Ask Our Boss: My Male Counterpart Is Paid More Than Me, What Should I Do?

Alison Rice

In our monthly column dedicated to helping you succeed faster, our publisher Alison Rice is answering your most pressing career questions. You know, the stuff you really want to ask your boss but can’t. Have a question? Ask it on Instagram or Facebook by tagging #AskOurBoss.

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Dave Wheeler

Sorry to hear. When it has happened to me, finding out was the hardest part. The statistics more than back it up—with Australia's gender pay gap statistics showing that full-time working women are paid, on average, 15.3 percent less than men—but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear.

From my own experience and other women I know, my main observation is this feeling of disappointment vs. anger. I’ve had both friends and old colleagues drastically reassess their future in a business on the back of finding out they are being paid less to do the same work. Loyalty and our sense of duty seems to evaporate almost overnight. It’s also been my observation women tend to bring more service-based attributes to the workplace, and that’s also what takes a hit. Some of us tend to stop overextending when we feel undervalued.

In your situation and really any situation like this, where it gets tricky is how you found out. It can happen accidentally—like seeing a budget document you weren’t supposed to; maliciously—from colleagues playing office politics (extra gross); or sometimes, your colleague just straight up tells you what they are on.  

The next step is figuring out what do to with the information you didn’t seek out, but now can’t ignore. I think broadly, one of the most important things this fourth wave of feminism has given our generation is a platform to raise the issues we face in the workplace. Gender diversity, equality, safety and yes, pay equity. So as unfair and unfortunate as it is, tackling realities like these head-on become an opportunity to affect real change.

My first piece of advice is seeking out the facts before getting into confrontation mode with your manager. While there’s many cases of just basic inequity, there’s also many cases where the higher pay isn’t gender specific but performance, sector or experience specific. You need to get under that first.

It is also important I clarify this is my opinion and it is general advice. Your situation may be more complex, and I don’t know your employment history. I highly recommend you seek advice from your HR advisor or an independent career coach or mentor you might already be working with. The government also provides a gender pay equity guide.

At the end of your next WIP or on a fresh email, communicate to your boss that you’d like to make a time to discuss your salary. Again, this initial meeting should be explorative and used to find out the facts. It is important here that you give your manager context up front, so they know the purpose of the meeting. Some suggestions: 

  • You’d like to discuss the topic of pay equity and the company’s stance.

  • You’d appreciate any insight or feedback on your performance in your role, comparatively to your role equivalents in the business.

  • You want to clarify your KPIs and how they intersect with increasing your earning power.

  • You’d like to understand the company’s process for salary bench-marking. 

  • You’d like some help understanding your role’s sector performance and how that might impact your earning power.

When you have all of this information, you can make informed decisions with confidence. This discussion can also be progressive and actually a great entry point for career mapping and development. If your boss gets defensive or asks you why you’re bringing it up, it is best to be honest. You are well within your rights to say you’ve been put in a difficult position and while you didn’t seek out the information, it is your professional judgement that it would be irresponsible not to address it. 

When it comes to an outcome, there’s a few scenarios you need to remain open to hearing. One of those may be that your counterpart is more qualified, experienced, or delivers more value in the role. He may even have higher duties you didn't know about. This is a good opportunity to negotiate those for yourself.

But, if the reality is in fact that your skill set and performance is on par with your male counterpart but you’re being paid less to do the same job, it is your employer’s responsibility to get you to parity. If they can’t (the business isn’t in a position financially), or won’t, then you need to begin exploring opportunities to increase your earning power. This could mean an amendment to your contract or a new job.

For more feminist advice for the workplace, read Feminist Fight Club ($20) by Jessica Bennett, Saskia Wariner and Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell. 

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