Pardon Me, but Your Salary is Showing

Oh, Anita,

I was out with my coworkers for drinks, and found out one of my male peers makes more than I do for basically the same position. Since I’m not supposed to know his salary, how can I approach my supervisor about the inequity?

Secret_Salaries_000013891088Dear, Shhhhharin’ Salaries,

A recent Glassdoor Pay Gap Survey notes that 7 out of 10 people in the U.S. think men and women are paid equally for equal work at their company. Were you one of the optimists? I’m sorry your bubble was burst. While the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, over 50 years later, pay discrimination still exists. The AAUW reports that women make 79 cents for every $1 men earn, a 21% gap.

One solution suggested by the Glassdoor survey was pay transparency. The Obama administration recently proposed collecting gender pay data from larger employers starting in 2017, allowing the EEOC to crack down on companies paying women less than their male counterparts. Until then, and in smaller businesses not affected by this rule, few companies willingly disclose salary information.

Social media company Buffer is one completely open company. For salaries, Buffer uses a salary calculation formula based on job role, location, and experience level.

Piggy_Bank_000000162742There are detractors to salary transparency. Critics say it’s a privacy issue and that highly rewarded employees don’t need to justify the salaries they’ve earned. This policy could certainly backfire on companies with a chasm between the upper management’s salary and bonus structure and the rank and file’s wages.

Payscale found the main predictor of both “satisfaction” and “intent to leave” is whether employees feel they are paid fairly. Most often, people who discover coworkers’ salaries in a hush-hush culture leave the company without discussing the situation with their manager.

So, how do you bring up the subject? Even though you were not snooping in classified files, your knowledge of your coworker’s salary is awkward. Before you make a big fuss with your boss, take and deep breath and observe the following steps:

  • Analyze. Does your co-worker have a higher level of education? More years of experience in the role, even at a former job? Do some research on or to see what others make in the same position outside your company.
  • Ask for a raise. Avoid mentioning your co-worker’s salary and use market pay rates and your value to the company as ammunition instead.
  • Consider your options if refused. If this newfound knowledge will eat away at you and your own performance and ultimately the team’s, looking for a fresh start may be wise. After all, as I noted in my blog Quitters Never Win… Or Do They?, sometimes the best way to get a raise is to command a higher base salary from a new employer.
  • If verifiable, file a complaint. If you have proof of gender pay inequality, start with your company’s HR department. If that course of action doesn’t produce satisfactory results, file a claim with your local EEOC office. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 resets the statute of limitations on discrimination complaints each time new paychecks are issued. It’s never easy to be a whistle-blower, so be sure you have the emotional fortitude before you open the Pandora’s box of gender pay discrimination.

Readers: What are your thoughts on pay transparency? Would you like to know what your coworkers make – and have them know your salary?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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