Article #9 From the "What If ..." Library on Salary Negotiation

What If ...

I Find Out What My Coworkers are Making
Using Internal Information About Salary Monica called with an interesting question the other day. For several years, she has been working with a small engineering firm in which she is the only woman engineer. She has long suspected that she is underpaid relative to her male co-workers. Now, she had proof. She convinced a friend, a secretary in their HR department, to print out a list showing how much all the engineers make. She was hopping mad to see her suspicions confirmed that she was receiving much less money, and wanted to know what to do with this information.
I first advised her to take a breath and calm down. Any salary negotiations should be done when you are calm and collected. This was not a place for rash action. I told her not to reveal that she had this list. Since her company had a policy of strict confidentiality about salary, she might not only get herself fired, but she could also endanger the job of her friend in HR.
Next, I advised her to do a little homework and see if there is any objective reason for her co-workers to be receiving more money. Did they have more experience, an advanced degree, or any other experience or qualifications that might justify the pay discrepancy. She concluded there wasn't. In fact, one of them actually had less experience.
Had there been a discrepancy, I would have advised her to discuss salary with the Human Resources department and see how they determine salary, and also check to see if there might be money available for professional development to upgrade her skills.
Second, are there any performance issues that might justify the lower pay? She was absolutely clear that there were not. In fact, two of the co-workers would sometimes ask her advice on projects. They knew that she knew her stuff. She handled as many projects, or more, than the rest of the staff. Her work had never been criticized.
If there had been performance issues, she might have a conversation with her boss about setting performance standards and how she might achieve them in order to get a raise.
I told Monica to have a get-a-raise conversation with the boss (see separate article). If the boss didn't respond, Monica could reveal that she knows she is being paid less than her co-workers, without revealing the source-and without sounding angry. Again, she should stress that she likes the job, but needs to have the pay discrepancy handled.