.

      4. ThursdaysGeek*

        While I admit there could be reasons to explain the disparity besides gender, there is still plenty of evidence that it is gender that caused the pay discrepancy. We’re not seeing the entire pay scales at that company, and if we did, that pattern might be clearly there.

        I suspect the gender difference is more because of women often not negotiating as well, rather than thinking they should just pay woman less money. But that’s something a company should factor in their offers, so that they don’t end up with a situation like this.

        1. Sunflower*

          This so much. Yes Debbie agreed to this. Yes she got herself into this situation. But the company had more information than her and should have evaluated the risks associated with situations like this. In order to save a couple bucks, the company might have ended up really screwing themselves. Debbie is pissed she’s underpaid, others in the office know she was low balled and are wondering if they were low balled too(If I was Dave, I’d be wondering this), people are aware that a woman is making significantly less than a man she is managing and are wondering if the company did this on purpose. As an employee, I would just have an overall bad taste in my mouth.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            As an employee looking on, I’d be seriously considering a job search, even if I loved my job.

      5. The IT Manager*

        Let me add that the friend in finance did Debbie a disservice by apparently revealing this very upsetting info at work in the morning. I’m assuming this because after finding out Debbie storms into her managers office, and then confronts Dave in the cafeteria at lunch.

        She could be the kind to want to stir up drama. Now Debbie should have controlled herself and not stormed anywhere (except home if she wasn’t holding it together any longer), but a friend would have timed that information disclosure better.

      6. Snarkus Aurelius*

        You’re not wrong, and I know you’re commenting based on this single incident.  

        I see it as a larger problem that isn’t going away primarily because employers quietly and heavily rely on employee confidentiality and the social stigma of talking about salary to get away with paying some people less.

        The wage gap persists precisely because of these ingrained behaviors.  

        As for the finance person, the Lily Ledbetter case is coming to mind.

        But yes I know I’m getting global on this whereas you stuck to this incident.

      7. Artemesia*

        Since women are often punished for negotiating and lowballed when they don’t, I think this approach is unnecessarily smug. The company really screwed up when they lowballed Debbie while at the same time paying Dave lots because — well it is hard to not assume it is because he is a man as well as that he negotiated. Do we really think they would be paying Debbie 15K more if she had ‘just asked for it?’

        I know women who have been treated badly by managers after successfully or unsuccessfully trying to negotiate for higher wages at entry. They get the reputation of being b@#$s just for doing what men are expected to do. There are examples of women having jobs withdrawn when they tried to negotiate. So women are damned if they do and if they don’t.

        Yes Debbie has behaved badly. Yes, she is hurting herself. And it boggles the mind that she thinks that Dave taking less money somehow makes her whole. BUT she still got screwed by this company as so many women do in this catch22 employment situation.

        1. fposte*

          But I’m still disagreeing that this makes stasis and not asking a logical solution. Women who negotiate don’t do as well as men who negotiate, but they still do better than women who don’t negotiate.

      8. Alternative*

        I think the letter writer tried to make it clear though, that there isn’t a good reason for the pay difference. They wrote:

        “Debbie is his manager, older, and has more experience and more responsibilities, so realistically she should be paid more, but it’s all flipped around.”

        1. Ellie H.*

          I agree – this is extremely clear. I have a really, really hard time imagining that the circumstances legitimately justify paying someone with “more experience and more responsibilities” (!) less than someone who has less experience and fewer responsibilities, despite exigencies of negotiation – the gap is simply too big. One could understand equal pay, possibly, due to exigencies of negotiation, which could still strike some as unfair, but it seems like the company seriously erred by paying someone with more experience and more responsibilities LESS, and with such a huge difference (that is even more striking in USD). Irrespective of Debbie’s reaction, it’s a serious problem. I think that the pay disparity and Debbie’s reaction are separate (significant) problems.

          1. Snarkus Aurelius*

            Exactly! Debbie is acting poorly, but the company has been in the wrong a lot longer than Debbie has been acting unprofessionally.

            This whole thing makes zero sense to me. Regardless of whatever Dave did, Debbie still has MORE experience with MORE responsibilities, and MORE on the line than Dave does. Period.

            WTH was this employer thinking when they hired them both? I don’t think it was a conscious decision to lowball Debbie, but they couldn’t honestly think that something this disparate wasn’t going to get out.

        2. Lindsay J*

          But she is also presumably coming from another job where she wasn’t paid more, and he is also definitely coming from another job where he was paid more, and I think it’s worth examining why rather than just jumping to the conclusion that she was completely undervalued and/or he was completely overvalued at not one but two separate companies.

          Maybe she has more experience, but had a work-gap so now all of her technical experience is outdated and essentially useless while his is fresh. Maybe he has a higher degree than hers or more specialized knowledge. Maybe she has an erratic job history and so the company thought hiring her was worth the risk but being locked into a high dollar contract was not. Maybe he’s a rising superstar and is being paid an overinflated salary for his current position while he’s being groomed for another one.

      9. RS*

        Creating a climate of fear around discussing salary is exactly the sort of norm that inherently maintains the power of those who already hold it, and reinforces the lack of power of those who don’t. Try as you might AAM, you can’t hand wave away an entire human history of discriminatory conditions for women and minorities.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do. Come on.

          You’ve seen the shit ton of posts I’ve done trying to give people more information about salaries, right?

          You actually need to disagree civilly when posting here.

        2. Melissa*

          Alison has addressed the pay gap and other societal problems surrounding women and minorities in the workplace a LOT, and very cogently, in past posts and comments here. She’s definitely not trying to hand wave away anything. She’s simply saying that we don’t have enough information in this case to make a judgment either way, which is absolutely true. As harsh as it may sound, we actually do ourselves a disservice by running straight to discrimination claims without collecting evidence first.

          1. RS*

            Ok, that’s fair and I apologize for my own ~emotionally motivated~ response. What I’m genuinely interested in is: what AAM and others might mean (specifically) when they call for evidence? What would it take to satisfy you that gender was a factor here? I’m not trying to set you up here; I truly want to know. Clearly I respect your opinion AAM or I would not be such a consistent reader.

            Context //
            I am a female engineer and while I’ve not faced the same salary discrimination (AFAIK) because I did manage to negotiate strongly for myself, albeit quite by accident and lucky circumstances. I encounter daily the struggle to have my ideas and work evaluated on its merit rather than my gender, my outfit, my lipstick, etc. This is a topic that is near and dear to me, as a person who has been accused of being “emotional” when pointing out disparities in access to opportunities, institutional support, and advancement — even when those claims were later determined to be true and were acted upon by HR. Even though I was merely giving an account of what actually transpired without speculation as to “why” it happened. What I’m saying is that I understand the uphill battle and the why these situations tend to be cast as a hysterical woman crying discrimination the first chance she gets, with cynical calls for “evidence” despite what is plainly happening. Typically all parties involved are perfectly aware of it — save for the odd personal who is completely blind to even their own motivations — but it’s deemed too “messy” or potentially nuclear, so you get people hiding behind calls for “hard evidence” without really outlining what that might be. I’ve personally seen that used as a tactic for shutting down conversations before they’ve received their due consideration. //

            1. olympiasepiriot*

              Months later, reading this thread and stumbled over this.

              Interesting that this comment’s question was not answered. This is a fair question.

    7. Sans*

      I do know a woman who tried to negotiate salary – just asked a general question if she could negotiate and hadn’t even gotten to specific numbers yet. They got horribly offended and took back the job offer.

      Which is why I didn’t negotiate when I took this job, even though I know I should have. I couldn’t take the chance of being stuck at my old job. Looking back, I think I could have gotten more, but not a huge amount like in this example. But I understand why sometimes people don’t negotiate.

      1. Artemesia*

        And I know women who have been treated badly although their offer was not withdrawn. I doubt what happened to Debbie would have happened to a similarly placed male applicant. And kudos to the finance person who surfaced this — This all reminds me of the smug comments made to women and minorities that they would not get such bad deals on cars if they ‘only negotiated’ when there is lots of experimental evidence that women and minorities get worse deals on cars regardless whereas manly white men are just viewed as all that when they drive a hard bargain.

    8. LQ*

      I’d have sympathy for the fiance person if they’d leaked anonymous numbers with gender only that showed an overall trend. But to share 1 person’s salary with 1 other person? That’s not showing a trend, that’s showing a single data point. You can use a single data point to highlight a trend. But what they did was wrong. Especially if they did it at work, or when they knew it would get Debbie furious and she’d not have time to process it. (Her reaction was completely out of line no matter what.)

      And I say this as someone who pretty firmly believes that salaries shouldn’t be secret.

      It also may hurt (unfortunately because of Debbie’s behavior) anything that would have stood out as here’s a trend that shows that there IS something discriminatory happening. Show everyone’s salary. And you don’t have to name them. Unless there’s only 1 woman in a supervisory capacity at the org and assuming it’s not that small. (And if there is that would be worth noting too.) It wouldn’t flag anything that would hurt an individual but might actually do something to help people.

      What the finance person did doesn’t seem noble, it seems like they were trying to stir up a mess.

      1. INTP*

        Yes, exactly. I don’t believe in salary secrecy and I don’t think it benefits anyone but the overpaid. But here, all we have is the salaries of two people who happened to be hired around the same time. We don’t know if this is a gender pattern, if it’s a pattern that they low-ball everyone who isn’t currently employed, or if Dave was just a rock star candidate that they wanted to recruit even at extra cost.

        1. LQ*

          Or it could be both. It could be they always lowball female candidates and middle of the road male candidates, and they happened to really want Dave and he is a great negotiator. But with just this data point we can’t tell. Need more data.

      2. Sunflower*

        I don’t think the finance person did it with any noble aspirations or hopes of breaking the glass ceiling. I think she simply saw her friend was making less than her report and she wanted her to know. TBH, if they were both men, I think the finance person would have done the same thing

    9. INTP*

      I would agree if it’s something that’s happening across the board, but all we have here are the salaries of two people. I do think it’s simplifying the gender disparity in the situation if we just blame women for not negotiating but we don’t know if that’s even the reason for the gap here, nor do we know if it’s gendered. There is more to an employee’s potential and value than the number of years of experience and Dave could have been by far the most promising junior engineer interested in the company while Debbie could have been one of five supervisors of equivalent experience willing to take that role for that pay. That would make the pay gap potentially politically unwise, but not unfair. I’m curious why the employee in finance did not try to look up other salaries to determine if there’s a gendered pattern here rather than focus only on two people’s salaries. I’m not doubting that she genuinely thought she was looking out for her friend, I just think the actions were misguided.

      1. Mike C.*

        I think the issue here is more that “there’s obviously smoke here, let’s check for a fire” rather than assuming outright that this is a case of sexual discrimination.

    10. MT*

      There is a lot of the picture missing. There probably is some reason why Dave was highly recruited. He probably has a speciality that was highly needed in the company, which the company was motivated to pay him to come to work.

      1. cuppa*

        I thought about that too, especially considering that the OP stated that his salary was negotiated to be more in line with his previous salary.

        1. MT*

          I make more than my manager. We are both engineers, but i have a license that he doesnt have. Even though he has more responsibilities than me, i was able to negotiate a higher salary since my company promised our customer someone who had this license, and the company was desperate to hire someone with it.

      2. Sunflower*

        I agree but if this is the case, then why did the company not explain that to Debbie instead of say ‘sorry it is what it is and you’re stuck with it’. Seems it would have stirred up much less trouble.

  6. Adam*

    Well you can’t fling a sack of onions around this office without landing near some form of dysfunction apparently.

    I feel bad for Debbie since she definitely got a raw deal here, but her every response to this glaring problem has pushed the needle on the uncomfortable meter to full on sitting on a hot stove level.

    I can see why people might give the side eye to Dave for laughing at Debbie when she confronted him. But to be honest that situation is so outer rim bizarre I don’t know what else I would have done aside from pulling out my quiet reserved “talking to crazy person” voice. And anyone demanding he cut his pay for her benefit has definitely lost site of what the real problem is here, much less what either person makes isn’t really any of their concern.

      1. Adam*

        The “onions” expression I actually modified for the sake of the AAM audience, as most probably wouldn’t have found the official colloquialism quite so charming. ^_^

    1. INTP*

      In retrospect it’s easy to say Dave shouldn’t have laughed but I’m with you…the situation is too bizarre to fault him. I would probably have assumed my coworker was joking and laughed too. To assume my coworker really thought I should give her some money, I would have to already know she was fully cray cray, or her body language would have to be very frightening to make it clearly not an act.

      1. Cari*

        Probably even easier to assume they were joking when it’s your *supervisor* doing it, too.

  7. Stephanie*

    Even if Dave did want to surrender his pay (I wouldn’t either), what’s he supposed to do–write her a check every pay day? Go meet with payroll to set up an arrangement?

    1. Adam*

      Her response was definitely made with full rage blinders on. It kind of blows my mind that some of their coworkers actually think Dave needed to step up in this situation. Budgets may be tight, but I have a hard time believing Debbie’s pay was so low specifically because Dave got a higher salary.

      1. Vin Packer*

        This is the weirdest part to me, too. Like, I can kind of understand Debbie, in a moment of high temper, saying this (though obviously it’s still not a reasonable thing to ask of Dave), but the bystanders who are like, “yeah! Dave, give her your paycheck to make up for our company’s horrible behavior! In fact, how much cash do you have in your pockets???” is the most bizarre thing here. Maybe there’s some other reason for it? Maybe they don’t like him for other reasons, oraybe he’s been acting like a jerk about it in other ways?

        1. Adam*

          I imagine it’s possible Dave doesn’t have too many friends at this place of work, which if it’s highly politicized can have unfortunate consequences if he’s not careful. But so many of them turning on him for something that is clearly not his fault is middle school level of immaturity.

        2. Spiky Plant*

          I think it’s more that Debbie wanted to believe that what was happening to her was so wrong, prima facie, that others would be similarly outraged and want to do what they could to make it right. I agree this is totally not the way to do it, but I’ve been there before… sometimes, you uncover a horrible injustice. And you think “wow, this is so obvious, of course everything will change.” And then, to your shock, people around you shrug their shoulders because it’s no skin off their back, and rocking the boat in a company where such wrongdoing exists in the first place is dangerous.

          It gets you to a point of desperation. You have an obvious injustice, and you can’t even get anyone to blink an eye at it, let alone make it right. There’s very little worse than knowing that you’ve done all you can to fix something, and in the end absolutely everything is exactly the same; like the uncovering of this injustice never even happened. And we all see it over and over again; it’s the reason why institutional racism and sexism still exists. It’s damned hard to change anything at all.

          It doesn’t mean that her judgement isn’t horrible in acting the way she is, but she probably feels crazy right now (and I mean that literally; like her understanding of the world, her job, and her colleagues is completely different now than it was before It Happened). It’s a crappy place to be.

      2. Courtney*

        Exactly. Sounds like Debbie got tunnel vision on it and was so angry she couldn’t think straight on how to get higher pay when her boss turned down a raise.

        Not to say she wasn’t wildly out of line or that others who think Dave should somehow remedy this situation are correct either. Dave needs some basic phrases to use when/if others push him to step up to fix Debbie’s situation. “That’s a management issue” or ignore them. Am I incorrect for thinking HR or a high up manager should tell employees that are pushing Dave to step up should tell them to knock it off?

      3. INTP*

        Debbie is probably more well liked or better at politicking. Or, Dave is paid a high salary compared to his peers in general and no one is happy about it.

  8. SJP*

    Evil HR lady summed it up in a recent article about the consequences of unfair pay – Now Debbie knows about this massive pay gap she’s lost moral, respect for her boss and like fore the job. She’ll likely leave now which is a shame (well not for her as hopefully now she’ll get a job with good pay instead of ripping her off)

    1. sunny-dee*

      Well, actually, based on her behavior, I imagine she would get a terrible reference and therefore not get a great salary offer at the next place. And if I were a coworker, there’s no chance I would ever hire her or recommend her for a position pretty much ever.

      1. Lindsay J*

        This. If I was hiring and I caught a whiff of this drama from the candidate herself or any of her references I wouldn’t be touching this with a ten-foot pole. The last thing I want is someone who shows a propensity for drastically unprofessional behavior and stirring up discord.

  9. Sunflower*

    Your company handled this wrong but Debbie is making it so much worse I’m not even sure there’s a word for it. She handled this in maybe the worse way possible. I’d be pissed as hell if I found out about this but publicly freaking out and attacking Dave was so wrong. Why did she even attack Dave? Why would Dave have any idea how much money she made?

    Also the fact that your coworkers think Dave should surrender some of his pay is, for lack of a better word, insane.

    If I was you, I’d be seriously considering getting the heck out of this office. This sounds like a total nightmare.

    1. JoJo*

      I agree with you about Dave. Why should he sacrifice his pay for someone else?

      I also don’t care for the attitude that Dave is greedy for wanting to be paid overtime. Working without pay is wage theft.

      Debbie should look for another job and do a better job of negotiating.

      1. cuppa*

        I may be over-generalizing here, but I see this as reflective of two different attitudes here.
        Dave negotiated (and got) a salary that he thought was fair for the work that he was performing. He also does not wish to work overtime unless it is paid. These two ideals strike me as similar in attitude; one that reflects placing worth on time and work and seeking to be adequately and fairly compensated for those things.
        Debbie agreed to the lower end of the pay scale, and (presumably) did not negotiate. She also (I’m assuming) readily agrees to working overtime without pay. Now she is horribly upset that Dave is making quite a bit more than her even though she is a supervisor. These things strike me as being a part of an attitude where she undervalues herself monetarily and places more emphasis on cooperation and giving extra to the company and now feels cheated/mistreated. It strikes me that the general attitude of the workplace is more like Debbie than Dave, and that is why the co-workers are upset with Dave for not taking a pay cut.

              1. INTP*

                Agree, and I think it’s likely that Debbie is not grossly underpaid here so much as Dave is overpaid (which might be fair and warranted if he’s really an outstanding find for the company). If Debbie was making less than them and Dave making similar, they might be cautious of promoting a precedent that might cost them some of their own salary. If Dave is making a lot more money than them, they have nothing to lose and get to gild their own petty annoyance with him as concern for their dear friend Debbie.

                Also, all these people trying to tell Dave what to do should be sharing their own salary information and seeking out anyone who they might owe some money to by being higher paid than them.

  10. Allison*

    I agree Debbie’s reaction to this information is extremely unprofessional. I don’t blame her for being angry, and I don’t blame her for feeling unmotivated, but I think this is a case where you have to step back, calm down, collect your thoughts and come up with a way to state your case professionally. The company needs to make this right, but they definitely have to make it clear to Debbie that her behavior is over the top.

    (please, let’s stay clear of words like “crazy” or “irrational” to describe her behavior, they’re thrown around a lot when people talk about women being angry and I’m sort of sick of it. there are better ways to talk about someone’s inappropriate reaction to a situation)

    Even though Debbie accepted the initial salary, when Dave negotiated a higher pay the company should have realized that they needed to offer Debbie a higher salary. At this point, I think some sort of retroactive pay is in order. I know it doesn’t seem like she deserves it, with how she’s been acting, but it may be the right thing to do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For what it’s worth, we do call men crazy and irrational here very, very frequently. With the topics we often discuss here, they’re pretty relevant words and I’m not comfortable taking them off the table for women but not men (and I believe they belong on the table for both).

      (I do know some people don’t like the use of “crazy” because of legitimate mental health issues, but I don’t think that’s what you’re referring to here.)

      1. Adam*

        I think it’s definitely fair to say Debbie’s actions were “irrational” at the very least. It sounds like she has a legit grievance with how her company is compensating her, but her every response in addressing said issue has clearly lacked any logic, sound judgment, or forward thought which is what irrational expressly defines.

        To flip it around it’d be just as irrational if Dave suspected he was being underpaid and he stomped over to payroll and demanded they tell him what Debbie’s salary was.

      2. Snoskred*

        One day I should tell the story of the crazy, angry, and totally irrational man that I worked with. :) In fact maybe that should be a post – the story of the most bizarre co-worker.

        I have never yet met a woman who could get anywhere near that level of just one of those 3 things let alone all 3 things at the same time. And I’ve worked with a lot more women over the years, too.

      3. Steve G*

        Thank you for this! This suggestion would totally thwart the discussion. “Crazy” and “irrational” don’t have any sexist undertones to me at all

    2. the_scientist*

      While Debbie’s chosen way of handling this is………not helpful, I feel like the company acted in bad faith here. It seems like they really low-balled Debbie to begin with, and I’m very curious if the initial offer they made Dave was that low. If they made Dave a higher offer right out of the gate, I think that’s pretty good evidence of, if not malice, at least bad faith. I mean, alternatively, they could just be completely clueless and poorly run, but that bad faith vibe I get is compounded by them not going “hang on, it doesn’t make sense to have a supervisor making less than their direct report in this situation. We need to review our compensation bands here”, or at least offering Debbie a raise based on “market research”. A company who was interested in pay equity and retaining good employees would have tried to do this without prompting…but they also would have had a better compensation framework to begin with!

      Either way, Debbie’s not going to get what she wants from this company and her behaviour now is not going to leave a good impression, but I do feel for her.

  11. BethRA*

    I wonder if the people who think Dave is being selfish would voluntarily reduce their own salaries?

  12. AW*

    To be clear, there are situations where a manager could reasonably be making less than someone they’re managing…

    This is true. Unfortunately, now that everyone knows about the disparity (perhaps even the size of it), but not the business case for it (if there even is one), many of the other employees are probably assuming this is the result of sexism. This is one of the reasons companies should pay people what they’re worth, not just the cheapest they can get them. Yes, Debbie’s friend should not have disclosed that (how is this person not already fired) but unless the UK laws are different on this, there wasn’t anything preventing Debbie and Dave simply telling each other what they make. I imagine there are other employees wondering if they’re also being taken advantage of.

    Also, does Debbie’s contract not allow her to quit? Because it seems like she’s trying to get fired.

    Because even if she’s mad at management, how is this Dave’s fault? He certainly didn’t tell them to pay her less and he has less authority than she does. She couldn’t have honestly thought they’d listen to him about this.

    1. Cari*

      Why quit with no job and money, when you can get fired and sue for unfair dismissal with an unequal pay kicker? Or rather, the company would know that’s the risk if they did fire her over this and her behaviour, so they could come to an agreeable arrangement with her to get her to leave quietly and with a smidge of dignity in tact.

  13. Althea*

    When I’ve found myself in work situations filled with drama, I have done a LOT of listening. I’ve also said this quite a bit: “I can see why that would feel awful.”

    Every great once in a while, when I felt someone was ranting too far or behaving badly, I would say something like “I think from her perspective, she was trying to give you honest feedback, even though it came across as pretty rude.” or “I’d guess the way he heard that sounded more like X.” Every once in a while it might make the person in question take a second look at whatever happened and reconsider their own perspective. Also I never said anything that I wouldn’t say to the person being ranted about. If it’s a valid criticism, I am willing to tell people to their face, or I don’t say it at all.

    I think it worked – on leaving that office, I was the only person who maintained a good relationship with everyone else who worked there, even if they were “fighting” with each other and all alternately venting to me.

    I hope OP can do something similar – listen a lot, never say anything to one person you wouldn’t want repeated, be diplomatic, and mostly keep your head down!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Great advice for the OP. I think we kind of loss sight of the OP at some point here.

      Not your battle, OP. The dust will settle in time, if you get yourself too involved in it you could end up getting “hurt” yourself. I don’t mean physically hurt, I mean it could hurt your job with the company.

      What I would do in this position is just quietly observe management’s behavior. You will learn a lot about your company and the people who run it. Quietly make mental note of what you are seeing:
      1) It could be that your company does discriminate against women. One instance is not proof of a pattern. But, yes, eyes wide open here. This may or may not become significant later on.

      2) Debbie’s reaction indicates that she feels she will not be heard if she uses normal conversation as a means for handling this situation. It could be that she is wrong and normal conversation would lead to changes. OR it could be that she is right and you are working for a company filled with people who do not listen to reason. OR, confusingly, it could be that the company decides that they are handling things wrong and they make changes because of what happened with Debbie. This one takes time, but the truth will come out eventually.

      3)I am not sure how long this story has been going on- a few days? a week? I find it interesting that it has been allowed to go on and on. Maybe Debbie was right to yell, maybe that is the only thing management understands. A friend worked in a place that he described this way: “If you want/need anything you must throw your hat on the floor and jump up and down on it while yelling. This is the only thing management responds to.” You don’t know what Debbie’s experiences with management have been like.

      4) Try, try, try to remember that almost no one in your story has had ideal behavior. When people around us are acting less than professional it is very hard to remain professional ourselves. This is why Althea’s advice is golden. Use this as an opportunity to learn about your work setting for your own personal use. You may learn things that cause you to decide to leave. Or you may learn things that allow you to feel you would like to put in some more years with this company. See, stories like this always have one more layer of complexity, always one more angle to consider. It takes time to get all the facts. It’s fine to offer sympathy or understanding. I have even told people that they should move on to another job because they were not getting a fair shake. I have only done this a few times, when the situation was so outrageous that was the only answer.

      In short, think of yourself as “the viewing audience”. It’s not happening to you personally, it’s happening around you. It may or may not impact your decisions about continued employment in the future.

  14. E*

    Before knowing about the pay disparity, was Debbie happy with her salary and benefits? It sounds like she’s putting a lot of stress on herself unnecessarily. If she isn’t happy with her pay, she should still behave professionally. And search for another job that pays what she now feels she’s worth.

    And Debbie’s friend shouldn’t be sharing pay information in the first place.

  15. YandO*

    Debbie is handling this so badly that it prevents people from seeing the real issue: women are still grossly underpaid than men. Yes, I know, women do not negotiate as much as men, but that’s because society rewards bold behavior in men and punishes the same behavior in women.

    This is so disgusting that I can’t even begin to address it.

    and the whole bit of “you cut your salary for me” is so beyond words crazy…this behavior is unprofessional and ridiculous.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I’ll be blunt — Debbie doesn’t seem to be worth the money she’s getting paid, much less a penny more. If she is paid less at this job or at her next, it is not because she is a woman. It’s because she’s not that great an employee.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This assumes that all great employees are well paid. We can’t tell from the writing here if Debbie is a great employee or not.

      2. Steve G*

        You don’t know this at all, unless you’ve done hiring in a company with engineers and have seen her resume! Not all engineers are socially suave. All we know is that she threw a fit once, we know nothing of her technical expertise.

        1. Lindsay J*

          But being someone who is reasonable, makes good decisions, and is easy to work with is just as much a part of being a good employee as your technical skills.

          I know these traits are not valued as much in areas like engineering and computer science, etc, where there is a greater emphasis on what you can do vs how you do it, but I guarantee that given a choice between two equally skilled workers most people would choose the more affable one every time. And quite often I think most people would choose to work with a slightly less technically skilled or less experienced employee with a better attitude vs one who is more skilled but has a bad attitude or is prone to stirring up drama.

        2. sunny-dee*

          No, it’s not once. This is weeks-long, sustained behavior that is causing considerable drama within the office and focusing a lot of undeserved animosity on Dave.

          And I’m not saying anything about great employees always getting what they’re worth. But Debbie is a demonstrably poor employee, and she doesn’t deserve to be treated like a great one.

        3. sunny-dee*

          Also, I work for a software engineering company. I participate on hiring panels (though I’m not a hiring manager). First, a supervisor frequently does little or no engineering work; depending on the setup, it ranges from a kind of team lead / engineer with managing responsibilities to straight-up people manager with no engineering responsibilities. She should be more of a project manager than an engineer, which is also a non-technical role. She may have very limited technical expertise, but be a good fit for one of the other roles — but those aren’t as well paid as skilled engineering roles.

          And, as I said, I work at an engineering company, and it’s in the US. If someone threw the fit that Debbie did, they would be fired. It would not be shrugged off as engineerings being socially awkward. Awkward is okay. Unprofessional is not.

  16. jhhj*

    I don’t think Dave should have laughed at Debbie, though it could have been a reaction to his surprise. I don’t think otherwise he did anything wrong.

    The company, on the other hand, screwed up terribly. If I were Debbie, I’d be looking into whether I had a legal case against the company.

    1. Kat*

      I react with laughter when confronted with off the wall stuff. In Dave’s situation, it WAS utterly off the wall. I would’ve laughed at her and told her to talk a long walk off a short pier.

      1. Adam*

        Agreed. Learning to be diplomatic at work is an essential skill, but sometimes you are caught off guard particularly when someone confronts you in a way that is so over the moon they’re shooting past Mars.

        Debbie has every right to be angry over her company low-balling her, but that is not Dave’s fault, nor is what he makes any of her concern.

        1. KT*

          It’s not a good thing to do, but a manager confronting you in the cafeteria about salary and asking you to take a pay cut so she can make more–then bursting into tears—it’s so off the wall I think Dave gets a pass on this one.

      2. jhhj*

        Laughing at your manager at work is not a good thing to do, especially when they just found out you make nearly double what they do despite having less experience. Even if his response was understandable — and I think it was — it was wrong, and he probably should have apologised for laughing at Debbie. He should not, of course, agree to a pay cut; pay disparities aren’t on him.

        1. illini02*

          Really? She confronted him at lunch in front of his peers and demanded he reduce is salary for her, and you think HE needs to apologize?

          1. jhhj*

            Yes. I think they both should apologise to each other. I think Dave acted poorly in laughing at her. I think she acted poorly in confronting Dave. Then I think Debbie should pass around the word that she isn’t upset at Dave who has no control over salaries, and we should put the blame where it rests, which is on the company.

        2. Adam*

          This could be an interesting discussion of how far respect goes. Debbie disrespected Dave first and way worse then he did her even if we agree his response wasn’t right. Obviously we don’t know for sure, but I don’t think his laughter was a vindictive response to finding out he made more than her. It sounds more like a knee jerk response to a clearly ludicrous demand that he cut his pay for her benefit. Ideally he would have maintained his composure and just left the situation since it’s not his to solve, being blindsided like that didn’t do him any favors.

            1. Adam*

              This too. Nervous laughter is definitely a thing and if my manager verbally accosted me in front of my coworkers and demanded I lower my salary for her (which is exactly what happened to Dave) I’d be chortling nervously too.

          1. jhhj*

            Just because she acted inappropriately first doesn’t mean he didn’t ALSO act inappropriately (although, as I have said, understandably so). I think he should say sorry, not commit seppuku.

            1. Adam*

              If I were in Dave’s shoes and it be came apparent that saying sorry for laughing was absolutely imperative to my job standing I’d do it, but I wouldn’t mean a word of it and would be looking for my ticket out for sure.

            2. Anna*

              Why should he apologize for something he had nothing to do with? Maybe “sorry this is happening to you” but no way apologize for making more and negotiating harder.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  His boss stormed into the company cafeteria and demanded he give up some of his pay so she could have it. I’d laugh too.

                  She owes him an apology, not the other way around.

                2. fposte*

                  It would probably be helpful if he did, but honestly, if you ask an off the wall question laughter is a legitimate response, and it doesn’t mean he’s mocking her, especially given the fact that the man actually did go to management to try to get Debbie more money, which seems to be getting overlooked.

                  If he laughed mockingly, yes, he should apologize, because sneering is mean. But if he just laughed (and I don’t know if the OP was there at the scene or not, so I’m not sure what her read is based on), I don’t think that’s a breach of decorum.

                3. Ultraviolet*

                  Unfortunately laughing was actually a sensible response to what Debbie did, however upset she was at the time. If he laughed just out of surprise, it might help him if he can find a way to say so and clarify that he doesn’t think her feelings were funny. But given that a lot of the coworkers actually think he should give her some of his salary, I’m not sure that apologizing for having found that request absurd would improve his relationships around the office. The coworkers might view the apology as a concession that the request is not ridiculous and just be angrier he’s not agreeing.

    2. MT*

      Exactly. Someone comes at me with an outlandish request, they are going ot get an outlandish answer.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      If this happened to me at my work, I would call an employment attorney and see if they could negotiate an increase for me. We don’t know if there really is gender discrimination, but a call from an attorney would surely get some results.
      But this is a contract situation, so it is much more nuanced than a regular employee situation. Being a contractor, the ball is really in your court to set your pay or walk away. It’s kind of like selling a teapot. If I’m selling them for $10 and then I find out that someone else is selling them for $30 and doing well, I can only be mad at myself for not charging more.
      That said, I feel awful for Debbie. It’s a terrible spot to be in.

      1. Judy*

        I’m pretty sure in Great Britain nearly all employees work under a contract. (I think most of Europe does, at least for professional jobs.)

        1. Cari*

          Yeah, we all have contracts or terms of work. We still have contractors, but it doesn’t sound like either Debbie or Dave are contractors. Though if Dave were a contractor and Debbie was still an in-house employee, it would not be at all amiss him being paid like that.

  17. Stranger than fiction*

    I’m shocked how little engineers make over there (yes I converted pounds to dollars)

      1. matcha123*

        I believe part of this is because overseas university tuition is cheaper than the US. I’ve yet to meet a European who has the crushing debt that we have in the US.

        1. Carrie in Scotland*

          Tuition fees in England/Wales can be £9000 a year or $13910 but tend to be more if you are an International Student.

            1. Violet Rose*

              I can’t speak for Europe, but I definitely don’t see the same crushing debt problems here in the UK as I did in the US. And since my funding came from the US, I’m now experiencing that particular joy first-hand. I don’t understand the system fully, but I know that income-based repayment is the default; the interest rates tend to be much lower; and it’s easier to get them forgiven after x number of years (10? 20? 30? I forget exactly) than it is in the US.

              Whenever I hear my British friends talk about their loans, I look at my US loan statements and wonder what organs I can sell to make them GO AWAY.

              1. Cari*

                It’s something like 30/35 years or when you hit retirement age (whichever comes first), and you only start paying it back when you earn over £15k (though they may have raised that limit for recent student loans), which comes out of your pay just like income tax and NI contributions… So it’s kinda like a really low extra tax rather than a loan :-)

                I think if you skip the country you can avoid paying it back altogether, but that may not be all that legitimate ;-)

            2. Violet Rose*

              Oh, almost forgot – I think annual tuition for an undergraduate degree used to be around £3,000 (just under $5,000), and only went up to £9,000 within the last few years. Caused a lot of resentment amongst student voters.

              1. Cari*

                Yup! And it was even lower than that less than 10 years ago :O It went up to £3000 from £1k-£1.5k when me and my younger sister were in uni. I was lucky enough to stay on the lower fees, but from my sister’s year and those starting the year after when the fees were raised, they had to pay the higher amount. The Welsh Assembly (I think) gave Welsh students a grant (through student loans) to cover the difference though.
                I don’t think English students were as lucky, and I think Scottish students had an even better deal than we did, but don’t hold me to that ( yay for devolution!).

                When I hear how much fees are for universities in America, it’s just jawdropping. All those family TV shows where they talk of saving up for college as soon as a baby is born, suddenly made a lot more sense :(

      2. Duschamp*

        That’s not engineer-specific. Salaries are numerically lower in Britain across the board (excluding the banking and finance sectors/nearly any job in London). If they are not located in London, Debbie’s salary is not seriously out of whack. On the other hand, Dave’s salary, on two years of professional experience, is insane. I can kinda see where Debbie would be blind-sided by Dave’s salary. How would you even think to ask for that?

    1. Judy*

      $61k is reasonable for an engineer with 2 years experience, from the salary surveys I’ve seen. Debbie making $40k with 8 years experience seems quite low.

    2. Office Girl*

      This!!! As an engineer myself, the idea of making $40,000 after 7 years of experience is….well, laughable. Doesn’t really even matter what TYPE of engineering. When I was applying for jobs as a college senior I didn’t even look twice at anything that was under 45k. So….what? I’m so confused…

      1. sunny-dee*

        I’m thinking her experience isn’t actually in engineering but more in people management, which is cheaper.

      2. Brit*

        It’s actually a little over $60k (£40k). Salaries tend to be lower here than in the US, but benefits like paid sick leave, paid vacation time, maternity leave, etc. tend to be more generous here, and average number of working hours is generally lower.

    3. Sunflower*

      Going off this, I’m wondering if Dave is now thinking ‘they lowballed Debbie bad, did they lowball me too?’

    4. Anonymous Educator*

      The poverty line in the UK is anywhere between £8,600 and £18,000, depending on how many kids you have. The poverty line in the US is anywhere between $11,000 and $24,000 (for similar number of kids). So Debbie’s making about roughly two to three times the poverty level, so the US equivalent would be about $39,000. I guess that could be okay for a rural area or small, small city. For major metropolitan areas, that would be extremely low for an engineer.

  18. Gene*

    I’ll say it again, Pay Transparency.

    Anyone who wants to know what I’m paid can find out with little effort, one of the things that goes along with a Civil Service job. AFAIC, that should be true for everyone. Companies should publish a pay schedule, if some true rock star comes along who wants more they can negotiate for it, but those exceptions would be published along with the pay schedule.

    It wouldn’t eliminate the gender-based pay discrepancy; mainly because of the different jobs the genders tend to take (in almost 35 years of sewage-based work in three different states and cities, I could count the number of female operators I’ve known on my fingers). It would go a long way toward eliminating it for people int eh same roles.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I agree. And if I want to earn more, I’ll try to get promoted to the Master Sewer Operator, instead of being satisfied with my non-sewer customer service clerk work. Go brown to get green!

    2. The IT Manager*

      Yes. I am a woman who has always worked for the federal government. Happily, I have never had to negotiate. I am fine with everyone knowing as GS-X, Step Y, I make $Z. (Although most people only know I am a GS-X so they only know for sure what pay band I am in.)

      No pay/negotiation stress or drama. IMO the business world would be a better place if commercial entities operated like this because I think there’s zero need/reason for salary secrecy.

      1. cuppa*

        I work in a similar situation, but not for federal government. Everyone starts out at the bottom of the pay grade, no negotiation. There are nuances for transfers from other departments, etc. but overall, that’s how it is. Granted, the bottom of the pay grades are fair numbers to begin with, which helps. But I like it.

      2. AnotherFed*

        The trade off is that everyone with similar experience is paid the same, regardless of how useful they are – everyone who at least is at the ‘meets expectations’ level gets their step increase. There’s only limited opportunities to reward your high performers, and those opportunities come with a lot of restrictions (time in grade requirements, for example).

        Having seen the GS scale and the demo scale, I vastly prefer the government’s demo scale because it is much more merit based than fairness based. I agree the lack of salary secrecy is good, I just don’t want a pay scale that’s been regulated into ‘fairness’ so much that it loses flexibility to reward valuable skills and high performing people.

    3. Macedon*

      In my experience of working across several countries, salary visibility is actually significantly dimmer in the UK (especially than, say, in the US), and this lack of transparency is upkept & protected culturally. Employers can’t legally bar you from disclosing your salary, but it’s considered rather not the done thing for you to talk about it. There’s a bit of a snobbish air of, “money is too dirty to discuss.” (Maybe this is a London thing?)

      So, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company weren’t counting on Debbie never finding out about the pay disparity.

    4. AW*

      It wouldn’t eliminate the gender-based pay discrepancy; mainly because of the different jobs the genders tend to take

      You’ve got that backwards. It isn’t that women tend to take lower paying jobs; those jobs tend to pay lower because they’re mostly done by women.

      A popular example is with doctors. In the U.S. doctors make a lot of money but not in Russia, where most doctors are women and it’s seen as more of a ‘caretaker’ type of job. Another popular example are the hard sciences that have recently become more popular with women…and have subsequently seen the average pay go down. It went in other direction with programming: women left the field and the pay went up.

      1. Elsajeni*

        This was a very explicit change with teaching, too — before the mid-19th century, most teachers were men, but as universal/compulsory education became the norm and people worried about who would teach in all these newly-created schools and how they could afford to run them, the reformers who were encouraging the opening of new schools started explicitly saying “Hire women, there are lots of them and you can pay them a third as much.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I had family members that were teachers around the 1950s. If you were a woman and you got married then you just lost your job. The reason was because it was unseemly for children to see a pregnant woman. And married women would definitely get pregnant.

          This could explain the higher numbers of male teachers.

      2. sunny-dee*

        The hard sciences have very few women. The reason the pay is dropping is heavy investment in H1B1 visas / foreign workers.

    5. AW*

      I attended a talk last year by a business owner that actually implemented pay transparency at his company. Not only did he put everyone’s pay in a spreadsheet all the employees could see but when he decided to do this, he actually sat down with his employees to discuss what would be fair pay scales for each position.

      He said it forces him to be fair with pay. If he wants to pay someone $X more than the others, he has to have a business reason for doing it. It’s not enough to just vaguely “feel” like one employee is worth more. But it also makes the employees happy because they all know where they stand and conversations around pay are much more straight forward.

    6. Soharaz*

      Buffer does this. They publish a scale for different roles, the formula they use to determine differences between areas, seniority, etc. and publish the salaries of everyone in their company for the world to see. Employees seem to like it and the company seems pleased with the system as well… I wish the world worked like that everywhere!

  19. Beebs*

    Interesting, this situation is exactly what I was referring to in my comment on Monday’s post about determining salary in a thread about negotiation and ranges. Salary information does get out and if you have people in similar roles with significantly different compensation, bad things will happen.

    “The eventuality that the low paid employee finds out what their peers are making is significantly higher, really has no positive outcome. This impacts company morale, their reputation, and the risk of losing a good employee, which in all likelihood comes at a much higher cost, fiscally and otherwise. All because they wanted to save a few dollars; penny wise, dollar foolish.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh, how true. We see it here. How many hours were lost while employees stood around and discussed this matter? It’s possible one or more could quit because of it. Definitely trust is down the tubes for some people.

  20. Just Another Techie*

    Wow. A 50% pay disparity when Debbie is the manager and more senior engineer? We’ve all read the studies that show that when women try to negotiate salary it backfires on them yes? The employer effed up big time here, and Debbie really has all my sympathy, even though her manner of reaction was really not wise.

    I don’t see any way for Debbie to salvage this situation, but I really hope all the other women in the office get together, compare notes, and then if necessary (I’m sure it will be necessary; I can’t imagine a situation where the senior engineer and manager makes fifty percent less than a direct report being anything but gender discrimination) calmly and professionally insist that management fix it pronto.

    Also, if I were Debbie’s manager, I’d be deeply concerned, not just about Debbie’s lack of morale and motivation, but about a sharp drop in morale and motivation amongst all the female staff. It’s shocking to me that Debbie’s manager isn’t trying to fix the situation in some way.

    1. Glorified Plumber*

      Engineering managers (in a traditional engineering firm, read Fluor, Bechtel, CH2M, etc., large or small) don’t necessarily do what you think they do.

      The statement of below I think is actually completely not true.

      >I can’t imagine a situation where the senior engineer and manager makes fifty percent less than a direct report being anything but gender discrimination) calmly and professionally insist that management fix it pronto.

      Being the staffing manager of an engineering department is often a 2-4 year stint by someone in the department and is not necessarily viewed as “more senior” or “in charge of” relative to Dave’s role. I think Dave realized the company would pay more, and negotiated. Debbie, did not negotiate, or did not negotiate well. Or, perhaps, the firm realized they could get ANY person they wanted to be the manager, and Debbie’s mistake was assuming that the engineering manager was a position of prestige versus a personnel jockey… who KNOWS. OP did NOT provide much information on the nature of the firm other than it was small, but I think it matters MASSIVELY.

      In my old office (same company, different office), I would say ~half the department makes more than the current manager unless said current manager got a HUGE raise on becoming manager.

      Granted, it is NOT 50%. But, 30%, yes.

      Also, I know these numbers for FACT… some idiot PM put everyone’s salary on a shared drive in an excel file, and we all saw it… for all 250 people in the office.

      This mistake here is assuming that “engineering manager” is the pinnacle of engineering advancement… it is NOT. Lead engineer and senior technologist are.

      1. Just Another Techie*

        This mistake here is assuming that “engineering manager” is the pinnacle of engineering advancement

        Actually, the mistake here is you mis-reading both the OP and my comment. viz: “hired for a small new engineering job in our work, a supervisor/engineer” and “a situation where the senior engineer and manager ”

        I read the OP to mean that in her firm, much like mine (also an old-school traditional engineering firm) the first level supervisors/managers/leads/whateveryoucallems ARE ALSO engineers. My manager does much the same work I do, but he also has both technical-lead and people-management responsibilities piled on top of day to day engineering work. I would be shocked and discomfited if any of his direct reports earn more than he does.

        We also have the OP’s word that this pay discrepency is very weird. Presumably if it were normal in her place of employment for “supervisor/engineers” to only be “personnel jockeys” as you say and to make less than the technical staff, she would have asked “How do I deal with how completely out of touch Debbie is acting?” instead of saying “so realistically she should be paid more, but it’s all flipped around.” I mean, I guess it’s possible the OP just has no idea how compensation at her employer is supposed to work in normal circumstances, but I’d rather just assume the OP knows what she’s talking about.

        1. Glorified Plumber*

          I re-read the opening line more carefully, and boy are you correct. I definitely made an assumption that the supervisor was limited to a supervisor administrative role, which, appears to me too to be not the case.

          >Two people got hired for a small new engineering job in our work, a supervisor/engineer and an engineer.

          I think you are right, this does change things for sure. For a smaller to medium size firm where the supervisor is in fact involved in billable technical work, at the years of experience listed, there is certainly a mismatch.

          I would agree the employer effed up… either they had no idea what they were doing (is it conceivable the boss had no idea he paid one employee 60k and another 29k? That described an old boss of mine… so I wouldn’t put it COMPLETELY out of the realm of possibility. Never assume malice when stupidity could easily explain it?) or did the employer do it with the intent of no one finding out… or did they do it because Debbie was a woman.

          I’m trying to decide if I would change my thoughts if the situation was reversed, if Dave was the supervisor making less money and Debbie the “more junior” person making more. I don’t… I really feel that this is MOST easily explained by just the fact that one negotiated and one did not…

          Perhaps the firm is in a crunch time and they can afford to pass Dave’s costs off to the client now to get work done, and the instant it dries up, Dave is the first let go. Perhaps the firm really did pay Dave more because hes a man. Perhaps they paid him more because Dave negotiated.

          I am curious what you think!

          My experience (again, dude here), has been largely egalitarian with regards to pay and authority… my boss is a wonderful lady, my boss before this one is a wonderful lady (who moved to global boss role), my previous lead (now my senior PM) is a lady (I don’t like her, but that’s irrelevant), my best junior engineer (I’m the lead) is a lady, and my first lead in oil and gas (traditional male dominated field) was female and a rockstar.

          When that former senior person of mine put a spreadsheet with everyone’s salaries on the shared drive, it was actually our 4 mid-level female engineers (out of a process department of ~24, there were 8 total ladies) who made a solid $2/$3 more than their male equivalents, I don’t recall accusations being thrown around, but, I don’t recall the conversations being had either… the guys just quit and got jobs at the competitor and client for more money and even more money.

          Anyways… I’d say the people who screwed up were: Debbie for not negotiating, the finance girl for spilling the beans to Debbie, and the boss man for creating the situation either intentionally or via stupidity.

          As well, if I was Dave, I’d be worried that if my salary is really out of whack with my experience, I’d be the first one let go when the good times end.

          1. Tex*

            Female here who previously worked for one of the firms that you mentioned in your first comment, Glorified Plumber.

            I started the same week as another guy, on what I am assuming was the same salary. Fast forward 8 years, he earns 2x what I do (which I know for a fact). We definitely got treated differently, as not only noticed by me but also mentioned by some of our peers who worked with both of us. He was nice, personable, good at his job but got treated for a rockstar for the exact same thing we both did. He got better assignments, better training, more client visibility and responsibility. I got the worst projects with the most difficult managers; in fact, he tried working for two of my managers and couldn’t hack it with either of them. Ended up quitting his job because of one of them. Went back to his old job and still got a pay raise. It was unbelievable. Did I mention I had more (and better) education than him? We were the same age, but everyone thought he was younger and up and comer because he had been on the 8 year plan for an undergraduate degree.

            Needless to say, he got higher % pay raises when we were at the same place. So, no, I don’t think your egalitarian experience is indicative of oil and gas engineering. And the difference I’m talking about is definitely not in the $2-3 per hour range.

            1. frequentflyer*

              Was he better at networking and managing workplace politics? That could have helped him get better assignments. And did he communicate his desire for better training, better client visibility and responsibility during appraisals? That may have been a reason.

              I am female too and I hate networking, negotiations and appraisal discussions. But then I realised these people skills (or whatever you call them) make all the difference and after I forced myself to do it (in a non-threatening way, of course), I did reap some dividends. But not as much as what a natural ‘people person’ would have.

        2. Ellie H.*

          I agree. Engineering management is a different thing, which many people are acknowledging, but the post states that Debbie is a supervisor/engineer (presumably, yes, also an engineer) and it doesn’t say that she has a different kind of experience, simply “more” experience.

      2. Steve G*

        But that isn’t true in all companies, so you shouldn’t write it here like it is an absolute truth. I just spent 5 years at a company that was 20% engineers and the Director of Engineering + the 2 local Managers were absolutely more senior and more experienced and technically versed + had more relationships with HVAC and building controls companies and the likes + relationships at big buildings in the main US cities…..so….they definitely made ALOT more. We have no reason to believe Debbie’s company isn’t the same. I mean, for one thing, I would assume she’d bring more relationships to the table than someone 2 yrs out of school.

    2. AnotherFed*

      Where I work, engineering manager is actually a non-technical role. It’s literally someone who manages engineers, but is unlikely to be an engineer themselves (or was one, but left for a more people/training oriented role). Senior engineer is something totally different – they usually aren’t supervisory, but they are the technical expert responsible for the design/production of the project or product in question.

  21. matcha123*

    I feel bad for Debbie. I don’t think she should have tried to ask Dave to lower his pay, since I don’t think that’s possible. But, it is a crappy situation to be in. Honestly, I don’t think that she should be faulted for “not negotiating hard enough.” If the company values her skill set, why would they give her lower than what another person asked for? Especially if she has more experience than that person? If the answer is, “Well, they asked for more, so…” that’s kind of a non-answer since I doubt that just asking for something is the best course of action when interviewing.

    I think she should have taken a breather and written down her thoughts before going to her boss. It would have perhaps helped to give her focus.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I feel bad for Debbie, too. I think she should have just quietly started job hunting. But I believe that if a company wants to retain employees they need to be proactive. An employee should not have to grovel and beg.

  22. KT*

    I feel really, really bad for Dave. This is such a bizarre situation to be in. If someone came to me and demanded I get them a raise and/lower my salary, it would be so weird, so absurd, i think laughter would be my only response, followed by incredible awkwardness.

    And OP, why do you think he’s mercenary? We all work for money! That’s the whole point of a job–good on him for negotiating what he’s worth. Your coworkers need to leave him be–this has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with Debbie and her manager–and whether or not she even has a future there.

    1. Kat*

      It’s not mercenary to expect to be paid for work. If I want to volunteer my time, I do it with a local charity.

  23. Ann O'Nemity*

    This employer sucks.

    For setting up such a large and unfair pay discrepancy in the first place.
    For telling Debbie to “deal with it” when she initially talked to her manager.
    For allowing Debbie’s antics to continue.
    For allowing staff to treat Dave like crap when he has zero control over Debbie’s pay.
    For letting this situation fester while everyone stresses and loses morale.

    1. Just Another Techie*

      Agreed. Everything the employer has done has been horrible. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this helplessly angry about an AaM letter before, and I really hope the OP updates up on how this ends up.

    2. NickelandDime*

      I completely agree. I wouldn’t be surprised if Debbie, Dave and maybe other employees were planning their exit right now. I know I would be. They created this situation and it’s like they don’t care to resolve it. This needs an update!

    3. nona*


      I don’t think Debbie or Dave handled it well, but hey. Let’s look at the employer. Sexist or not, they’re awful.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Dave handled it like a freaking gentleman. Yes, he laughed when she assaulted him out of the clear blue, in the cafeteria, and demanded that he hand over some of his salary. I would to, and he doesn’t owe any apologies for that.

        But he still went to talk to her manager on her behalf and apparently treated her kindly (the OP doesn’t say he’s badmouthing her) despite her irrational and meanspiritied behavior and the bad actions of his other coworkers. Good on him.

      2. Are you for real?*

        You don’t think Dave handled it well? Really? Dave is possibly the only person in this scenario who is not at fault. Debbie grabbed herself a first class ticket on the crazy train. Remember, she is his manager, and she is crying and demanding that he give her some of his money, since she feels she should be paid more.

        What if your manager came to you at lunch, and demanded you give him/her some of your salary? He is absolutely right to laugh at her, because her actions are so out of touch with reasonable behavior that they are laughable.

  24. Sans*

    Others have mentioned this, but it’s an important part of this: this isn’t just a few thousand dollars. If 26 was the low end of the payscale, how could she have been expected to ask for 40? That’s usually a ridiculous jump. I doubt AAM would advise that kind of negotiation.

    But then — was Dave offered 26 and asked for 40? Or was he offered more to begin with? And even if he was initally offered 26 – why would you offer a supervisor and their direct report the same salary amount/range? It doesn’t make sense.

    1. brighidg*

      I would be very surprised if Dave was offered the same to start for just the reasons you said.

    2. Alternative*

      That is an excellent point. I doubt Dave was also initially offered the low end of the range and managed to negotiate that far up from there.

    3. AnotherFed*

      I also doubt Dave was offered the low range, but since he was making 35k already, he had a solid data point to show that his work was worth more than 26K, even to inform his own negotiations. We don’t know where Debbie was coming from, if she took a pay cut in trade for a management title, or whether her years of experience were really 1 year repeated 7 times.

    4. Cari*

      It’s possible both jobs are in the same band and not on the same scale though. If Debbie’s job is actually more people management and less technical, the top-end for the band her job is in might not even be £40k, so even if she did ask (or a man was going for that job instead) for it, she would not get that.

      I’d be interested in knowing what the top end of the advertised scale was for the jobs, because if it was significantly less than £35k for the job Dave got (an explanation for how Debbie wouldn’t know to ask for £40k), it is also puzzling why he went for it in the first place.

  25. ExceptionToTheRule*

    I recently found out that a male co-worker of mine, with less than 5 years of industry experience, is making more money than I am, with almost 20 years of experience. I hired him for his first position with us, trained him, and encouraged him to move to a different department. When he got promoted to his current position he had a manager who was willing to advocate for him and ultimately got him a great salary. When they terminated my supervisor and gave me 2/3rds of her job to do on top of my own, I didn’t have someone to advocate for me and despite my attempts to negotiate, I am woefully underpaid for my value to the company.

    It was quite a reminder that life isn’t fair and it, along with one or two other things, will be highest on the list of reasons I leave. Until it’s possible for me to move on, I quietly seethe.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      It’s terrible, but I’ve seen it happen. Terrible employees have managers that somehow can’t live without them, so they keep approving outrageous raises and promotions.
      I’m not saying that your co-worker is a poor performer, just that sometimes it has nothing to do with the performance and everything to do with the manager.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Yeah. I didn’t mean to minimize his performance, which is perfectly fine from what I understand. We do different jobs, but I do much, much more outside of my “core” job description and much of it is extremely technical and specialized (and apparently undervalued).

        It certainly isn’t his fault and I wouldn’t go storming off to insist he take a pay cut. It’s very enlightening to learn how much or little value your company places on you. And hurtful when the dollar amount they assign to your value doesn’t match the BS they feed you about how much that is.

  26. illini02*

    Wow. People are a lot more sympathetic to Debbie than I am. While I can understand the anger, her response was so wildly inappropriate that I don’t know how people are defending her so much. I’m not going to touch the women negotiating topic, however to me its more about how hard Dave negotiated. If they really wanted him, and he made a valid case that he wouldn’t leave his current job for less than what he got, thats on him. I don’t know that I think that retroactively the company is obligated to then offer the manager a higher salary. It may be a nice thing, but I kind of get their point that she agreed to a salary which she was fine with until she knew Dave’s, and she signed a contract. I don’t know that I’d even call it bad faith if the contract was signed before his was.

    And Dave is being treated horribly for absolutely NO reason. First the finance person violated his confidentiality. Then his manager attacked him at lunch. Now his co-workers are being mean to him. All because he was smart at negotiating in the beginning.

    I’ll be honest, the only way I see this working out well is for Debbie to leave. If I was Dave, I would have no respect for her anymore. Same if I was her subordinate or even a colleague. Managers need to be able to control their emotions well, not act ridiculous and irrational when things aren’t going their way.

      1. Oui*

        The point is that this is an especially egregious situation. No one is saying Debbie should have lost it, but that this is a circumstance where totally losing it is understandable to an observer.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Really? You find Debbie’s behavior — making ongoing and public scenes, demanding that a direct report give up some of his pay to her, and generally causing ongoing drama on her team — to be understandable? I can’t think of any good employee I’ve ever known who I believe would behave like Debbie is behaving.

          There are certainly issues on the company’s side, but Debbie’s behavior is way beyond what’s appropriate to do in response. You don’t get a pass on terrible behavior just because someone else also behaved badly. That’s not how it works.

          1. LBK*

            You don’t get a pass on terrible behavior just because someone else also behaved badly.

            We’ve disagreed on this point before; I think there are sometimes mitigating factors that would lead me to grant leeway on question reactions. I’m think in particular of the letter where the OP had written comments about coworkers on a piece of paper during a meeting and then someone fished it out of her trash later on to get her in trouble. In that case the OP’s workplace sounded so horrible and the offense was relatively private and quiet, so I didn’t see it as being outrageous.

            In this case I’m not willing to give Debbie any leeway because the altercation was completely unwarranted – Dave was not the cause of the issue – and she’s a manager, which inherently means she’s held to higher standards.

            1. Seattle Writer Girl*

              “she’s a manager, which inherently means she’s held to higher standards.”

              Apparently not when it comes to salary! LOL

            2. Not So NewReader*

              In some places you see behavior like this. I think that there is something going on with the culture of the place that encourages people to act less than professional. I don’t think anyone in OP’s story is exemplary. Usually when you see several people not behaving quite right there is a reason.

        2. LBK*

          Totally disagree. I think a public confrontation like this would only be understandable if Dave had committed some truly egregious personal act, like sleeping with Debbie’s husband or something. And even then it would be inappropriate and unprofessional. Her issue was not with Dave, so blowing up at him is wrong on all facets.

        3. Us, Too*

          I don’t understand it because I view Debbie’s behavior as absolutely outrageous. She doesn’t get a pass from me.

    1. YandO*

      I think employer and Debbie behaved equally badly and they both will pay for their behavior in ways they did not anticipate.

      What an unfortunate situation.

      LW, stay far and far and far away from it.

    2. Cimorene*

      But “the women negotiating topic” that you don’t want to touch is really importent here. And it’s not unrelated to dave’s negotiations.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t know; I think it may be a bit of a red herring. The salary discrepancy is greater than negotiating is likely to account for.

        1. frequentflyer*

          The salary discrepancy is HUGE. Plus she had 5 more years experience. I’m really curious how that happened. It seems like there’s something wrong with the company’s pay grade system.

      2. illini02*

        I’m going to disagree here. For whatever reason she decided not to negotiate, he decided to do it agressively. Maybe she needed a job more. Maybe he had less to lose by being outlandish. Maybe he just said point blank “I won’t come for less than $40k”. They negotiated separately, so what he chose to do has nothing to do with what she chose to do.

        1. LBK*

          And even if the reason she chose not to negotiate was societal pressure on her as a woman, that’s not Dave’s responsibility to address. That’s the part that makes her actions inexcusable to me; if she wanted to just blow up at the manager that lowballed her in a closed office somewhere, that would be one thing, and I might be more sympathetic. But to publicly confront Dave and somehow implicate him in this problem is wrong, institutional sexism notwithstanding.

      3. esra*

        I think it’s complicated because beyond the women negotiating (which as a woman who likes to negotiate, argh), Debbie as a person seems bad at negotiating, and handling discussions around pay in general.

        She handled this so utterly wrong, like scorched earth wrong, that I’m not sure it’s salvageable for her.

        1. K.*

          I don’t think it is. Dave should certainly look for another job or ask to be transferred out from under Debbie, because how can he trust her after she screamed at him to give her his money and then burst into tears? And if I were on that team, I’d leave a K.-shaped puff of smoke in my wake to get out of there, because between the drama (I loathe drama, especially at work) and the fact that the employer botched this, this is just not a place I’d want to work. I wouldn’t respect Debbie at all, even if she didn’t directly involve me in her drama. And I’d probably wonder if she was going to make her way around to all her team members and ask them to take a pay cut – in which case I might also laugh at her, because that’s bonkers.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I think that Debbie has past the point of no return on this job- that type of anger does not go away all of the sudden. I think Debbie will decide to quit.

      4. LBK*

        It’s related, but not on a level that Dave has anything to do with. If the company’s willing to listen to more aggressive negotiation tactics that they wouldn’t stomach for a woman, that has absolutely nothing to do with Dave and there’s nothing he could do about it, nor would I say is he obligated to. I don’t see how the company’s prejudices play into how Debbie chose to react or what Dave should’ve done in the situation.

        Either way, Debbie’s reaction is wildly unwarranted and basically killed any chance she had of getting that raise, IMO – she could’ve probably argued that her work merited that level of pay before, but it sure doesn’t now. No way I’m giving a $15k raise to someone who berates her employees in public.

    3. Mike B.*

      Debbie is a poor advocate for an important issue that many of us feel passionately about. If one subtracts her behavior, she is absolutely in the right in this situation–the employer allowed the salary ranges of a senior employee and a junior one to overlap by the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars, then paid a man at the top of the junior range and paid a woman at the bottom of the senior one. Were Debbie the OP and were she calmly asking how to address the situation, the entirety of AAM’s readership would have their torches and pitchforks out.

      We unfortunately cannot subtract Debbie’s behavior insofar as the OP’s problem is concerned, though. Angry confrontations and crying fits over settled contractual agreements are simply unacceptable in the workplace, and a much more immediate concern.

      1. MsM*

        Agreed. It’s not Dave’s job to rectify the imbalance, but management should’ve seen something like this coming if the salary information ever did get out and not set themselves up for a potential discrimination complaint in the first place.

      2. sunny-dee*

        Actually, divorcing her behavior from this is a very bad action to take. What if Debbie has seven years of unprofessional, slapdash behavior in the work place and that’s her professional reputation? That would then be the main contributing factor to her relative worth (salary) to a company, not her sex or societal expectations about negotiating.

        Removing her behavior removes the assessment of her as an individual employee — and could remove an incredibly important factor in her salary assessment.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Ah, that’s a very good point. If she’s had several jobs where she’s had erratic behavior, and they took her somewhat conditionally, I can see paying her less. Although why hire her at all then? I wonder if her work at this job has been good up to this point, or if there have been other signs that she could behave very unprofessionally.

        2. Us, Too*

          Agreed. Frankly, after an outburst like this, I wouldn’t want Debbie as an employee at ALL, even at a rate less than she was getting! Who needs that kind of drama in their workplace?!?!

    4. jag*

      “People are a lot more sympathetic to Debbie than I am. While I can understand the anger,”

      Even if Debbie has reacted terribly, that amount of pay disparity is crazy. The guy with less experience is making almost 50% more. I can’t help but be sympathetic.

  27. AndersonDarling*

    Debbie’s reaction was not great, but If this was going on at my company, I’d be grateful that it came out into the open. I enjoy my job, and am really happy with it, but if I found out these pay shenanigans were happening, my morale would drop, I’d loose trust in my management, and I would start looking for another job.

  28. Jeff*

    I see that Debbie accepted at the lower end of the salary band, but it never said that the band was the same for Dave. Also Dave was making 35, so why would he change jobs for less? Was Debbie coming from a job that paid her less, or did she take less for this job than she made in the past? Debbie does not sound like she tried to negotiate at all.

    1. cuppa*

      Yeah. Since Dave was making 35 previously, it wouldn’t surprise me if they offered him 26 and he walked away at some point.

  29. Slippy*

    I feel bad for Dave. He is doing nothing wrong and then gets blindsided in public by his manager who is making a nucking futs demand. Debbie is not a fresh-faced college grad. She has at least one previous job under her belt so if she did not learn to research her salary or negotiate it is on her. Would she have been ‘penalized’ if she had negotiated? Who knows…but her situation would have been better if she had tried. Her reaction could be used as a case-study on how to not react to bad news.

  30. Chriama*

    The one thing I haven’t heard mentioned here is the quality of both employees’ work. Is Dave a better employee than Debbie, even with less experience? I could imagine a situation where the company is operating in good faith, but clumsily:

    Debbie has average technical ability, but she does have experience in people management. She gets hired as a manager at market rate for her skills experience. Then Dave comes along, and is a *way* better technical candidate than Debbie. He plays hardball because he knows he’s talented enough to command a higher salary, but he doesn’t have people management ability and so gets placed under Debbie. All’s fine and well, until Debbie storms into management’s office and has an unprofessional hissy fit. Management isn’t interested in paying Debbie more because her skills are only average and she’s earning market rate anyways, but they explain themselves badly because they’re so taken aback by the childish tantrum, and honestly, how do you tell an employee “we pay your subordinate more because he’s better at his job, and you don’t deserve more money because you’re only average”? At this point they’d probably rather just hire someone else in Debbie’s role since she’s gone from an average employee to an average, high-drama employee, but they can’t fire her. So they let her continue throwing her tantrums and do their best to ignore her.

    So it’s possible that the company only erred by not explaining themselves well to Debbie and allowing her to continue this emotional rampage rather than holding her to a standard of professional behaviour. Is that wrong? Yes. Evidence of malice or sexism? Not necessarily.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Even if she was a great employee who was being blatantly discriminated against in her pay, I think at this point they should fire her. So your scenario could be the case, but even if the company was doing a good job up till now, if they let the drama continue, they are failing.

      Still, you have come up with a believable scenario.

  31. Katie the Fed*

    When leaning in, it’s important not to lean so far that you lose your balance and break your nose.

    What an uncomfortable situation for everyone.

      1. LBK*

        I dunno, I can kind of picture the flames dancing in the reflection of Sheryl Sandberg’s eyes as she stares gleefully at the smoldering wreckage of the Facebook HQ.

  32. Jubilance*

    It’s really the company that handled this really badly. From the start they were ok with paying Debbie significantly less than her subordinate, and I assume would have been find never addressing it again. As others have mentioned, women are both taught/conditioned to not negotiate salary, and many time are outright penalized when they do try to negotiate. It’s not a given that the company would have rescinded Debbie’s offer if she had tried to negotiate, but the fact that they offered a person with 7yrs experience the low end of the range worries me. Debbie could have made some great points if she hadn’t handled this so badly and reacted in the way she did. With this level of harm, I think the best thing for all parties might be for Debbie to find employment elsewhere and use this is a learning lesson to always determine her market value and to negotiate.

  33. What Would You Do? Salary Negotiations*

    With all the discussions about salary negotiations, and who’s at fault for massive pay gaps that disproportionately impact women, I’m putting up a script from some recent salary negotiations of mine and am interested in what others would have done differently.
    Interview is going great. Passed the HR screen, and the phone screen and I have been invited for an all-day in person panel interview. Have been offered relocation expenses, and I received a phone call from HR the day before I was supposed to fly out. My tone throughout all of this is calm and friendly.
    Hi this is HR from Company. I’m calling because the salary range you listed for Job is outside the range for this position, and we are wondering if you are still interested in interviewing with us.
    What do you mean by outside of the range? How far outside of the range are we talking?
    I’m not at liberty to discuss salary specifics with you at this stage. Your minimum salary is above the maximum we can offer for this position. Are you still interested in the role?
    Yes I’m still interested in the role, just to be clear you can’t tell me how far off the range is? Or why this range is inappropriate for the job? My research indicated this to be a reasonable range.
    We have to be fair to all of our employees, and for someone with just 2 years of experience {I cut HR off}
    Wait. 2 years? I have over 5 years of relevant experience.
    Oh. *shuffles paper* Position Y was related to skills A, B, and C?
    Yes. As was the position before that – does that put my range back on the table?
    No. Sorry. Even with 5 years of experience, your range is still outside of the range for this position, but it does close the gap. We have to be fair to all of our employees, and our equation just won’t bring you up to your minimum salary request. You just don’t have enough years of experience for the salary you requested.
    I don’t have a lot of years of experience for someone in this role because I have been rapidly promoted. As you can see from my resume, at the beginning of the year I was promoted to a job 2 grades above my current position. That’s incredibly rare at a company as large as this one. We have over 200,000 employees in two countries and span the entire east coast. I’m doing quite well in this role, as you can see from the accomplishments I listed, and I was given an additional 6% raise just 6 months after my promotion. Can’t your equation account for quality of the few years I have been working?
    No sorry. We have to be fair to all of our employees.
    Well can you describe the benefits to me at least? Without knowing the salary range we are talking about, or the benefits, it’s hard for me to answer your question.
    {At this point HR is curt}. Again I am not authorized to discuss salary specifics with you at this point and we have to be fair to all of our employees. This discussion isn’t getting us anywhere, so I need you to tell me if you are still interested in interviewing with us tomorrow or if we should call it off to be courteous to both your time and ours.
    Well without knowing anything about the benefits, or the salary, I can say that I would be extremely concerned if the offer was (10% below my previous minimum).
    Okay we can work with that. See you tomorrow!
    Job offer comes. It’s 2.6% below the new minimum I gave on the phone earlier (12.6 % less than my original range). I accept without negotiating because I believe this is the maximum range of the role, and I really wanted to move.

    1. Adam V*

      It’s below the *new* minimum, which was 10% less than your previous minimum? I would tell them “best of luck recruiting for the role” and keep looking. Unless your original minimum was something like double your current salary, or cost of living in the new area is significantly lower than your old home, this company seems way too cheap to me.

    2. IndieGir*

      I would have walked away in the beginning, when they came in below my minimum. It’s like buying a car, or a selling house — you have to know up front your maximum to buy/minimum to sell and be willing to walk away. But, if you really wanted to move, then maybe your true minimum was just lower than what you thought.

      BTW, the line about “fair to all our employees” would stick in my craw. I don’t care about all your employees. I care about me. All our employees aren’t my mother, they don’t love me, and wouldn’t care if I were let go tomorrow. This is a business relationship.

      1. Mephyle*

        Moreover, what do they mean by “we have to be fair to all our employees”? Apparently all of them except you.
        “We will negotiate with you without telling you the terms of the benefits we are offering. We will base our offer on a hypothetical ‘you’ that has at least 3 years less experience than you actually do.” They are working off a biased definition of ‘fair’.

        1. Chinook*

          ““We will negotiate with you without telling you the terms of the benefits we are offering. ”

          This is the implied part of that script that bothers me. I would have no problem moving up/down my minimum if it is a job I want and other conditions are favourable, but I need to know what those other conditions are. Getting paid $50k for 50 weeks of work or 49 weeks (i.e. 2 vs. 3 weeks of vacation), is a significant difference. Ditto for whether or not I get basic health insurance or the golden plan. Or if they include a free transit pass. Those benefits all have a monteary value to them and might be worth lowering my take home pay. I may not be able to negotiate those benefits, and wouldn’t expect to (though I have negotiated more vacation time), but I sure as heck want to know what they are.

    3. yasmara*

      Personally, I think you could have handled it better. Why were you negotiating with HR before an offer was even made? I would just have said that you were still interested in the interview & gone from there. Once you show the hiring manager what a superstar you are, have them negotiate with HR to get the salary within your range.

      One thing I’m not clear of is if your new salary was above your old one at your previous company? Or because you moved, were you willing to take a pay cut? I wouldn’t expect a job in Des Moines, IA to pay the same as a similar job in San Francisco or NYC, so if you were moving to Des Moines, you would expect a smaller salary, but would reap the benefits of cheap real estate and possibly work-life balance.

      But I talk a good talk for someone who hasn’t negotiated salary in 14 years! So, I’m very interested in hearing what others say.

    4. fposte*

      I’m thinking that if you’d have been willing to work for less than your stated range, it would probably have been more effective to say that you’re still interested in exploring the position but you’d like to wait until you’re farther along to discuss salary particulars.

      But it’s quite possible it would have ended up in the same place (and it sounds like you know the place well enough to know now), so I don’t think it’s something to have a lot of backward thoughts about.

    5. J.B.*

      Is this a really bureaucratic company/institution? HR negotiating salary initially sounds like that to me. To give them the benefit of the doubt there might be some actual policy that ties salaries to years of experience. Not that that is a great idea, but it may be present. I think once you start, learn as much as you can about the environment and how they deal with employees. Learn about how you would request a raise in that environment and keep your resume up to date. If you develop good rapport ever with someone who has influence over the process it might be nice to say “this happened and it made me uncomfortable”.

    6. What Would You Do? Salary Negotiations*

      I appreciate everyone’s input. I wasn’t trying to negotiate salary before an offer, I just felt strong-armed into “agreeing to” a new lower salary before I even learned about the company, since this call literally came hours before my scheduled flight.

      I’m curious for those saying I should “deal with the hiring manager” how would you suggest I bring them into the fold? I’ve never had a hiring manager offer me the job, it’s always been HR and they have always run the negotiations. Is there a professional way to get the hiring manager aware?

      Also as an aside, I took the job since the relocation was really important to my family and I was okay with a lower salary that was on the high end of what they could offer. I just chalked it up to COL being greater than I had calculated in my original request. However, I have since found out that I am in the bottom 10% of the salary range for this role! I did tell my manager about what happened and she is not pleased, she is promising a raise as soon as she can … but I’m not sure it will pan out.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I hope she advocates strongly for you, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. However, if you were moving up that fast at the previous job, it’s not like you’ll have to stay here that long. Couple of years, and you’ll be up and away!

    7. Slippy*

      You should have walked away. It sounds like they got you at a substantial discount. Companies are not required to be fair to their employees and you have no obligation to be fair to people you have never met before. In essence the HR person was admitting they do not pay their employees market rate and therefor you are obligated to take less than market rate from us. The fact they would not discuss benefits either was also a huge red flag.

      Something different to try next time would be to speak to the manager/director you would be working under and try and circumvent HR. If you can convince the manager/director that you are worth they can put pressure on HR to get your range. Also remember in negotiations it is always safe to assume the other person is lying.

    8. MsM*

      Yeah, I would’ve pushed back: “When I spoke with HR about the salary range, I was very clear that [minimum] was the lowest offer I would feel comfortable accepting. And even that should be an indication of just how much I want to come work with you, as I felt my initial minimum request of [previous minimum] was well in line with my experience and industry standards. Is there any way at all we can bring this number up to where I was under the impression it would be going into our final interview?”

      As it is, when you go in to talk to your manager about that raise, bring lots of evidence about everything you’ve been doing and what your market rate should be. And keep an eye out for other opportunities now that you’re settled in case this one doesn’t pan out.

  34. Althea*

    I also want to say that for those who want to change this horribly secretive culture around pay in the US – be willing to share! When it comes up in conversation, I will usually volunteer my salary. And I’ll share my context and whether I think it is low, high, etc for the job and location. I’m not embarrassed and I think it can help people, especially during an informational interview.

  35. Cimorene*

    Ugh saying that a $20,000+ wage difference between a female manager and her male report is probably “just” about negotiations and not necessarily about gender discrimination–as if negotiating for salary doesn’t already have gender discrimination built into it–is like saying that Freddie Gray’s death was about an absence of a seatbelt and probably had nothing to do with racism.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Who is saying that it’s probably about that? What I’ve been saying is that we don’t know either way; there are multiple possible explanations. Sexism is one.

    2. LBK*

      I actually saw the massive size of the gap as proof that this likely wasn’t the result of sexism. I think most frequently the wage gap plays out as two relatively close amounts being offered and the man being more aggressive in moving himself up to the top of the range, whereas the woman doesn’t negotiate or gets her negotiations declined (which I’m not saying is acceptable by any means, but due to historical trends, gender expectations, etc. that’s how it ends up happening often). To me, this seems like a clear case of one person having much better cards to play; Dave was coming from a higher starting point, so it was easy to make the argument that the company had to match or beat his current salary if they wanted him. That’s a much, much easier way to get a high offer than trying to talk yourself up $15k from where you are now just based on how good an employee you are; that requires a lot more evidence of good work and more faith on employer’s part that the impression they’ve built during the hiring process is an accurate one. I think it would be really tough for almost anyone, male or female.

      Yes, there are institutional factors that always play in when it comes to negotiations and the gender gaps that follow, but there’s no way you can issue a blanket statement that every time a man gets paid more for a woman that it’s discriminatory. They aren’t even doing the same jobs and they have wildly different experience levels; there isn’t really a good reason to compare their wages except that they got hired at the same time, which seems like an arbitrary reason to assume discrimination occurred when their two offers were made.

      If you want to argue that Debbie’s low wages alone are a cause for concern an an indication of possible sexism, then that’s fine, but that examination should be done with more accurate group and peer data, not based on one data point (Dave’s salary). There’s far too little evidence to confirm discrimination, especially from a legal perspective – most cases like this require proof of trends or widespread averages, not singular comparisons.

  36. AMYR*

    Debbie over reacted for sure, but I still feel sympathetic to her. As a woman who has always had salary negotiations blow up in her face, I certainly understand why she didn’t negotiate and why she had a moment of temporary insanity when she found out about the large disparity in pay between her and Dave.

  37. Rae*

    I work with IT students who are almost all working professionals. Many are specialists in fields that are dying but are extremely well compensated. They make double or triple what their co-workers at the company do, and can often rake in additional money with consulting.

    And then there’s the replaecibility factor. Managers are very replaceable, even in IT. Certainly knowledge is important to supervise, but it isn’t the end all be all. An engineer has to know what they are doing…uptraining to some degree is impossible.

    Plus, as I said in an above reply there are plenty of office managers (not admins) that manage doctors. Do we really want to pay them more than the doctors just for managing?

    That and it was noted that Dave already made 35k and we can assume that Debbie didn’t take a pay cut for this job. It was also noted that Debbie had “7 years experience” while Dave had 2. We can assume that Dave merited his first wage somehow. Degrees matter, and a higher degree can merit a higher wage automatically.

    Add all that to immaturity. In my book, a supervisor demanding a subordinate give up his wage for her would be grounds for automatic termination. That’s harassment of a new level.

    1. Lindsay J*


      We know Dave was being paid 35K at his last job.

      We can presume that Debbie is not coming from a job where she made 35K, because it is not likely that she would have taken such a large paycut.

      I think it’s more likely that there are other circumstances at play here than that two separate companies completely undervalued Debbie or over completely overvalued Dave.

      Maybe Debbie’s 7 years of experience is outdated while Dave’s is current. Maybe Dave has a higher degree. Maybe Dave has more specialized technical knowledge. Maybe Dave is a rising superstar while Debbie has topped out.

  38. Anonymous Educator*

    This may be an unpopular opinion here, but I think Ellen Pao may be right on this one. The best thing to do in the long term is to get rid of negotiating altogether. In the short term, you may lose out on some really talented individuals, but in the long term you’ll adjust your offers to the market rate and then not lose out.

    Right now a lot of salary process is like buying a car—there’s a sticker price, and then you have to do this whole song and dance to get an agreed-upon price. That’s one model that “works.”

    But we all know that fixed prices (not the same as price-fixing) also work and adjust to the market (I don’t haggle with my grocery store over the cost of eggs or milk… if I don’t like their prices, I just go somewhere else).

    If enough employers stopped negotiating (and had transparent salary ranges), this sort of situation would have never happened to begin with.

    1. Chriama*

      I think that can work if you have a strong idea of market rate and a very clear pay scale. New employees all come in at a rate that’s based on their skills and experience. Current employees get a raise based on current market rate and the value they brought to the company in the last year. The company needs to be on top of things to make sure women aren’t getting less credit for their skills or contributions than men – maybe offers are made by HR looking at application materials with all identifying information removed, and performance evaluations are audited in the same way?

      Overall I think it would be a lot of work for the company to administer, and done poorly would have the same impact as before but with the added insult that women aren’t allowed to complain about being underpaid because the company is ‘fair’.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Well, that’s why I said also with transparent salary ranges. If you see salary ranges at multiple companies, you have a sense of what’s reasonable. Right now a lot of exploitative companies use candidates’ ignorance of market rates to take advantage of them.

  39. Golden Yeti*

    This whole thing is just mucked up. I feel for both of them.

    For Debbie, having something slap you in the face like that has to be super hard. Whether or not the huge disparity exists due to the glass ceiling, for the most part, it just seems wrong that a manager would make less than a subordinate–especially that much less. Generally speaking, employees should see a higher-ranking role as what’s possible–as something to aspire to. If that supervisory pay differentiation isn’t there, it sends a huge message to the employee that sticking around and trying to climb the ladder isn’t worth it. That’s one factor behind why I want to leave my current position: one of the managers, who has been on board twice as long as I have, still isn’t making much more than I am. To me, that’s a red flag. Debbie should have negotiated for more, and there’s no getting around that. I don’t know if it was a lack of payscale research, or a lack of confidence, or just taking the employer for their word when maybe she shouldn’t have. Still, even though she was rightfully angry, she didn’t control her emotions well, and I don’t know if she’ll be able to undo that. I don’t think it would be out of line for her to apologize to Dave for taking it out on him, especially since he didn’t know about the disparity. Plus, the fact that he talked to her manager even after she made the embarrassing display in the cafeteria tells me that he does care to a point, which is something the coworkers seem to be overlooking. At the end of the day, though, it is his agreed-upon wage, he can use it how he wants, and if he’s like most, he probably wouldn’t give a coworker an “allowance” with money that could be used for family emergencies and other situations. Unfortunately, though, I think Debbie may have inadvertently reinforced the inaccurate stereotype of “women in the workplace,” (i.e., the public display, the crying often afterwards, etc.) and has probably set herself back from any chance of real progression in that particular company. I think she’ll probably need a clean start somewhere new to have any hope of repairing the damage. Who knows? Maybe she could ask Dave to give her tips on how to negotiate more aggressively for the future.

  40. super anon*

    I feel bad for Debbie, I feel even worse for Dave. He’s now being ostracized by his coworkers for not giving into Debbie’s outrageous demand that he cut his pay because she doesn’t get paid enough, made after badgering him to help her get a raise? He did nothing wrong in this situation, and is still getting the short end of the stick.

    The entire situation at that workplace sounds like a grade a mess.

    1. mel*

      Yeah, I don’t understand why other coworkers are turning on Dave. To me, Dave seems pretty blameless in this situation. My guess is that he must make more than literally everyone else there, and the comment about his refusal to work unpaid overtime and his separation of work/life put him in a rather enviable spot before any of this happened.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Coworkers turn on each other when leadership is unfair, typically. It is easier to have an issue with your coworker than it is to have an issue with your bosses. We can see the same thing in families. If the kids feel the parents are unfair the kids will tend to fight with each other more often. They won’t fight with the parents (the real problem) as much.

  41. Brett*

    Is it normal in the UK to negotiate salary and sign a written contract during an interview? That seems very off to me and a definite recipe for strong arming an employee into a lowball salary.

    1. Brightwanderer*

      Yes. Not during the interview, but it is normal to sign a contract, which specifies your wages, your notice period, and the things you can be immediately fired for. Part of the reason some people in this thread are saying that it’s hard to fire people in the UK is because companies tend to treat those contracts a bit like “well, it doesn’t SAY in the contract that you can be fired for being unpleasant to work with and not pulling your weight, so that means we can’t, right?”

      1. Cari*

        With the not pulling your weight thing, I think if a company had a documented system of performance measures and reviews, it would be easy to get rid of an employee that didn’t meet expectations. If an employee provably isn’t doing the job they were employed to do, as outlined in their contract or the terms of work they’ve agreed to (which often seems to include some vague phrase like “other duties” from what I’ve seen), they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if trying to make the case for unfair dismissal (maybe if they could prove the contract and expectations of them weren’t fair to begin with though, idk?) :-)

        Unless it’s public sector. Then contract or no, you could be figuratively Satan and they still wouldn’t fire you. You may be first up on the redundancy chopping block when government cuts funding, but otherwise…

  42. Ed*

    This is the exact reason why I never disclose my salary to anyone. When they inevitably march into our manager’s office, I don’t want my name to be the one they use to try and force a pay raise. I personally believe in total transparency but that only works if it’s across the board for all salaries.

    We had a similar situation to OP where helpdesk staff starting quitting when a new company came to town. They never discussed salary before but that stuff has a way of slipping out when people quit. It turns out one of the most experienced analysts who had been there about 3 years who is also the only person of color was making by far the least. Taking race off the table, I’m not sure how they justified his low salary based on skill alone since he was pretty good. We had also hired a new guy right out of school (who is white) and he started at $8K above this other guy. He was apparently rebuffed when he went to HR but he got a much better job right after that and left anyway. I can’t say whether discrimination was involved but it was certainly a case of not knowing your worth in the marketplace. This guy wasn’t a superstar or anything but my jaw dropped when heard what he made.

  43. mel*

    Damn, I really feel for Debbie.

    Drama aside, as someone who sees an awful lot of conversation online about “class warfare” and sexism and so forth, I can see how something like this can throw someone completely over the edge. I can also see how she would take such a thing so personally as a statement of her perceived self-worth (because, isn’t it?), as it is so much easier to tell someone that their job isn’t their identity than to actually believe it.

    I think the best way that OP can help, should you wish to, is to just be there as a friend and offer comforts of friendship. Feeling alone and ignored sucks, and it sounds like management is turning a weirdly cold shoulder.

    1. Chinook*

      “I can also see how she would take such a thing so personally as a statement of her perceived self-worth (because, isn’t it?), ”

      No, I don’t think it is (unless you choose to). Look, I have done the exact same job, AA, in two completely different markets – Ontario and Alberta. I get paid twice as much in Alberta than I ever contemplated getting in Ontario. Even working at Timmy’s I would make double in Alberta what I made with the same job in Halifax. My self-worth has not doubled by taking 3 days to drive west. Market forces did, though as well as cost of living. If I were to go back east, I would never expect to make what I am making now (and wouldn’t expect to make it 2 years from now even if I stay in Alberta due to the bust cycle hitting). Salary doesn’t show my value as a human being – it is a means to support myself.

  44. Retail Lifer*

    As someone who has been paid less than her less-qualified male counterparts and also who has been paid less than her far less-qualified co-workers (who were hired on later, after the salary range was extended) I feel for Debbie. It’s incredibly insulting and frustrating in either circumstance. I’ve never worked for a company where there was more than $5000 or so of salary wiggle-room, so she probably had no idea just HOW MUCH she could have negotiatied. Honestly, if someone offered me $26,000, it would never have occurred to me that $40,000+ was in the realistic realm of possibilities. MAYBE, if I was luckly, I would think I could get $32,000…but I wouldn’t truly expect it. Not defending her outbursts or unprofessionalism, but I get where it stems from.

    1. LBK*

      The thing is, we don’t actually know if $40k would’ve been a realistic number for Debbie. She didn’t have as hard a bargain to drive – an existing high salary for the company to beat – and she was being hired for a different position. If Dave had some unique skill or just really blew the interviewers away to the point that they felt they had to have him, they may have been willing to juggle money around to match his salary request in a way that they wouldn’t have done for Debbie.

  45. insert pun here*

    I once found out that a male junior employee (who didn’t work for me) made more than I did. (The circumstances were complicated and not as a result of negotiation or lack thereof — I can’t really get into the specifics of the situation for various reasons.)
    Once I had calmed down (~24 hrs), I went to my boss and said: this is happening. It is unaccceptable. You will fix this or I will quit. (And I was fully prepared to walk out the door.)
    I then followed up with a letter CC’d to everyone in the world pointing out that paying male junior employees more than female more senior (though not managerial) employees was problematic, to say the least.
    I then made a point of interviewing at a competing company.
    It was fixed within a week.
    All of which is to say, yes, Debbie handled this poorly. But I understand her rage. I was so angry about this when it happened that I couldn’t sleep.

    1. illini02*

      That seems a bit too much of a scorched earth approach. I mean yeah, you got what you wanted, but CCing your whole office is a bit unnecessary

      1. insert pun here*

        Not the whole office, but various higher-ups and HR. But you better believe I also told other folks who were in the same situation.

      2. insert pun here*

        (and I should note: large organization with many, many layers of bureaucracy and lawyers surrounding this sort of stuff.)

  46. Scott*

    This is why there’s a perceived gender pay gap. Debbie, who despite 7 years experience, has no idea how to market her skills, and jumps at the first offer thrown at her. Dave who decides he’s not leaving his current job for less than a decent raise in pay holds his ground and gets what he asks for. Then when someone in accounting reveals it to her, she screams discrimination.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Sexism (usually unconscious) actually does exist. There are many reasons for the gender pay gap, and as others mentioned above, women do indeed get penalized for negotiating (not saying women shouldn’t negotiate or have never been successful negotiating, but there’s a cost—whether it’s how your new employer perceives you… or an actual rescind on the offer).

    2. Laurel Gray*

      This comment screams sexist.

      How do you know that this is the first offer thrown at Debbie? Isn’t it true that we are missing some context particularly the order in which these two were hired and the specifics about Debbie’s previous salary and IF there were any negotiations that went on during her interview? Does the letter say that Debbie is screaming discrimination or are you just making that assumption based on other comments here?

      1. LBK*

        I don’t think it screams sexism, but it does come off a little ignorant of the mitigating factors that play into these cases – namely, that men tend to get more leeway with aggressive negotiations, whereas women a) tend to be pressured into not negotiating, and b) tend to be less successful when they do negotiate. I didn’t read Scott’s comment as saying “women should just learn to be as awesome as men!” but rather that the wage gap isn’t as simple as a man getting paid more than a woman if all other factors are equal, which is often how the wage gap is described but not how it occurs in reality.

    3. Joey*

      If that’s what happened then it is pay discrimination. The law doesn’t allow you to pay similarly qualified women less for doing the same job just because they didn’t negotiate. That’s why it’s called the Equal Pay Act and not the Women didn’t negotiate well act.

    4. LD*

      She screams discrimination???? How do you get that from the OP’s description of the situation. Debbie took the news of the salary discrepancy badly and was very upset. Nowhere does the description imply that Debbie is accusing anyone of discrimination. (That doesn’t mean that she ISN’T being discriminated against, but we don’t have enough details to know. We don’t know anything about the salaries for similar roles, for example. Maybe everyone in a similar role came into the company at that salary. Maybe all the men come in at 10K more. We don’t know.) Don’t make accusations where there is no evidence.

  47. Laurel Gray*

    I find the workers who are angry with Dave and siding with Debbie strange. I think their anger should be at the company and they should actually be in solidarity with Dave and Debbie. Debbie’s outbursts and sharing of this information should have set off alarms to other employees that it is possible that they may be the Debbie of their department! Seeing something like this play out in the cafeteria and then hearing the gossip around the office would make me wonder if company-wide salaries weren’t screwed up like this. I wouldn’t be surprised if the person working in finance hasn’t been approached by other employees wanting information (or approached by management for disciplinary action). I don’t really look at Dave as some excellent negotiator any more than I believe this firm does not have a solid understanding about the market rates for this position – and neither does Debbie, who low balled herself apparently.

    1. Ultraviolet*

      It is super weird that everyone thinks Dave should give up some salary and is being selfish! I could imagine people believing it’s Dave’s responsibility to speak up and say Debbie deserves more–not that they would necessarily be correct in believing that, or necessarily basing that belief on accurate information about Dave and Debbie’s skills, just that it’s not utterly absurd. But it’s astounding that they actually think he’s wrong not to tell management to transfer some of his salary to her.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’m just guessing here, but maybe Dave is really overpaid compared to most co-workers. And the OP described him as “mercenary” and someone who doesn’t go above and beyond. If all this is true, it’s possible that co-workers are thinking that Dave doesn’t deserve his salary and are blaming him instead of blaming management. I could see it playing out like:

      “Dave is a good worker.”
      “Did you know he earns $40k?”
      “What?! He’s not that good! If I was earning that much, I’d be working my butt off but he’s doing the minimum. Ugh, this just ruins my opinion of Dave.”

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Note, I’m not saying this attitude is right. I just like trying to put myself in the mindset of others to try to see where they’re coming from.

  48. Betty (the other Betty)*

    The pay disparity is not fair. Debbie’s behavior was appalling.

    I don’t know if this is what happened in this case, but isn’t this a problem when hiring companies consider the prospective employee’s salary history when hiring? We know that Dave was making 35k at his old job, so it made sense that he would not accept the job unless it paid that or higher. We don’t know what Debbie was making at her old job. Did she take a pay cut to get this job? Possible. More likely, she was making less than what she is earning now.

    Of course, I know that companies should pay based on the skills of the person and the responsibilities of the job. But I also know that sometimes they do peg the salary to a person’s previous salary history. Lesson? Negotiate salary for your very first job and at every opportunity.

    And yes, I’ve seen the studies that it can be disadvantageous for women to negotiate. In my opinion, it’s worth that risk. Not negotiating can have effects that last for the rest of our careers. There are some good resources out there on how women can negotiate differently. A friend of mine loves the book “Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want” by Babcock and Laschever, and credits the techniques she learned from it with her success in jobs and in business.

    When I was a kid, there was a riddle: A boy and his father are in a car accident. At the hospital, the doctor exclaims, “I can’t operate on this boy: he is my son!” Who is the doctor? The trick was that most people couldn’t image a woman doctor, so they didn’t get the correct answer: the doctor was the boy’s mother. Times have changed and most kids now won’t even understand why this would be a tricky riddle. Of course women, even mothers, can be doctors!

    Maybe it’s time for women to take the risk of negotiating as much as men. If negotiating becomes common for both genders, eventually perceptions will change and in 20 years no one will treat women-who-negotiate any differently that men-who-negotiate. Doing this might mean taking a risk now. But it could be worth it for the future.

    (Stepping down from my soapbox.)

      1. Betty (the other Betty)*

        I thought of that too! My comment was getting too long so left it out. But I guess it further illustrates the point I was trying to make, that change happens but often only after people pursue it ways that may cause themselves risk.

  49. Shell*

    Debbie’s reputation after all this is totally trashed; she really should be making an exit plan.

    Frankly, I think Dave should be making an exit plan as well, because he’s being penalized for doing absolutely nothing wrong. His coworkers are cutting him down because he refused to donate his pay to his manager?! Are any of them offering their salaries out of pocket? I don’t blame Dave for laughing because Debbie’s histrionics was absolutely over-the-top; I can totally see if he thought it was a joke or something. Or he was laughing in discomfort.

    Also, why is no one addressing that Dave actually went to speak to Debbie’s manager? He was unsuccessful, but he tried–and going to bat for your manager (who treated you poorly) is definitely being a team player, no matter what any of his coworkers think. Yeah, so he expects to be paid for overtime and he wants to keep the salary he negotiated. That’s no crime. But the rest of his peers are mad at him for being “selfish” when he’s been the most level-headed of the lot.

    Dave deserves better.

    1. Golden Yeti*

      Exactly! I’m guessing, but I doubt Dave went to Debbie’s manager to complain about her; in the context, it sounds like he went there to stick up for her. That should count for something.

      1. frequentflyer*

        Yeah, it seems like Dave was being rational by going to Debbie’s manager and trying to improve the situation. Other than that, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything else he could have done.

  50. Stranger than fiction*

    Wow this is a totally interesting discussion today but I’d like to point out that men are sometimes discriminated against too:
    Years ago when my BF was first out of school he was beat out of a job by a woman when they had both taken a technical test and he scored a 96 and she only a 78. When he asked they said “well we needed to hire a woman”.
    years later at another job he once talked to his boss about some others in that company making more than he was that we’re less experienced less skilled and didn’t put in nearly as many hours and his response was “well, they are married and have families “.

    1. AW*

      “well we needed to hire a woman”

      Quotas are generally illegal in the US. The company would have had to prove that they needed one to reverse a long standing discrepancy.

      1. Poohbear McGriddles*

        It’s only illegal if the minimum score was 79 and then bent the rules so they could hire her. Otherwise, they may choose from any qualified applicant. You don’t have to choose the most qualified.

    2. Judy*

      Yes, but at a company that pulls the “well, they are married and have families” card, they’re most likely pulling the “well, they don’t need to work to support themselves” card on the women.

      I had a manager (the one I referenced above in discussing promotion criteria) who in the chit-chat he seemed to find necessary before a performance review would remark that both my husband and I worked at LargeCompany. And usually mentioned that it must be nice to have that kind of family income.

    3. Cari*

      Men that aren’t able to be ruthless and cut-throat, or at least have the confidence to know what they’re worth, lose out in salary and raise negotiations, and promotions too. Or when it comes to moving up the ranks, in the sort of male dominated company that for some reason does important meetings in strip clubs or on the golf course, vast majority of women wouldn’t meet that barrier for entry, but then neither would a lot of men.

  51. Poohbear McGriddles*

    I’m not sure I’d characterize Dave as a rock star negotiator. He got a 14% bump in pay (35k to 40k). The OP mentions the old job had great benefits, but doesn’t sing the praises of her company’s benefits package – so his net increase may have actually been less. What we also don’t know is Debbie’s previous compensation. One would assume she saw some increase in accepting the new job, even a little. So one must wonder what Dave brings to the table that he was making at least 9k more than Debbie when they were both at their old jobs.
    If we stipulate that the reason for the current disparity is rooted in sexism, then OP, Debbie, and even Dave need to look for new jobs ASAP. If Dave’s worth to the company is based on his ability to parade his phallus around like an ancient fertility idol – and not on technical skills that are in demand – then his employers are idiots. They’re paying him way too much, as there are obviously engineers out there who will work for way less (and take on more responsibility!).

  52. Purr purr purr*

    I don’t think there’s anything OP can do so I’d try and avoid the drama and not worry about it. Debbie needs to consider this a learning opportunity. I don’t know why an engineering supervisor would accept an offer of £26k. She only has herself to blame for not negotiating harder or finding out what the range of pay for that position would be. Investigating market rates should be done before interview in an ideal world.

    Also, your colleagues sound horrible. Why is Dave being called selfish because he’s not willing to lower his pay to make Debbie feel better? I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would do that and I suspect the people giving him flak wouldn’t do that either.

  53. Cari*

    OP – is this Debbie’s second proper grown-up job? Was she in the previous one for those 7 years, and was this one literally the only one she applied to since?

    Because I’m finding it hard to see how she couldn’t know what she’s worth, *if* her job does actually require the same and more of her, as/than Dave’s does…

    Otherwise I’m leaning towards the thinking that she may be a supervisor, but her value to the company is in her reporting to the higher-ups ability (which is doesn’t make the company as much money as the people doing the work, or the people in charge of making sure that work makes money), rather than her technical expertise.

    I refused a job offer within my old department partly because what they could pay me was way too low. I knew from the job description and the pay bracket that it was reasonable for the actual job description, and for someone fresh out of uni with little-to-no experience.

    But I also knew that those offering me the job were expecting to make use of the skills I’d gained in 5/6 years of work there and elsewhere that would have put the job, if they had me doing it, in the realms of others I’d seen advertised that were paying 50% more at least. That wasn’t from any extra research I did. What I knew I picked up from my time job hunting, literally info from the adverts.

    If you find out Debbie’s going to be needing or looking for a job in the near future, she can’t do any worse just keeping in mind what jobs with her skillset in her location are going for based on the adverts, before she even applies.

  54. Ruffingit*

    There is no way this situation can continue as it is. Either Debbie will quit or Dave will or both because I just can’t see either of them functioning well in a boss/subordinate relationship now. Way too much water under the bridge, heck this is a tidal wave of water. It just doesn’t seem workable for the future. Someone, at some point, needs to sit Debbie down and tell her exactly why this was the WAY wrong approach to take. She needs to be schooled on professional etiquette something fierce.

  55. Beaner*

    I was a victim of this. I was a team leader who was part of the hiring process for my department and a trainer, who literally taught the people how to do their jobs. I found out one day that all the men in my department were being paid double what I was getting paid. Men whom I trained and when I say trained I mean I taught them major programs they had little to no experience with, training that would have cost them THOUSANDS of dollars to get, through and education system. Oh and the only other woman, who I’d also trained, also making more than me. Keep in mind all these people were hired after me and were in about their 3rd year with the company, so as their manager I was not only making less than them, I gave all of them training that in my opinion was worth thousands. Nobody cared. I quit. Company went under in less than a year. Pay your people appropriately and fairly and don’t ever take advantage of the only person who knows not only the programs and how to navigate the CMS, but how to trouble shoot the system.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I would love to know what the reaction of your employer was when you quit and if you told them why. That is totally outrageous and there’s no excuse for that kind of pay disparity.

  56. Ilyas*

    Sorry, I had to laugh at Debbie’s request of asking Dave to help her increase her salary or get a pay cut himself. Its a crazy request and I would laugh too….sorry, not trying to be mean but its laughable she would ask this.

    1. frequentflyer*

      I know right. I would totally laugh in disbelief because it’s an illogical question – like duh, Debbie should know that nobody in their right mind would ever agree to such a crazy request.

  57. Dawn88*

    Working in accounting, payroll and personnel for over 20 years, anyone in that division knows there are serious rules for breaking confidentiality. It is always considered grounds for termination.

    Dave’s pay has nothing to do with Debbie’s. Look at the turmoil that ensued! Employees tried many times to break me….”Did everyone get raises or what?” I’d look them in the eye and say, “I’m not discussing that with you.” I could not be broken, or tricked.

    I returned from vacation to find out an Assistant Manager in another office had come to the boss hysterical and crying, because she didn’t make enough to qualify for a condo loan she wanted. She got a $4,000 raise on the spot. My Assistant did the paperwork since I was gone, and she was livid. My boss sheepishly approached me on payroll day with this confession, saying, “I had to do it, or she wouldn’t shut up.” I nodded, poker faced as usual. He says, “Of course you’ll get a comparable raise too, since it’s not fair to you. Figure it out and add it this payroll.” I thanked him and walked back to my desk. Since I already made more, my “comparable” increase (by percentage) was $7,500. Not bad for keeping my lip zipped..

  58. AntiSocial*

    I hire many, many people in the engineering field and can attest to the fact that women almost never know their market value nor negotiate with anywhere near the effort as men. I can’t say I know why, but it’s there, and has nothing to do with a perceived skill/wage gap.

    Now, what I am REALLY upset about is this idea of Debbie that to make her feel more equal, Dave has to lower his salary. The basis of this argument is against all that I hold moral and dear. I do not have to give you more of mine just so you’re more equal to me. Debbie’s best bet is to keep her new found information hidden, approach her manager with some well reasoned argument (ie, I have been researching salaries in the market and realize that I am well underpaid for my experience and skills. I understand this is a scenario I helped to cause, but I would like to raise my wages to market rate over the next four months. By my one year anniversary at this company, I expect my salary to be competitive with the market at x.) If her boss/employer refuse to take her seriously, she then knows this is not a company for her and can start working on her resume, with one more year of experience under her belt and better salary information.

  59. Leah*

    I think many actors in this situation made mistakes.
    Debbie had the same chance to negotiate what she believed to be a reasonable salary.
    Dave took that opportunity & he was coming in from a position that was paid closer to what he makes now. He may have been overlooked for the supervisor role due to the lesser number of years experience but with Debbies incredibly inappropriate workplace behavior, & her recent degeneration in performance, she isn’t doing herself any favors.

    Also i wish her ‘friend’ in finance had been more delicate (especially by not breaking law/policy in the first place but also) by simply suggesting she may have room to make more in the next contract negotiation.

    Sounds like if Debbie can no longer do her job, she may end up leaving all together – which if she truly feels undervalued, might not be the worst idea.

  60. Hannah Rossiter*

    I don’t know if this has been covered before. But in the UK there is an act of Parliament called the Equality Act 2010 which replaces the equal pay act 1970. While Debbie’s response was inappropriate, at the heart of issue is a violation of UK law.
    In saying that I’m not a lawyer or live in the UK so I could be wrong on this.

  61. Illa*

    The best things the LW could do:
    Encourage Dave to interact positively and sympathetically with Debbie, and to have others see Dave do it. Even just saying “Hello” in the mornings would help Dave’s case. The provided description of Dave makes him seem like it would have only taken a small incident to push people into active dislike, and this was the incident. Without mentioning reducing his pay, Dave could offer to write a letter elucidating the quality of Debbie’s work in honest, complimentary tones, that she could show higher ups. Discourage Dave from making any negative remarks about Debbie, since this will make people dislike him even more. If Dave is on his best, friendliest behavior, he will be cast in a good light, even if Debbie reacts badly to him.
    Now with Debbie: the LW reports to her. The LW should attempt to step up and rally their team to compensate for the dip in work quality. Be kind to Debbie when you find her crying, but maintain boundaries and don’t get sucked into drama.
    If the LW would consider Debbie a friend and is comfortable doing so, they can encourage her to either 1) set a goal to receive a raise after the next review, and help her compile reasons why she deserves one and to improve her behavior, or 2) prompt her to begin looking elsewhere before she burns her last bridge. Her trust and respect in the company are in tatters and the bad feelings will only fester until her quality drops so low she can’t get a recommendation and is ultimately fired, so she should start her search soon. After she finds a new position at an honest market rate, mention reporting the wage discrepancy/ suing for wage discrimination if that applies once you know all of the details.
    As for the LW, besides helping their team, they should look into their own wage to make sure they aren’t receiving similar treatment.

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