Am I being paid less than my co-worker? What to do when you suspect you are.

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

This blog is part of a week-long series that will look at the identification of the problem today before moving on to understand why it happens on Tuesday and what you can do about it on Wednesday. Thursday will look at what managers who have noticed this challenge in their teams can.

Recently we were asked this question by a user on LinkedIn.

"Hey, Chrissi, Sorry to message on the weekend, but a random one for a Saturday night that I thought you might be able to provide some advice on.
This really is for someone else; a woman believes she is being paid less than her male colleagues in the same role. Is there a way she can confirm this without jeopardising herself, and do something about it if it is the case?"

As with pretty much everything, the answer to all of these questions depends upon the context. For example, if someone is being paid less than a colleague, and is working for an organisation that genuinely wants to ensure equal pay amongst its staff and isn't aware of the oversight; then a series of productive conversations can likely take place to ensure corrective action. However, if we add a couple of nuanced factors, we can see how a different approach might be needed. For example, imagine the person who feels they are paid less – let's call them Sam – works in that supportive company described above. However, their business unit is small, and the area manager who makes the salary decisions has some strong opinions about the capability of women. Automatically we see there is a more complicated territory to be negotiated.

Do not worry; whatever the situation, all is not lost, there are always choices. Importantly the act of making them with a view to the future in itself can quite often go a long way to reducing the stressful feelings we might have. What's important is taking control and putting a plan in place. To do that effectively, we need to identify as much information as we can. We can do that by answering a series of questions.

Please note, like most things in organisations, salaries and their distribution are complicated. Even slight details can open up a can of worms that could each cover about twenty blogs of their own. That is why I'm going to focus today's blog on getting people to think about asking the right questions.

The below question set is designed to help you understand the situation better. We are going to split these questions over three areas (distribution, procedure and interaction) to help us see where the problems might be arising.

Distribution. What does the organisation provide you and your colleagues and how does that relate to what you are putting into the business.

  • Do we have the same title?

  • Are we doing exactly the same role?

  • Do we have the same skill set?

  • Have we got the same qualifications?

  • Is there evidence of a salary discrepancy?

  • Is there evidence of a benefits discrepancy?

Procedure. How are decisions being made about salary. A surprising amount can be gleaned about how to move forward by understanding how the company makes decisions. Additionally, if you can identify where challenges might be arising, you could add value to the company by suggesting how it could be improved. Be warned this depends on how ready your organisation is to hear feedback.

  • Does your organisation have a formal salary system (band process, etc.)?

  • Do local or core functions decide salaries?

  • How many people are involved in the salary decision?

  • What criteria are taken into account regarding salaries?

  • Are salaries matched against the marketplace? If so, how often?

  • Are salaries related to internal and external hires/promotions generally weighted equally?

  • Do your policies or processes explain any other information regarding the way salaries are determined?

  • Do working hours play a part in the decision making?

  • Are there any standard salary bonuses? (e.g. for the length of service)

  • Does your company have a gender pay policy? Do you feel it is productive?

  • Do you feel your company is keen to improve pay parity?

  • Is there any organisational guidance providing a procedure to follow if you have a concern about salary parity?

  • How big is the organisation?

  • What type of company is it?

  • What is the governance structure?

  • Is pat determines in line with an external factor (Eg Apprenticeship, minimum wage)?

Interaction. These questions involve the interactions you have had with your managers or HR that might have influenced your concerns regarding salary.

  • How did you find out about the possible difference in salary?

  • Did you feel your line manager (and other managers) rate your work equal to that of your colleagues? If not, is this justified

  • Do you think a conversation with your manager about salary would be productive?

  • Do you feel your manager is transparent regarding salaries?

  • Would you be comfortable speaking to your manager about your salary?

  • Would you be comfortable speaking to HR about your salary?

That's a lot of questions, but by getting a full picture, we can start to put together a workable plan.

So if you are in a similar situation, this is your homework. Go find out the answers to the questions above.

Tomorrow we will then have a look at understanding the problem in more detail.

If you would have handled things differently, let us know, there is always another way, and I'm always intrigued to hear it. Often we only find out what works best in the implementation, so it is crucial to pick something that feels right for you. After all, I'm an expert, not an oracle.

If anyone wants to send in a more specific and contextual question, please do, and It will go on the list to be answered in a future blog. If you have something, you need dealing with more urgently than please feel free to use one of the new forums for help from the community (its all still a bit new so we need to work together to grow this) or sign up to one of our personal plans to access expert support.

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