Why does her colleague get paid more?
July 9, 2008 12:52 AM   Subscribe

My wife has a salary review coming up. A few months ago a colleague doing the same job as her revealed his wage was £1000 a year more, though he has been there for a shorter time. Should she mention this in her meeting?

- she's been at the company for four years
- she's going to be taking maternity leave in the autumn, but wants to return to her job
- the other guy does the same job; he started after her and took a year out, negotiating the current deal on his return
- both are good at what they do and liked/appreciated for it
- he's a good negotiator; she is not confident with that sort of thing

Is it sexism in the workplace? Is it just 'you get what you ask for'? And how should she approach asking for it...?

(I anticipate some people might say: 'Are you sure she's as good at the job, aren't you biased?' Let's assume for the sake of argument she is: the key thing is to help her negotiate upward!)
posted by hatmandu to Work & Money (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: No, she shouldn't mention it because it isn't her business what he makes. She should argue for a raise on her own merits. Men are often better negotiators and this impacts women's wages.

The maternity leave may complicate things.
posted by k8t at 1:32 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Negotiate on your own terms, not on "but Fred get this much" terms. She might be pleasantly surprised at the answer to a simple question: "Could we arrange a time to review my current salary, please?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:40 AM on July 9, 2008

Best answer: She should not reveal that she knows her colleagues salary, simply because of the possible impact on her colleague, should management learn he's revealed possibly confidential information. Also, as k8t mentions, this isn't relevant to her salary or performance.

In terms of negotiating the best possible package for herself, she has to take control of this process. While that sounds aggressive, its actually simpler than she or you might think.

First of all, about one week before her review she should prepare and send to her supervisor a document detailing accomplishments over the last year (or period since the last formal salary review).

The document should start with an overall summary of her assessment of performance over the term. Ideally, she'd have been given goals at the last formal review; if so this is her chance to headline how she has met - or perhaps even exceeded - managements own expectations.

The body of the document should detail accomplishments. Each accomplishment should stress value added to the firms business activities. Don't just say things along the lines of "...did this much faster than expected", rather pitch it as "did this much faster than expected resulting in time savings to the firm of X hours per week.

Make sure to clearly break out any new responsibilities or work taken on. Again, value add to the enterprise must be stressed her.

Finally, you'll need to have an idea in mind for your expected increase. Don't pull this out of the air; reference back to the last increase received. If, for example, last increase received was 5% and if her performance has been stellar, then considering the overall inflationary environment, ask for 12% when you'd really like 8%.

Professionally, I'm usually on the other side of table and there are two types of people: those that approach this with little or no preparation, letting me guide the process - and decision - to where I'd like it to end up. That seems to be your state at present.

The second group takes control of this process, guides much of the decision making and, in the end, makes a stronger case to me - one that I can take to my boss for an exceptional raise.

You want to move into that second group. It seems her colleague is already there.

Hope this helps!

Best of luck with your negotiation.
posted by Mutant at 1:41 AM on July 9, 2008 [23 favorites]

Sorry - don't know what I pressed then. I meant to add: Don't wait for the salary review to do this. If told "wait for the salary review", respond "I'd like to talk in advance about how you see the review working out." If pressed why, simply say "I've been thinking a lot about my work here over the past four years, and how I might best structure my benefits to reflect my skills, experience and performance."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:44 AM on July 9, 2008

In the US, nothing sends HR off the deep end like sharing salary info. If they even get a whiff that salaries have been shared between coworkers, they will fall all over themselves to fire everyone involved.

Instead, use it as a data point in formulating your own negotiations. Realize that they can afford to pay you at least an extra grand a year, and come up with a good pitch touting your own merits to get them to fork it over. I would not, under any circumstances, reveal you have "inside knowledge" like what someone else in the dept. pulls down a year.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:59 AM on July 9, 2008

I cannot recommend the book Women Don't Ask highly enough for exactly this situation.

(And maternity leave coming up has nothing to do with anything, by law).
posted by different at 2:30 AM on July 9, 2008

he's a good negotiator; she is not confident with that sort of thing

I'd say there's your answer right there. Just because a company pays Mr A a certain negotiated salary doesn't mean they must offer it as a minimum to Mrs B.

Now that she knows the other guys salary she could push her luck in the negotiations and ask for a few thousand higher than his... and probably end up with at least the same.
posted by twistedonion at 3:20 AM on July 9, 2008

A really interesting thing here is that the colleague revealed what he did. It's so unorthodox that it's suspicious. How could it be in that colleague's interests for your wife to know what he makes? And -- could it be in the colleague's interest for your wife to think that he makes more than he actually does? If I were her, I'd keep an eye on that guy.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 3:28 AM on July 9, 2008

She shouldn't assume that the figure her coworker mentioned to her is accurate. Many people inflate their salary figures to coworkers, in an attempt to create dominance, or to get a rise out of them for other reasons. Sometimes, it's just a ploy to get the real salary numbers of someone else, too, as a means of confirming that their own real salary is comparable to others in the position.

It would also be good if she could investigate comparable salaries for similar positions in other firms. In every market, some firms pay in the lower 1/3 of the market, some firms pay market rates, and some firms are more generous than others with their employees. In my experience, those who pay in the lower 1/3 of the market are also most inured to exceptional negotiation, whereas those that are paying above market are often looking for exceptional people, and willing to recognize exceptional performance when they find it. If your wife is working for skinflints, they're more likely to stick to inflexible review processes and pay increase schedules than she'd like; in some of those firms, even an exceptional employee is only going to get the internally acceptable raise, even if it means losing some people on turnover. That kind of thinking is a strategic decision by those firms, and no amount of "upselling" is going to change it. Not that she shouldn't try, but it is one thing for a person shy about salary negotiation to try when there is a likelihood of success, and another when trying in an environment where no amount of exemplary effort is likely to succeed.
posted by paulsc at 3:37 AM on July 9, 2008

It isn't necessarily sexism (although it could be). Personally I'm not a fan of sharing salary details with colleagues - it more often seems to lead to lowest common denominator salary settlements for everyone. In your wife's case though she can probably fairly expect to use the knowledge as a lever to get at least an extra £1k on top of what she is earning now. I absolutely would not mention knowledge of her colleague's salary during negotiations though.

On the confidence issue, is it possible for her to do some work on the negotiation outside of the context of a face-to-face discussion? Perhaps she could draw up a business case for her salary raise and possible a couple of alternative ways to structure it (ie in terms of balance between basic salary / working hours / benefits) and email it to her boss ahead of time (billed as a "basis for discussion"). I recently helped my wife to negotiate the terms of her return to work from maternity leave in exactly this way, and it worked like a charm.
posted by bifter at 4:04 AM on July 9, 2008

Is your wife working in the UK? (At least as I view Metafilter you've put her rate in GBP). Then the correct thing to do is use the Equal Pay Questionnaire which is linked to the Sex Discrimination Act. It is not legal in the UK to receive a different rate of pay simply because of sex. The questionnaire will help your wife and her employers find out if she and her colleague are both doing the same job and if they are receiving different rates of pay.
posted by boudicca at 5:02 AM on July 9, 2008

You know, I worked with a girl here recently who was exactly my age, with more education but no experience. I make about $1,000 a year more than her, and I thought "well that's strange." And then I realized that my health benefits cost our NPO about $2,200 each year and hers cost $12,200 each year, and suddenly I was just a lot more confused.
posted by TomMelee at 5:05 AM on July 9, 2008

Here in the UK no-one can be fired for disclosing pay and it's pretty common where I work for the team to more or less know where everybody is at on the scale. Having said that there are differences related to how long we've been in the job and our performance each year.
In my last two performance reviews I was the only one on the team with "exceptional" which has now put me about £2,500 pa ahead of my colleagues. No-one talks about the outcome of the performance review and so to avoid niggles with my colleagues, I don't intend to take part in the desultory chats about pay from here on.

The first thing I would say is as others here suggest, she needs to argue the point on her own merits. I can't emphaise enough how important Mutant's points are in this and would only add that she needs to very carefully use the particular bureaucratic language her employer uses. If she has been given objectives, she must demonstrate clearly how she has either achieved or exceeded those objectives.

All the literature about this emphasizes how many women put themselves down and don't claim credit where it is really due.

My recent success was down to a really supportive line manager who took me aside 2 years back and said, "But, look, you've done this and that and influenced that change.... etc., etc.," lots of stuff I simply thought was helping a workmate, being pleasant or a good communicator, etc., She talked me into a structured way of representing my work which has been incredibly effective. But above all, she showed me one paragraph about one of my objectives couched in better "managementese" suited to my organisation. It was a real eye-opener. I won't approach performance reviews in the same way ever again.

a £1,000 difference could be down to performance if they were appointed to the same scale.
posted by Wilder at 5:21 AM on July 9, 2008

Boudicca's right. If you're in the UK, US answers are only partly helpful.

I agree what everyone has said about how to approach the negotiation - and I probably wouldn't mention the inside knowledge either. I might imply I knew, but I wouldn't say it.

However the law is completely different in the US, and employees - especially female employees - have much more legal protection in the UK. This matters, because if they really are paying male workers with similar experience and work loads higher salaries than female workers, they probably know they might get in trouble over that, which in itself is a bargaining chip.

Also, if they're foolish enough to say "no raise for you, you're off on maternity leave", I'd contact the nearest employment law specialist immediately - she'd probably be sitting on quite a good discrimination case. (IANYL etc etc)
posted by tiny crocodile at 5:25 AM on July 9, 2008

Is it sexism in the workplace? Is it just 'you get what you ask for'? And how should she approach asking for it...?

You've already gotten great advice, but the short answer here is "yes." It's highly unlikely to be conscious sexism, but this is an area in which gender role education damns women in the workplace. IN accordance with social norms they've been learning since childhood, women don't ask enough; they tend to wait for their performance to be approved of and then gratefully accept whatever compensation they're given. They're more likely to leave a job because of wage than negotiate for a better raise. Bosses, of course, are looking at the bottom line, and are happy to get the bargain of an employee working at below market rate who appears to be content with their salary package. It takes an unusually fair-minded boss to ensure salary equivalence across a job description even when the employees aren't agitating for a raise. Many bosses are not able to reach beyond the general principle of controlling costs to aim for that sort of fairness. They assume all's well unless someone takes the initiative to negotiate.

So she needs to ask, and mutant's method looks wonderful. It would work on me. The more likely that her boss doesn't want to lose her, the more confident she can be.
posted by Miko at 6:00 AM on July 9, 2008

She should read this book:
posted by Jacqueline at 6:01 AM on July 9, 2008

"In the US, nothing sends HR off the deep end like sharing salary info. If they even get a whiff that salaries have been shared between coworkers, they will fall all over themselves to fire everyone involved."

Other than the obvious fact that this puts the employer in a much stronger bargaining postion in salary negotiations, is there any acceptable ethical or philosophical basis for insisting -- on pain of dismissal -- that co-workers remain in the dark about each other's compensation? It strikes me as rather extreme and inhumane to concieve of every worker as an utterly independent free agent who must grasp at straws to guess the value of his or her labour without the most relevant (and trivially easy to obtain) comparative data.

Then again, I am a public sector worker in Canada in a workplace where everyone's salary is pretty strictly determined by job classification, and completely transparent, which suits me just fine.
posted by onshi at 6:27 AM on July 9, 2008

Honestly, yeah, it's probably sexism.

She should not reveal that she knows her co-workers salary...there is somewhat of a taboo against discussing the salaries of others. She can't un-know this info, though. If she is crafty enough, she could allude to it while enumerating her responsibilities.
posted by desuetude at 6:49 AM on July 9, 2008

Don't mention the salary discrepancy. First, because all it's going to do is make your employer defensive and will force them to play the "who's a better employee" game, one that in most situations the employer can decide arbitrarily and then justify afterward.

Second, because (as mentioned above), you have no idea what he's actually making, only what he told you he was making.

Third, because unless these folks are making almost nothing a year, the difference between their salaries is relatively insignificant and could be easily explained by just about anything, unless your wife was markedly better in every facet of her job. Performance is largely subjective.

Finally, because he's a better negotiator than your wife is. Labor is a market, and the employer really isn't under any obligation to pay people more than they ask for. The first step to fixing the salary discrepancy is for your wife to improve her negotiation skills.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:02 AM on July 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone (particularly Mutant) for some very sane and helpful advice - I've passed it on, and we'll see how it goes!
posted by hatmandu at 7:35 AM on July 9, 2008

If it´s not just salary where she is not confident in her negotiating skills, have her get out and negotiate! Go to yard sales, ask for a lower price at stores, even have a yard sale yourself (if they do that in the UK). If salary is the only thing she ever negotiates, of course she isn´t confident.
posted by yohko at 3:35 PM on July 9, 2008

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