Salary Discrepancy – A Personal Story
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
This article involves the personal challenges I faced regarding salary discrepancies over the course of my career. It started with my first job out of college and unfortunately continued as I moved to other positions. I’ll start by saying that wage and salary information is and should be a private issue, and it’s not appropriate to discuss compensation openly with co-workers given the sensitivity of the topic. That being said, if it comes to your attention that there are pay discrepancies between you and your colleagues for the same job with the same success and experience, you have a right to address the issue.
First, it’s important to remember that there are often legitimate reasons for treating the compensation of workers differently. Salaries can be negotiated and differences in pay are permitted when they are based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production. True pay discrimination, however, occurs when employees performing substantially equal work do not receive the same pay. This bias can occur due to gender or race, which are both prohibited under federal law. In one of my first jobs, I questioned salary levels and was actually told I didn’t need to make as much as my male counterparts because I had a husband who worked. While I doubt anyone would say those words out loud in the workplace today, we do know that in 2019 women earned just 79 cents for every dollar men made. There are definitely times when we may need to speak up about pay issues, but the conversations can be tricky. Here are some guidelines I followed:
- If you are made aware of a pay discrepancy issue, first speak with your boss or Human Resources representative. Some organizations may have a process to address internal pay equity and you can ask your HR department to schedule a confidential meeting about a pay policy issue.
- You could also wait until it’s time for your performance review when your salary may be up for discussion. (This is the tactic I took in a very careful and confidential manner).
- Keep your conversation professional, not emotional, and be prepared to present a case for why you deserve greater compensation based on performance, credentials and the value you add to the department. Be as specific as possible in referencing your accomplishments and avoid general statements suggesting that you are entitled to equal compensation.
- Refrain from making any negative comments about co-workers whom you believe are receiving higher pay and be careful not to issue any ultimatums that you are not prepared to carry out.
Believe me, discussions about salary are difficult and can be uncomfortable, but if you handle them tactfully, you’ll be able to get paid what you’re worth. Stand up for yourself when necessary and be prepared to make a decision to move on if you feel the time is right. As a favorite manager told me long ago, “no one cares more about your career than you.”
Resources on this topic:
Equal Pay Act - This act prohibits employers from paying men, with equivalent experience at the same location, greater pay.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for assistance if you suspect a gender, age or disability-based violation.
A book that I still reference: Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, January 27, 2009, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever