what to do if you’re being paid less than male coworkers

I receive lots of letters about how to ask for a raise. One piece of advice I’ve given over and over is to base your raise request on your own work and not to use your coworker’s salary as an argument for why you should be paid more. But there’s one big exception to that: when the disparity in your salary might be based on the fact that you are A Lady.

I wrote a piece for A Practical Wedding (a site that I know has many fans here, myself included!) about what to do if you know or suspect you’re being paid less than your male coworkers who do similar work. You can read it here.

{ 137 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    It always amazes me when management cares more about the source of the pay disparity rather than the disparity itself. Because information sharing is the *real* problem. Sigh.

    1. LBK*

      It’s also such an obvious deflection, because what difference does the answer make? Unless the answer is “Oh, I hacked into the payroll system”?

      1. Evan Þ*

        Well, I suppose one other possible difference could be if Bob actually isn’t making that much, and the manager wants to find out where Wakeen got bad information – but in that case, it’d be much better to just say so!

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Precisely. Because if you’re not denying the pay disparity, then it’s probably true. I’ve found, the more focus on the exchange of information, the more likely the information is true.

      2. Dynamic Beige*

        I once accidentally hacked into something that had everyone’s salaries on it. The timesheet program had been set up as a shortcut on my desktop but when I double clicked it, it didn’t open the timesheet program. While it was a very interesting read, which some other people in the office may or may not have been allowed to see, all it did was confirm to me that some comrades are more equal than other comrades and I should just get out of Dodge.

    2. neverjaunty*

      It’s the same deal as the cheating spouse who, on being caught out, angrily turns th conversation to “you shouldn’t have been snooping!”

    3. designbot*

      I once mentioned during an exit interview that one factor in my leaving was discovering how little I was valued in comparison to a colleague with the same level of education and experience. She had been at that company longer, but the gap was almost 50%, and I frequently had to work longer hours than her due to the particulars of how my work related to the rest of the firm’s process.
      Dude started blowing up my phone with texts on the first day of my new job (around 5 days later) demanding to know how I found out. All I told him was that I found out through someone she had bragged to, not through someone who knew it for business reasons, as I didn’t want our accountant or office manager to get into trouble. But really, man, priorities!

  2. Moi*

    What if you know about pay levels because of the job you’re in (HR/accounting,etc.)? I always felt like using that information was off limits.

    1. LBK*

      If it’s info you genuinely come across in the course of your work, I think it’s fair game. You just need to preface it with something like “I know this is a little odd but I couldn’t help but notice while doing last month’s books that Bob is getting paid $20k more than me.” If it’s something you have access to but realistically would have to go poking around to find, then yeah, off limits (and I imagine that’s true for most roles since I’m envisioning that the majority of HR/payroll systems are set up to mask pay data unless you’re specifically working with it, but maybe I’m wrong).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah — I think it’s off-limits in normal salary negotiation cases (although of course everyone knows that you might be using it as background to inform your thinking) but that when you’re raising a concern about discrimination, it’s fair game.

        1. Moi*

          That’s kind of what I was thinking too. Thanks, I’ve been wondering about this for awhile!!

        2. designbot*

          What about if you’re raising a concern about other types of favoritism that you can point to other evidence of as well?

          1. hbc*

            Can you give an example? Most other stuff isn’t as private as salary information, so it’s more free to use. If you were compiling vacation request results and noticed that Cartwrights and Olsons get approved 90% of the time and DeSotos and Hernandezes get approved 40%, it’d be reasonable to point out the pattern you happened to notice.

      2. esra (also a Canadian)*

        I think I remember someone commenting in the open thread that one of their HR people left in a glorious fashion, pointing out the pay disparities to the whole company?

    2. Ad Astra*

      I’m interested in what Alison and people with HR experience have to say about this, but I would think that’s still fair game in the case of gender discrimination.

    3. Leatherwings*

      I think you can just avoid telling them where you got the info. Yeah, you might have figured it out while doing the books, or because you have access to a certain spreadsheet. Bob could’ve also mentioned it in the kitchen. Who’s to say? Either way, I think you can ethically raise it without concern.

  3. Jinx*

    This is very timely for me, because I’m about to have my midyear review and I’m planning to bring up my salary. I know for a fact that the guy who came in on the same date as me made 10,000 more as of two years ago, and that I’m currently making 30,000 less than the average salary listed on the BLS for my job title. I figure that’s pretty good evidence that I’m getting undervalued (I get glowing reviews every year), but of course salary information is so hush-hush that it’s really difficult to tell. I’m also in an industry where gender bias is rampant, whether intentional or not. :( I wish all of this wasn’t so fraught.

    1. Mel*

      compare his experience, education, and duties (as objectively as you can) to yours as well. the bls info isn’t real relevant because there’s no law requiring them to pay market. You’re better off attempting to show that there’s no job related reason for them to be paying you less.

      1. Patrick*

        Agreed about being careful with salary stats…I posted about this elsewhere last week but we recently had an employee come into his review demanding a raise to “market rate” – but the figure he was quoting was based on NYC salaries and we’re in a city with a significantly lower cost of living. He didn’t seem to get that making $15K more in NYC would actually put him in a worse position when it comes to quality of life than he has now.

        1. Mel*

          Yeah market should be geographic market. If you’re looking for the col between neighboring cities you can check on the bls

          1. Ex Resume Reviewer*

            Oftentimes the state labor department breaks things down into various markets. Mine provides a (fairly) easy tool to look up the range in each city compared to other states and the national average. Based on the national average I’m grossly underpaid*, but based on my area average I’m doing okay. (I know the stats were updated since I was hired earlier this year, and I was just below the listed median at that point. Hopefully this means a good case for a solid raise in my future.)

            *Very low wage state.

        2. Jinx*

          Yeah, the info I have is based on my area and on the average across several different similar job titles.

      2. Jinx*

        His experience was the same as mine upon start (none – we were straight out of college hires). He has a masters degree but no job experience, in an industry where a masters degree is not considered relevant experience. I can’t imagine that’s really worth 10,000 more than me.

        His duties are the same as mine, but on different projects. His projects are lower visibility than mine and I’m actually leading development efforts, while he’s just carrying out assigned tasks (slowly and with many mistakes, from personal experience working with him). He’s also made it very clear in team meetings that he doesn’t like our role and wants to become a manager. Obviously I don’t know how his performance reviews are going, but objectively I *am* performing at a way higher level than him and providing more value.

        1. Mel*

          Look at the job posting to see what qualifications the company feels is relevant. Their requirements and preferences in the job posting are usually the baseline for the eeoc

          1. Jinx*

            The problem is that the company job posting has nothing to do with what the job is – they use a very generic baseline of “teapot designer” when in reality our job is more “chocolate teapot designer with emphasis in spouts”.

            The requirements for college hires are vague at best because they use the same posting to hire a range of roles – teapot inspectors, teapot designers, teapot instructors, etc., and no one knows where they are going to end up until they get to orientation (which is a mess in and of itself).

            I find it interesting that in a thread about how to handle being underpaid, the primary response I’ve gotten on my comment seems to imply that I don’t have enough info to know I am. I’m not trying to be argumentative, it’s just very frustrating. How am I supposed to figure out what’s fair, if the BLS isn’t accurate and my perspective on how much I accomplish compared to coworkers is invalid? I don’t want or expect a 30,000 raise, I’m just using the average salary as an illustration of exactly how low my salary is for my area.

            I feel like I should be able to find out what my coworkers are making and why. Not because I want to be a jerk about it or argue my way into a raise, but because these things *should* be transparent. Hiding it just lets companies be shady.

            1. Mel*

              I don’t think anyone is telling you its not true. Rather were attempting to show you that it’s hard to have definite proof without getting your hands on the right data. And that you can suspect and pursue it, but that you should also be open to the possibility that there are legally defensible reasons for the pay disparity until you see proof that there’s not.

  4. first post from a newish lurker*

    Did we ever get an update from the poster who’s HR rep emailed everyone in the company the salary list before she left the company? And it showed that all the women were being paid less than the men, despite experience and whatnot. I think it was in one of the open comments threads about 3-6 weeks ago.

          1. AdAgencyChick*

            Holy moly. I just read through the whole thing. I really hope Anonymous Guy comes back!

        1. Mabel*

          I always think I don’t have time to read the open threads, but when I see a reference to one or I actually start reading it, I really enjoy it. I’m going to have to make the time!

    1. ZSD*

      That one is on my running list to request updates on at the end of the year! I very much want to hear what is happening. I think, though, that it might reasonably take the company a few months to come up with a real solution (or for people to figure out that they’re failing to come up with a solution), so maybe it’ll be another couple months before we hear more. That’s my guess.

  5. Yeah*

    I’m glad you’re addressing this because it’s something I’ve wondered about. I don’t know if I have a real case, though. My male teammate, who is my exact age and started full-time employment here one year before I did, makes $6k more than I do. I’ve served in leadership positions for the team; he hasn’t. Where it gets tricky is that my position is funded through marketing communications, and he splits an FTE between IT and marketing communications. I understand that IT pays more than communications, in general, but it bugs me. I’m the team lead and project manager, while he’s a technician. An extremely talented technician, but still. Also — I’m temporarily his supervisor while our boss is out on medical leave. The pittance of extra pay I’m getting doesn’t come close to what he’s paid.

    1. Mabel*

      Alison, does it matter where the funding for one’s pay is coming from if there’s a potential gender-based pay disparity?

      1. Pwyll*

        I think we generally hear this phrased as “equal pay for equal work”, so where you’re making less than a man but he’s doing an entirely different job (or in this scenario, half of a different job) it can be a lot more difficult to prove the connection between gender and the pay disparity. That’s not to say the pay disparity is acceptable, just that it may or may not be based significantly on gender.

        I think it may be hard to prove that gender is the reason for the disparity based only on what you’ve written here, unless there are other males in similar types of roles as you who are also making more money. That said, I think the fact that you’re not being required to supervise people is certainly an opportunity to address your compensation. People are not generally asked to manage staff who are paid significantly more than they are (as Temperance says more eloquantly than I below).

    2. Temperance*

      Are you female, by any chance? I obviously am incredibly skeptical here, but it seems like a convenient excuse to pay him more. Generally speaking, most supervisors are paid more than the people they manage, except IIRC, the person has very special knowledge or qualifications.

      1. Yeah*

        Right. And that’s where it gets sticky for me. I am a female working in communications, and he’s on the programming side. I’m guessing his starting salary was much higher than mine, based on the nature of his work. I’m guessing that’s where the disparity starts. I’ve taken on more responsibility over time, but even with raises, I’m still making less than him. And that sucks, because ultimately, I’m held responsible for more than he is, but he had the good fortune to go into a higher-paying job to begin with.

        1. neverjaunty*

          But that’s a tautology: he’s paid higher because he’s in a higher-paying job. What about the job title magically entitles him to more money?

          1. Hotstreak*

            I think it goes without saying, but tech jobs generally have high salaries due market forces that determine what most jobs pay: labor supply & demand. In the case of the gentleman in question, I wonder if his particular cross-department skill set is rare, or highly sought after by other companies.

            It may be a case of gender discrimination, but it’s not clear cut.. we need to see similar jobs, similar experience, and similar quality/quantity of work AND a pay gap. Otherwise there is too much grey area to try and work through & too many factors to balance against.

            Although supervisors often do make more than the people they are supervising (though not always), she is a temporary supervisor while their mutual boss is out. Being asked to step up for a short amount of time is a part of the job in a lot of places, or may be worthy of a bonus, but not a permanent increase in salary.

    3. Mel*

      It’s a lot harder to prove there’s a gender disparity when you describe different duties between the two of you.

  6. hayling*

    Great advice! I especially like the tip for bringing the conversation back from “where did you get this information?”

  7. JOTeepe*

    Having done compensation analysis and determinations for a little while, I can honestly say that a lot of the gender pay disparity I saw stemmed from the fact that women are far less likely to try and negotiate their starting salaries than men are. That doesn’t make it right – and I would point that out to one division in particular who was a noted offender when I was there. “Why do you need to pay John Doe $X when Jane Smith has similar credentials and is being paid $X-15K?” “Well, Jane didn’t ask for $X when we hired her.” Now, I also know that women tend to be viewed as “pushy” when they ask for what they are worth, vs. men being viewed as “assertive,” so I completely understand why they are scared off from even broaching it. However, this is a culture that needs to change, and if enough of us women are willing to speak up for ourselves and fight for it, eventually there will be a groundswell.

    After all, at a certain point how can they justify to executives that you are hiring John Doe at $X+15 when equally qualified candidates Jane Smith, Jennifer Jones, AND Joan Miller all asked for $X, but you were mad at them for having the gall to ask because it was advertised as $X-10?

    (I know, I know, easier said than done. Having said that, when in that particular role I took it initially thinking I had been low-balled a bit based on my salary requirements (though, obviously, was within what I was willing to accept), to find out that EVERYONE there was low-balled and I was the highest paid employee at that level. I actually think this ended up getting some other people (well-deserved!) raises. We were HR, after all, and everyone had access to raw salary data and our bosses knew it …)

    1. Always Anon*

      I think the reaction that many women get from employers when they try and negotiate makes things that much more difficult. I’ve negotiated my salary for every job (except for the first one), and each time it was like pulling nails to get even a very modest increase. And I’ve walked away from more than one job when they’ve said the salary was non-negotiable, because in general I’ve felt that they’ve used that line as an excuse to try and lowball potential employees.

    2. Joseph*

      If you work the math, that starting salary gap might actually grow over time too.

      If John makes $110,000 instead of Jane’s $100,000 starting, then in the second year, now he’s making $10,300 more than Jane after they both get 3% raises*. And it just gets bigger every year after that they get similar raises. Heck, even if you want to say that John’s sufficiently mediocre that he never gets a raise, Jane still takes four years of her 3% raises to exceed what John got simply by negotiating during the interview phase.

      *Also worth noting that if John was willing to negotiate the starting salary, he’s also much more likely to try to negotiate on the raise too, so maybe he can get a 3.5% raise instead of 3%.

    3. Mel*

      I’ve seen that also- that men tend to negotiate a higher salary. But that’s not a legitimate legal defense. That’s basically perpetuating the problem.

    4. Anonymous Educator*

      This is why I find the whole negotiation system to be horrible. It’s like buying a car at the dealership. There should just be a price, no haggling. Pay market rate. Pay what makes sense. Make your pay actually competitive.

      If the candidate can make a business case for requiring more than that, then maybe offer more, but don’t just offer more because the candidate asked for more, and—more importantly—don’t offer less just because the candidate didn’t ask for more.

      1. JOTeepe*

        I apologize. That wasn’t my intention, though it does sound that way. I always encourage women I know to negotiate their salaries when appropriate and overwhelmingly they are initially hesitant to do so. In most of these cases, when they do, they are successful. But yes, often, it is more subtly discouraged that women do that, both culturally and in practice. I meant my comment more as a call to arms against this, not to lay blame!

        I work in government now, and our salary rates are pretty rigid (even in cases where the salary is discretionary, there are some rigid unspoken rules as to how they are calculated), which can be frustrating for people being hired into positions where they would normally expect a higher salary, but really does make it a lot easier and a lot more fair.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I didn’t say you were laying blame. My point was more that the fact that people even have to negotiate salaries is a ridiculous system. Yes, it also has the side effect of perpetuating sexism and racism, but it’s also just ridiculous on its own.

          1. JOTeepe*

            I know you didn’t! I actually meant to reply to neverjaunty below. I actually agree with you 100%. It’s much more straightforward to analyze appropriate salary ranges for specific positions, not deal with this negotiation game.

    5. neverjaunty*

      Can we please stop finding one more reason it’s all women’s fault and women need to fix it?

    6. Panda Bandit*

      Negotiation is only a tiny part of the problem. Read Anonymous Guy’s post which is linked a little bit above. The company was not only offering lower salaries but they also had lower ceilings for women. They were dead set on not paying more and no amount of salary negotiation can solve that. Media scrutiny, public outcry, and legal proceedings are the way to solve this kind of problem.

    7. Mike C.*

      Or the employer could pay a fair market rate for the labor of their employees regardless of gender…

  8. Always Anon*

    The secrecy surrounding pay is, I believe, one of the major things that contributes to paid disparity based on gender.

    While it’s not illegal to discuss how much you are paid with your co-workers, every employer I’ve worked for has frowned upon it, so much so that I find most employees are conditioned to resist discussing that sort of information. It’s far easier to discriminate when information isn’t available.

    1. Mel*

      Eh, most people don’t like discussing personal finances in general. Maybe it’s a keeping up with the joneses thing, I don’t know. This is one thing the government gets right- pay transparency. But so so many people who are new to government are hugely uncomfortable with their salary info being out there. It’s weird because it’s so beneficial.

    2. Edith*

      This. So so much. My employer sends each employee a letter each year with our title and the salary we’ll earn in the coming year. There’s always a stern reminder that they don’t want us discussing our salaries. When the subject came up in a team meeting I pointed out that they can request we not discuss salaries all they want but they cannot prohibit us from doing so, and my normally very with it manager was absolutely shocked. I doubt she fully believes me since the “no talking about your pay” instruction is worded so strongly.

      They go so overboard with the secrecy that even our managers have no idea what we make, which is especially egregious in my department, which is a specialized field (a library) within a larger institution. The people who make the decisions have no concept of the relative value of the different library roles we fill, and they don’t consult the library director about it.

      Last year I got a sizable raise and the letter mentioned they had decided that no fulltime employee should make less than 30k. I make about 60% market value for my experience and education, and when I sat down with my manager this year to tell her I plan to move on once I’ve fulfilled the terms of my tuition assistance, I mentioned that I know I’m one of the lowest paid employees in the entire company. She asked how I knew that. I said it was because of the 30k policy– that I only make a couple hundred dollars more than 30k. She had no idea what I was talking about. Turns out they only told the people whose salary went up due to the 30k policy that the policy existed at all. My boss is a C-level director and this was news to her. It’s ridiculous.

      1. Always Anon*

        It is ridiculous. I work for a small organization and my boss doesn’t know how much I make (I know how much she makes because it’s public record). She doesn’t decide on raises or promotions. Although I believe she can advocate for a promotion for her staff, but she doesn’t get to make the decision. Instead those decisions for the entire organization are made by the CEO. It’s ridiculous that the CEO is deciding on what percentage a raise the receptionist gets and the VPs that report directly to her. And where I work typically your raise depends on how much the CEO likes you and how much she thinks you are contributing. Not based on actual merit.

        We get a letter at the end of the year indicating what our salary will be the next year. No debate or discussion, and we get the this is private information do not share line as well. But, I share a ballpark with my co-workers who are interested anyway.

    3. neverjaunty*

      In my state it is flat out illegal to prohibit employees from discussing salary.

    4. Hlyssande*

      It’s in my employee handbook that we are not allowed to discuss wages. Yes, I know that’s illegal. But we’re also an at will state, so..

  9. themmases*

    I think this is a really good reason for people to try to be a little more open about salary in general, too. Just as you don’t have to bluntly ask someone “What do you make?”, you don’t have to tell your exact personal take-home pay in order to help them out.

    You could be giving someone critical context to advocate for themselves in the future. If someone is talking to me about work in our shared field, I always try to give them real information even if I don’t want to share my exact hourly rate for some reason. The more real information is out there, the less suspicious it looks for any one person to have it.

    I am really grateful to a close friend I used to work with who was willing to swap information about what we made. She made 25% more than me for the same work, but at a title I would have an uphill battle getting at that company. And yet that total amount was still pretty low. It saved me a lot of time trying to prove myself at a place that didn’t value either of us. We both moved on.

  10. Kiki*

    Back in the 80s, I was told that it was appropriate for me to make less than my male counterpart because he had a family to support. I was also told that it “wasn’t a good look” for me to push for equal pay.

    1. Ad Astra*

      FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE reading that, and yet I doubt you’re the only one with a story like this.

      1. SevenSixOne*

        I have read SO MANY books and articles that try to answer the question “why do so few women negotiate higher salaries?” and the conclusion is almost always some variation of “because they are much more likely to face negative social consequences than men”. It sucks!

      2. Ms. Anne Thrope*

        Friend of mine’s mom got that exact thing thruout her career. As a widow with 4 children. She’s 90 now but I don’t think things have changed as much as they should have.

    2. ancolie*

      At my previous job, my manager said exactly that to a woman who requested a raise (backed up by productivity stats, etc). This was ~2007.

  11. Biff*

    I have a question that is a bit of a follow-along to this. At my company, raises work like this: sometime after reviews (sometimes a month, sometimes four months later), managers are told what they are allowed to parse out among the team. This lump package is all the money/stock options the manager can use as rewards includes stocks, they just divvy it up. The boss creates a spreadsheet saying what they think everyone should get and justifications for each. This gets approved on multiple levels, and sent back down. It may go through some modifications before being retruned to the boss. Then the boss is allowed to tell us what we got. End of story.

    How do you negotiate in that kind of climate?

    1. Hotstreak*

      My company does things a similar way, except they actually decide raises before they finalize performance reviews (so my manager knows what she’s going to rate me before she creates it)! I went in mid year a few years ago to make a case for why I deserve a significant raise, and they gave me one. This year I am going to start negotiations before she submits her payroll increase request (which will be before my performance review). I know she only gets a certain amount to work with, and I want her to give me the biggest piece of that possible.

    2. MsMaryMary*

      You make your pitch before your manager sits down to divvy up compensation for her team. It sounds like your review happens before your manager makes a comp recommendation, so that’s your time to tell her what you want. If you have a bad review, obviously this won’t work well, but if you had a good year this is your chance. You’re not going to be able to negotiate off an initial offer, but you can do your research on national/industry salary and raise averages, and convince your manager that since you’re an excellent performer, you feel you deserve X. If X is completely off the table, a good manager will tell you right there and then and you can negotiate. Otherwise, you may not get X, but at least your manager has a number in her head and knows what you feel you’re worth.

      1. Hotstreak*

        Your manager may also be able to request a larger raise for you (above her actual pool) if she feel’s it’s warranted. That’ something you’d want to do up front as MsMaryMary suggests, because if you wait to hear your offer before raising this your boss would need to work harder to get it for you (and she might not want to spend the political capital to make a request outside of regular raise season!).

    3. BananaPants*

      Our annual merit increases are actually decided by our managers (who basically all sit down in a conference room and argue over who should get what) and it happens before performance reviews are finalized. The performance review process is entirely decoupled from your compensation. It then goes up a couple of levels of executives, who will adjust and shuffle as they see fit – so it makes sense to suck up to the VPs because they have the power to get you more money.

      Yes, in the end it largely boils down to a popularity contest. It’s entirely possible to get a top score in the performance rating system and only get the average merit increase, or vice versa. If you get a promotion (which comes with a raise bigger than the annual increase) you usually get nothing the following year.

      It makes the performance assessment process pretty meaningless.

  12. Jilly*

    About 5 years ago I was on an interview panel at work to fill a slot at the same level that I was at the time. Because our primary client is the US government and we do cost reimbursable contracts, we do require salary history because if you are ever billed to the government, the gov’t has to approve your actual salary and they won’t really approve more than a 5% increase per year without a lot of written justification (well technically they have to approve the rate that is going to be billed to them so if they company pays your $10K per day, they don’t care, it’s just that the company can’t bill the gov’t more than $655.38/day). Anyway, we interviewed a guy and he gave us his 1420 which is the gov’t form that documents salary history.

    He had the same # of years of experience as me, the same educational level, but he made about $15K more than I did. Now that is mainly because he moved from company to company a lot and that is really the only way you can get the big bumps due to the way the gov’t approves the rates. I on the other hand had only worked at 2 different companies. Anyway about a month later my boss calls me into his office and says that I’m getting a $7K/yr raise. Turns out they decided to hire the guy I was on the interview panel for. They made him take a pay cut, but they also gave me a bump to get us more in line. Because part of my job involved certifying the 1420s before submitting them to the gov’t, there is a likelihood that at some point I would have seen his and since he is a white male and I am a minority female and they didn’t want to raise the spectre of gender discrimination.

  13. MsMaryMary*

    Okay, so, here’s the situation I’m facing. For the positions in the level above mine, I’ve been told that the company has “revised the compensation model” and that people already in the role are grandfathered in, but anyone newly promoted or hired will be paid under the new compensation model. To be fair, the previous compensation for this role was crazy generous and pretty unheard of anywhere except our company (commission based, and people got 5-10% shares on accounts they barely worked on or had only worked on years ago). BUT, all but one of the people who are grandfathered in are male, and all of the recently promoted/in the pipeline (aka me) are female. I can’t be sure, but I think it would be a $50,000 – $100,000+ difference, although the men being grandfathered in have significantly more experience than those of us moving up the ladder.

    It’s a fairly small (less than 100 employees), family owned company. We don’t have an HR person, just a “consultant” who has done nothing but revise the handbook and have host an activity to discover our communication styles in the year he’s worked with us.

    1. Mike C.*

      That’s sketchy as all hell.

      Equal pay for equal work means just that. If the difference is as large as you say, you should speak to a lawyer.

    2. Mel*

      their only legitimate legal defense is leaning on years of experience as the reason for the pay difference. The grandfather policy won’t fly with the eeoc.

  14. GTFO this place*

    Three weeks ago I found out that my male colleague with the exact same job, title, workload, and experience as me is making $70k. I’m making $40k. I advocated with my boss, boss’ boss, and HR for a raise to close the gap. They denied me. Next Friday is my last day.

    Worse than them not agreeing to pay me more is the fact that my boss and his boss are legitimately shocked that I’m leaving over this. To quote boss’ boss, “But he has a kid and his wife stays home. He needs it more than you!”

      1. GTFO this place*

        I did. Boss’ boss is the owner and said its his company and he can run it how he sees fit. I don’t think he believed me that it was illegal.

        1. Mustache Cat*

          Oh my god. Please report him, and teach him a lesson or two about what’s illegal or not.

    1. (Not an IRS) Auditor*

      Some anecdata: I used to work for a quasi governmental agency with public salaries. I started as a Spout Maker out of school. After a couple years, I transferred to a Handle Maker 2 position, receiving the policy mandated 5% promotion increase.

      Joe Smith was hired into my old Spout Maker position, also right out of school. Two years later he transferred, but jumped to a Handle Maker 3 position. By policy that should have been a 10% raise, but he received 20%. He was in a higher position class, so I let it go.

      Then a year later, my position was reclassified to also be Handle Maker 3. I was offered the policy standard 5% raise. I politely pointed out that with that raise Joe, a younger male with fewer years experience and without the MA degree and certification I possessed, would have a higher salary than I would in the same position. I was immediately approved for the 15% needed to get me to a higher salary than Joe, albeit only $100 per year higher.

      1. (Not an IRS) Auditor*

        Ooops, that was supposed to be a new thread. GTFO – that’s absurd. I don’t advocate litigation lightly, but that’s pretty egregious.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Talk to an employment lawyer. ASAP. You have explicit confirmation that you were discriminated against in salary due to your gender. And the statute of limitations is running.

      MAKE COPIES OF ALL YOUR RELEVANT DOCUMENTS from work related to this in any way. Make notes now about what boss’ boss’ said, e.g, “on July 18, met with Fergus in his office regarding my notice, Fergus told me….” Your lawyer will thank you.

    3. april*

      Totally illegal. I once worked for a man (same manager as a comment I made below) who openly gave raises to people that “needed” them because they had kids or some other economic demand and never, ever based on merit, tenure or accomplishments. Though he was a total d!ck about most things and completely inept, this was his hugest downfall. HR, willing to overlook a lot of his failures, immediately saw the lawsuit potential and fired him.

      They allowed the salaries to stay as they were, though…so that’s another story!

    4. KM110*

      HOLY CRAP. Good for you for getting out. I feel for you. Good on you for having the courage to take a stand.

    5. Fluffer Nutter*

      Academic for these clown puppets, but in the future I suggest women strike back with the stat that we are 80% more likely to live in poverty after the age of 65 (or was it 65% after age 80?) it was on AP wire this week. Partly because we live longer and and are more likely to be widows and party because of utter buffoons like these. I am so angry on your behalf!

  15. Cookie*

    One of my biggest professional regrets was not raising this issue when it happened to me. I started my first real job at a large company (7,000 local employees) the same day as a colleague..we were in orientation together and ended up sitting next to each other for a few months. We had the same title but I had more industry experience. He didn’t understand our first paycheck and asked me for help. He was making $70.00 more than me every two weeks. It added up at the time and I am sure it’s added up over the years. I was afraid to say anything.

    I will also add that my hiring manager was a woman as was our department boss. The department manager considered herself quite the feminist.

    I have learned that when you take crap from people they will just keep giving you more.

  16. Anna*

    I work in a team where I’m the only woman, except for my boss. Two of the men have been there longer than me, and one of the men started exactly one year to the date later than me.

    We all do the same exact work–and arguably, the two most junior of us do more work than the two most senior (as in we literally have a larger number of projects assigned to us). But the two more senior men have higher level titles, and therefore get paid more (I know they get paid more because my employer has explicit job grades and salary bands, and they are at a higher job grade).

    Three things really bug me. First, I have been here two years longer than one of the senior men had been there when he was promoted to his current job level (and he does not have any more education or experience than I do, and isn’t as good at the job as I am–he misses meeting and emails, forgets to do stuff, doesn’t pay attention, etc.). I recently also got a “promotion” but it was only a slight raise and not a change in job grade. Second, the most junior member of the team was given the same promotion on the same day that I was, even though I’d been there a year longer.

    Third, we have annual “awards” recognizing excellent work. Even though I consistently take on more work than my colleagues and, at least in my opinion, do as good or in some cases better work, I am the only one among them that has never received one of these awards. One of my colleagues even received an award for completing a project that he completely screwed up and I had to step in and fix and finish it for him–and my boss knew about it. These are financial awards, so it really burns. But they are secretly nominated, so I can’t just say “I deserve one too” and take it to HR.

    I always get glowing yearly reviews. My boss has never even filled in the line for “what could be improved.” And yet my rise in the company seems to be the slowest of all four of us and my work seems to be valued less. Pointing these things out feels like it would be petty and nitpicking, but I can’t help feeling like all these little things are going to add up to my male counterparts taking home a lot more money for the same work over the years.

    1. IvyGirl*

      It isn’t nitpicky. You outlined exactly the problem. Now show it to your boss and ask how it can be remedied.

      You can do it!

    2. april*

      Re: awards and bonuses. I used to work at a huge nonprofit that offered awards each year at a local, regional and national level. Local was warm fuzzier, regional some extra paid time off and national a financial award and trip to HQ to receive it.

      My boss used to tell me I was “the only person in the department that can write worth a damn” and that he trusted to complete tasks, so he’d MAKE ME WRITE THE NOMINATIONS!! for the lazy dudes he was friendly with. I’d write it, he’d sign it and mail it off patting himself on the back for nominating his (lazy ass) team members.

      I don’t work there (for obvious reasons and then some) and still wish I had to ability to stand up to treatment like that.

  17. AnotherAlison*

    The WSJ did an interesting piece on the gender pay gap earlier this year.

    In my field, female mechanical engineers earn 93% of males’ earnings and engineering managers earn 95%. The bad news is that my first reaction is, “Wow, that’s not bad!” you know, when you compare it to doctors who are at 64%.

    I honestly don’t think I personally have much of a wage gap, and we had a committee review our gender/wage data last year, so this sounds right to me. But, the big problem in my job is there are <10% women in it in it in my company. It's easy to pay women fairly if you don't hire too many of them.

    1. GlorifiedPlumber*

      I don’t know why I comment on your posts so much. We’re a much higher % of women than your company, especially on the engineering ranks, but your experience of rough equity with low representation has mirrored mine as well (but I’m a dude).

      We had a senior PM dump a spreadsheet of everyone in the office’s hourly bill rate (~250 people) and ~200 more “attached” corporate wide people who had done work for us to a shared working drive. It was quickly found and grabbed by half the office…

      Our women folk were paid equitably, if not higher, compared to equivalent experienced male engineers (which makes sense, because our women engineers were rockstars).

      Interestingly as a whipper snapper E1, my first two lead engineers, the three unit engineers at the refinery where I did work, my second boss, my third boss, and my first lead 5 years later when I swapped offices… all Women. All awesome… except that last lead, she was horrible, but that wasn’t a female thing.

      On the designer ranks, we had less datapoints for women (way less piper women and I&C designer women), but those that were in there it was more or less an experience curve or all about the same for “senior designer.”

      Dunno if it was just my firm or not (we have a woman CEO), but it’s been the experience of many of my friends particularly from my graduating class, to see pretty good job growth and equity for female engineers. I think I have mentioned this before… my chem E graduating class was like 40% female, and our top 10 was half female… and they all have/got rockstar jobs.


  18. all of this*

    I used to work for the government and so salaries were public, but hard to find. Hush hush. Typical. Well the local news did some massive ask and setup a website, mostly to shine a light on the top people, but you could see other’s salaries as well. Dude with one less degree than me, and less software skills than me, was making way more. (I am female.) In my section my boss hired someone, he became her favorite, and he got all the praise and promotions. (He has less experience, and again less degrees. And couldn’t do several things I could do.) I’m still mad but don’t see the point in filing a lawsuit. Even when I was there, and now I have moved to a different state and have a different job. My point is don’t delude yourself into thinking that working for the govt will solve these problems. Place sucked and I had to lie during the exit interview, for that all important future reference.

  19. Karen*

    Regarding sharing pay information with co-workers, a few years ago my partner was giving a “talking to” because his pay stub was sitting face up on the passenger seat of his car which was parked in the employee lot.

    That annoyed me off more than when he was told he needed to look more “interested” during meetings and in general. So I told him he needs to smile and look wide-eyed and kind of crazy and see how that plays.

  20. april*

    Aw man! Where are the “links you might like” hyperlinks? I’m a new reader and it was my favorite way to get around the site!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They were causing an issue with the site earlier so they’re temporarily gone. Hopefully will be back by tomorrow if all goes well — but meanwhile, try the Surprise Me! button at the very top of the site!

    2. Mookie*

      Also, you can click on the category tag to see related posts in descending chronology, which might help you a bit.

  21. Chaordic One*

    At one of my previous employers I made the bizarre discovery that women were being paid about 10% less than most men. There was a group of men (all of them gay) who were paid the same as the women. The employer made this big deal about diversity. Go figure. I didn’t stick around there very long after that.

  22. Nico m*

    BTW, theres a way for a group of people to compare salaries without revealing them

    Person A takes their salary and adds on a random number, ideally in the same order of magnitude as their salary. They whisper it to B who adds on their salary and whispers the answer to C…,etc. The last person gives A the total who then deducts their random number and tells the group “our average salary is X”

  23. Argh*

    I moved from a specialized engineering position to a management position. I ended up helping my boss review candidates to fill my previous role. There were a couple internal applicants from a different office. They requested salaries almost double what I’d be been getting in the position. One was hired and I don’t know what salary they ended up with, but it makes me wonder. There are no other female engineers in my group.

  24. One of the Sarahs*

    A load of my friends worked at a university that did a full-on pay review to try to bring pay grades in line across departments, and it lead to a whole slew of gender discrimination cases, because the things that came out were crazy (lots of conversations like “wow, poor Fergus will lose £X” that made it pretty damn obvious…). The Uni fought everything super-hard, even though it was obvious it was gendered (as evidenced by the Tribunal reports) and generally handled everything terribly, and made everything horrible at work.

    On the other hand, I used to work alongside a Local Authority, who did a big grade-shake-up that showed that women in typical low grade “female” jobs were being routinely paid less than men who’s jobs were the same grade but seen as “male” for no good reason. The LA handled it amazingly – they were really upfront about it with the staff who were affected, told them how it was being fixed going forward, and what was in place to prevent re-occurrence, and gave the affected women a pay-out to say sorry, and try to make it right. They also made it clear that the women would not be penalised if they chose to go to Tribunal about it, and that wouldn’t affect their employment. Hardly anyone went to Tribunal, because they’d handled it so well – and the comments from effected workers were pretty much universally positive about the fact the LA had pro-actively dealt with it, and been the one to tell *them*, rather than hide it.

  25. Ms. Anne Thrope*

    I’m really annoyed by that commenter on the other site who’s all ‘we base our salary on their previous salary and what they ask’ completely glossing over the fact that this is explicitly so they can lowball people. Ugh. What a load of crap.

    1. JOTeepe*

      SO many places do this. Pay what the damn job is worth, and from there maybe what the person is worth *for that role* (i.e., if you are hiring for a Teapot Maker, don’t pay the person like a Managing Teapot Maker when that’s not what the job is just because the person has experience as a Managing Teapot Maker).

      And, ffs, make your salary ranges public, or at least transparent.

    2. KM110*

      I have been job hunting and blatantly told by HR people that they base the pay off of what I make now and they have been asking for my W2. It makes me so mad as I am $20,000 (on average for the market) underpaid now.

  26. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Well, I had my review a few days ago and, no, I didn’t address it with your — very sensible and courteous — model sentences.

    Two partners did my review…first time ever that no department supervisor was present. They’ve changed their procedure. I think I was triggered by being told in two sentences that were nearly back-to-back how much they value my ‘site presence’ and capacity to manage rogue and even dangerous contractors into fixing problems on site (this is frequently as the sole representative of my company on a site with potentially multiple code and OSHA violations, removed from easy public access) BUT I’m seen as ‘abrasive by people’.

    My response was (name changed to not give away things except how I was feeling at that moment) “Really? Do you mind me asking if this was also relayed in Gunnery Sergent Hartman’s review? Because, if it wasn’t, this is clearly a DOUBLE STANDARD.”

    A bit later, I segued away from a bizarre string of sentences on their using the word “happy” by saying “…and, well, since you have already established that I’m seen as ABRASIVE, I would like to take this opportunity to bring up my compensation…”

  27. boop*

    Ugh the last nail in my last job was about the fact that I was paid a whole $2/hour less than my peers, and yet I had more responsibilities than they did! And of course I had an inkling, based on some numbers that management would leave up on the computer screen (the same computer I would use, because as I say, I had shouldered some managerial tasks that no one else had to). I didn’t know the disparity was that bad, and I wonder if management didn’t know it either.

    I quit, but I didn’t even get the pleasure of it, because my new job pays technically less and I never found an opportunity to ask ex-job what they were going to do about labour costs now that their cheapest worker (the only female, btw) was leaving. *rage*

    And what do they mean “how you get the information?” This is how you get the info: “Hey (Coworker), how much are they paying you anyway?” Done. It’s not like people don’t talk to each other. That’s how I found out.

  28. Brett*

    For part 2, analyzing the situation objectively:
    If you are comfortable with stats, there is a test used by the EEOC called Fisher’s Exact Test which can be used to identify the significance of gender, race, or ethnicity (or any other factor) in pay. From what I remember, you generally need 5 sample salaries.
    I used this at my last job to figure out just how ridiculously influential race, ethnicity, and gender were on pay there compared to experience and education. (It turned out that pay was linked strongly to where you went to high school, and people from all-male predominantly white private schools were being paid significantly more.) I did have to run about 20 different tests to get a clear understanding of the different potential breaks in education and experience (and how little influence those had in pay at that organization).

  29. David Frick*

    I understand the angst people feel when they perceive unfairness (as explained in Adams’s Equity Theory), but I also take assertions of pay inequity based on sex with a grain of salt. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (passed over 50 years ago) prohibits employers from paying men and women differently for the same work (not similar as noted in the basic comment) based solely on sex.

    That still leaves myriad reasons why one’s pay may be differentiated from a colleague’s. The definitive research on this topic, commissioned by the Department of Labor, concluded that “..the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis [for claims of discrimination]. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”

    Recent research concludes that women, age 30-40, who have never left the workforce, in the aggregate are making 1-2% more than men. Not statistically significant, but certainly evidence that wide-spread discrimination based on sex is not present. One principle factor in pay differences is the fervor with which men and women negotiate for initial salaries. Women tend to be less aggressive then men in these negotiations. Not an admonishment, just acknowledgment that men tend to be more aggressive than women in most things.

    If you perceive an unfair disparity in pay between you and a colleague, regardless of sex, my best advice is to have an honest, objective conversation with your manager.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      Please can you link to the recent research you’re quoting? I’d love to read it.

    2. vanBOOM*

      “The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (passed over 50 years ago) prohibits….”

      Yes, and good employers know and follows the law. Some don’t. The fact that the law exists does not mean that gender-based pay inequality is not a problem today.

      “‘The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.’”
      “Recent research concludes that women, age 30-40, who have never left the workforce…”

      I am not interested in data focused on women who have never left the work force because their characteristics do not match that of the typical work force. Majority of workers today have families, and many female workers *will* leave the workforce (short-term, long-term) at some point to prepare for the birth of a child, physically recover from childbirth, bond with their new child, and/or to take care of the child. Our American culture of work embraces the “ideal worker” standard; an employee who is completely dedicated to the job, is willing to do demanding work and work long hours, and has no distractions from work. The human race depends on women giving birth to more humans and mothers need money to help these humans survive, all while our American culture of work frowns upon family, so what kind of “choices” do you think American women (and men) really have when they are harassed into antiquated roles?

      FReD (Family Responsibilities Discrimination) is the “modern” version of gender discrimination; many (though not all) employers recognize that it is illegal to treat employees differently on the basis of gender, but not as many realize that it is illegal to do so on the basis of caregiver status. Caregiver status is intertwined with gender and has often successfully been litigated within the framework of sex discrimination, because when a woman becomes a mother, her potential or actual status as a parent activates traditional gender stereotypes and those stereotypes lead to negative workplace outcomes (i.e., women may be discouraged from having children, may be discouraged from returning post-birth because they “should” be home with their children–aka, adhering to the prescriptive “ideal mother” standard, which is at odds with the “ideal worker” standard, and they are often given less challenging and visible assignments once they do return to work, which has negative pay outcomes in the long-term because challenging, visible work is essential for promotions, etc.). Fathers are targets of FReD as well, but in a different way that happens to favor them as far as pay outcomes are concerned (i.e., fathers should not provide caregiver support because their assumed female partner is supposed to do that, they should be at work providing for their families–being a “real man” is compatible with being an “ideal worker”–so let’s give him a raise as long as he complies because he needs to financially support his family). Fathers also tend to not take leave when a child is born because they tend to make more money than their female partners, thus the household would financially struggle more if he did. Again, I ask: Where is the choice in all of this, when many employers know not to say that they won’t hire, adequately compensate, or promote someone because she is a woman, but a surprisingly high number of employers still don’t know that refusing to hire, adequately compensate, and/or promote actual or *potential* future *mothers* is illegal?

      See: The fantastic work of Joan Williams and the Center for Work Life Law.

      “One principle factor in pay differences is the fervor with which men and women negotiate for initial salaries. Women tend to be less aggressive then men in these negotiations.”

      Women don’t get higher salaries if they don’t ask, and they are often penalized when they do negotiate aggressively (if not financially in the immediate sense, then socially–which will have long-term financial implications when it comes to assignments, visibility, promotions, etc.). Again: Choice?

      See: The research of Hannah Bowles, Linda Babcock, and dozens of other people who have revealed this phenomenon.

      “…my best advice is to have an honest, objective conversation with your manager.”

      This is an empty, unhelpful statement. As opposed to what? A dishonest conversation with your manager? That is your *advice*?

    3. Panda Bandit*

      Have you noticed that ever since they passed those laws against theft and murder, nobody has stolen anything or killed anyone?

    4. KHB*

      Late to the party, but have you considered that women age 30-40 are more likely than men in the same age range to have college degrees?

  30. Mephyle*

    Late-breaking news that came out a few days after this post: Study finds men make 44% more than woman eight years after they graduate university, college
    Results of a study in Canada found a considerable gap between men and women. The survey compared like with like (graduates within the same fields of study were compared with each other).
    The pattern held in all fields of study, though the gap was highest for graduates in business, engineering, social sciences and science & agriculture. It was smallest for humanities and fine arts graduates.
    Women who graduated from health and humanities programs initially earned more than their male counterparts, but fell behind over time.
    Among 2005 college diploma graduates, the gender wage gap was $5,500 in the first year. By year eight, men were earning 56 per cent more than female graduates, a gap of $23,600.
    Of course, since these are Canadian dollars, it’s not as bad as it sounds :)

    1. Zahra*

      Well, 44% and 56% ARE 44% and 56%, regardless of the currency used. And it is outrageous.

Comments are closed.