Think About It: OIWC wonders, what would you do if a co-worker made more than you?

There is no stickier situation than finding out that a co-worker with the same experience and responsibilities is making more than you. How you choose to deal with this situation can potentially backfire if you are not careful. There are steps you can take to move toward a peaceful resolution, and if you take some advice from experts, you can turn a situation such as this into a professional coup.
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There is no stickier situation than finding out that a co-worker with the same experience and responsibilities is making more than you. How you choose to deal with this situation can potentially backfire if you are not careful. There are steps you can take to move toward a peaceful resolution, and if you take some advice from experts, you can turn a situation such as this into a professional coup.

The Equal Pay Act is as much about equal pay for equal work as it is about people making choices for themselves in the workplace. So when you discover that a co-worker with similar experience and responsibilities is making more than you, the way you handle the situation will determine your value both monetarily and professionally.

First, look at it from a legal perspective. Attorneys P.K. Runkles-Pearson and Matti Neustadt of the Stoel Rives law firm in Portland, Ore., suggest you exercise due diligence before considering legal action against your employer. First, you must realize that the term "same job with same responsibilities" is ambiguous and may be tough to prove similar, even if you believe you make less compared to a co-worker with the "same job." Unless you have access to a co-worker's resume and paycheck (which is confidential), you might have a difficult time.

As a rule, creative positions tend to be more individual and therefore less easy to compare. Jill Murray, human resources director for Burton, noted that experience with regard to the "same job" is more subjective in the design world than in a more regimented profession such as accounting. Her best advice is to approach your manager with your concerns. Most HR departments work with managers to counsel them on how to best handle topics such as this.

The first step is to do your homework and create a compelling argument for why you should make more money, without bringing the other employee into the picture at all. This shows that you are professional and discreet. And, as with many things, timing is all important -- find an appropriate time to bring up the topic, keeping in mind what else is going on not only in your department, but elsewhere in the company. Consider that if there have been layoffs or the company is in transition, it is probably not the best time to ask for a raise.

If you approach your manager and nothing comes of it, the next logical step is to talk to your human resources department. An HR manager can be brought into the loop to make an educated determination of the circumstances at hand.

For a real life example, consider the approach Henry (a pseudonym) used -- successfully -- to increase his pay. After some time on the job, Henry felt that the value he was adding to the company was not in line with what he was being paid. He put together a presentation for his manager and, when the time was right, he took the proposal to his manager. The proposed raise was based on the fact that additional projects and responsibilities were gladly taken on, providing the company with added value for his work. He suggested a fair compensation based on the work performed and his manager agreed to take it to the HR department. Within 24 hours, Henry got a raise! Henry was careful not to make the conversation about anyone else but himself and made the focus solely on the work he was doing. The decision to keep it professional paid off in the end.

The best advice from experts we interviewed is to go through the proper internal channels -- your direct management and, if necessary, the human resources department at your company -- providing as detailed information as possible about your grievance and why you feel there is a disparity in compensation. If you feel that management and HR are not able to address your concerns, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as government agencies in each state can assist you in determining what your legal rights in the workplace are and how you can enforce them.

It's important to not only know your rights, but to also understand your personal and professional options. With good communication and negotiation skills, it may be possible to avoid legal action. No matter how you address the situation, you should be prepared to work through a potentially lengthy process and to consider other alternatives, such as leaving your job altogether. In any case, a good plan and professional approach will provide the best opportunity for success.

This monthly column, a partnership between OIWC and SNEWS®, aims to address the issues that concern women in the industry most -- anything that is controversial, topical or newsworthy relating to women and the outdoors. The goal is to help, educate, inspire and grow. We welcome your ideas, gripes, thoughts and comments. Bring it on. E-mail us at oiwc@snewsnet.com.

Ali Levyis a visual merchandiser and a volunteer for the OIWC's Professional Development Committee. Her past work experience includes the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Marmot and Cloudveil Mountainworks. She is currently employed by Intrawest.Outdoor Industries Women's Coalition is a membership community of professionals in the outdoor industries united to provide power, influence and opportunity for women in outdoor-related businesses and to generate champions to inspire other women. For more information, visit its website at www.oiwc.org.

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