Are You Being Paid Fairly?

Beth Braccio Hering, special to CareerBuilder

salaryWhen Rebecca Shu*, an employee at a sportswear company, inherited some reports from another division, she quickly spotted a problem. "The Caucasian employee that was junior level made 40 percent more than the African American employees doing more senior-level work."

She also found out about another problem. "The last two years of reviews, managers of minority employees were instructed to lower their job review scores as it was predetermined that no raises or promotions were to be given, and the reviews had to justify it, regardless of actual performance," Shu states. "Meanwhile, the two Caucasian employees of that division were given promotions."

While it may be uncomfortable to work in such an atmosphere, workers are oftentimes afraid to say or do anything for fear of losing their own job. Others are blatantly told to keep their thoughts to themselves.

When Jill O'Conner* took a job at an independent film company, she assumed a position held by a younger man. "I came to the job having been a national director of publicity at a film production and distribution company," O'Conner states. While she could document that she was more qualified, she was paid less. "When I complained, my boss told me to 'be a good girl' and be quiet." And she was.

-- See differences in pay between genders for K-12 teachers, pilots & waiters/waitresses.

Not all paychecks are created equal

While equal pay for equal work should be a fundamental right, the fact remains that differences exist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the earnings disparity between black or Hispanic workers and Asian or white workers holds steady across all major occupational groups.

Consider these BLS findings:

  • In 2008, median usual weekly earnings of Asian men ($1,403) and white men ($1,255) working full time in management, professional and related occupations were well above the earnings of Hispanic men ($1,002) and black men ($892) in the same occupations.

  • Hispanic and black men employed in production, transportation and material moving occupations had median earnings of $514 and $559 per week, respectively, which were less than the median earnings of their white ($658) or Asian ($585) counterparts.

  • In management, professional and related occupations the earnings of black women ($763) and Hispanic women ($775) were around 85 percent of those of white women ($900).

While these statistics might lead a worker to assume the worst if faced with a paycheck that is less than what she thinks she deserves, approaching this sensitive issue with care can be the key to resolution.

Factors affecting salary

"Many factors can influence pay rates," says John Millikin, a professor in the management department at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business in Tempe, AZ, and a former vice president of human resources at Motorola Inc. in Phoenix. "Most compensation systems have pay ranges for specific skills and/or responsibility levels. Within a pay range or 'grade' there can be many reasons for variations. These can include performance, seniority/experience (both in the skill and within the firm) and starting salary in that position. (Did the person start high or low in the range of the pay grade?)"

Linda Matias, author of 201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions: The Ultimate Guide to Handling the New Competency-Based Interview Style, echoes these thoughts as possible explanations for paycheck differences among similar employees.

"The person's colleagues may have been better prepared for the salary negotiations during the interview or at their performance review. By preparation I mean that they took the time to write down their accomplishments and bring it to the manager's attention. That list connects the dots for the decision and brings to the forefront key reasons they are worth more. In addition, they may have done their homework and researched the average salary for their profession and demonstrated why they fall above the bell curve."

-- See differences in pay between genders for graphic designers, flight attendants & physicians.

A plan for success

If, after examining other factors, an employee still believes that something is unfair, experts generally suggest proceeding carefully and keeping emotions in check.

Matias recommends coming up with a strategic plan focusing on the following:

  • Volunteering for assignments

  • Providing ideas during meetings

  • Being a team player by lending a hand to colleagues

  • Refraining from speaking negatively about the company

  • Not participating in rumors

Then, after three to six months of implementing this plan, the employee should request a meeting to outline these recent accomplishments and ask for a raise.

"Most of us would prefer not to be in an adversarial position with our own employer," Millikin points out. "Likewise, most companies would rather resolve any unintended problem internally." If you feel comfortable doing so, he suggests going to your human resources department and requesting a confidential review in which your direct supervisor is not contacted and you are given feedback on the results before you decide if you want to pursue the matter further.

Filing a charge

Valerie Rawlston Wilson, vice president of research for the National Urban League, notes that workers who think they are suffering from pay discrimination can file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A worker filing a charge will be asked for various pieces of information, including a description of what is believed to be discriminatory, on what basis and any supporting documentation.

The EEOC can help an employee decide whether or not his situation is covered by the laws it enforces. If a charge is filed, the EEOC may try to settle the dispute through mediation -- an informal and confidential way to resolve disputes with the help of a neutral mediator. If the case is not sent to mediation, or if mediation doesn't resolve the problem, the charge is given to an investigator.

Next: Down With Performance Reviews >>

More information can be found on the EEOC's Web site ( or by calling its national contact center (1-800-669-4000).

*Names changed to protect privacy

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
E Hanson

Want better pay?One word Unionize.

May 29 2010 at 7:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Phil Bittle

What a crock ... ! All employers are looking for is the cheapest warm body they can find ... regardless of position.
You're best bet is to boycott the "private sector" entirely and get a career job with the Federal Government AND NEVER VOTE REPUBLICAN ... !

May 09 2010 at 6:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Phil Bittle's comment
Beverly Hockstad

That is part of the problem in America...people who call it "work" for the Federal government. We, who work in the private sector know what the meaning of "work" really is. We are an employer in the private sector and we work for every dime; and I take offense when someone thinks that we are only looking for a warm body...I believe you have it confused with working in a government agency. I know...I use to work in one and was constantly told "don't work so make us all look bad!" I knew then that I had more ambition than this and left to seek more in life than a paycheck for not putting forth my very best.

May 27 2010 at 12:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Can't comment on the rebate cards and all posted comments are a year old and obviously written by an employee. I tried to get my rebate from verizon by sending in my receipt and upc code from box. They told me they never received the barcode and I couldn't get my rebate so I went to the store made several phone calls and had to threaten to terminate my service when they saw my contract was up they finally issued me a rebate. That's when I found out the $50 card was only worth $47 and they would continue to charge me $3 a month until I used it. Anyway you suck Verizon!

May 09 2010 at 6:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You should get paid depending on if you are an intelligent,honest,hard working reliable person who deserves it, it should have nothing to do with race only that you are an american citizen who deserves to be paid what he or she is worth.

May 09 2010 at 5:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Capt. D. Larimore

you want to see unfairly paid? work in the D.o.C., and you will see unfairly paid.....we DO NOT get paid what we are worth for the jobs we do!

May 09 2010 at 5:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Gary Mayer - I agree its not fair. Retirees aren't rich - unless they were or had great investments beforehand. Everyone just gets a "part" of what you earned while working - which from what I've read is much smaller than a working paycheck - but that "part" is based ONLY ON THE LAST 10 YEARS YOU WORKED not what you put into the system.

Oh, and did you know that in Greece, when they retire they recieve (social security) 90% of their pay. It's get better, they're retirement age is 55. That best part (sarcasm)is that their country is bankrupted and we (the tax payers of the United States) is supposed to bail out Greece by giving them $100 billion of our tax money! Do a search using this "Greece and us bailout" and read the articles, I read it in New York Post 5/8/10. Greece has too many social programs and that's a large part of the reason they got into this financial trouble.

Sorry for my tangent. You mentioned Social Security and it pissed me off.

As to the article above, the pay scale isn't right or fair and there's no reason for it. Its not only because someone was better at negotiating a higher starting salary it's because right from the beginning you're starting at different pay points based on race and gender assumptions. Jobs have pay ranges and depending on if you're a man or woman and what your race is will determine what figure within that range they start the negotiations at. A woman (all women are paid less in the article) with the exact some resume can say exactly the same things during the interview and during negotiations as an Asian man (who got the best salary in the article) and she will not get the same pay.

Even if you do everything the article above suggests, how do you get your pay to increased? These days companies tell you if you're not happy to come to work, then don't. Unemployment is so high right now that companies have no worries about replacing you. Do you really think the place you're working at will increase your salary even if you show proof of the unfairness?

The one thing about starting at a new place every 2-3 years is that you're not there long enough to discover how your pay stacks up to others and not around long enough to see the company take more and more away from their employees. For instance, does any of this sound familiar? We use to have an employee appreciation day (free vacation day), its gone; use to get gift cards, it's gone; use to get 10% raises, it's gone; use to work one job, now it's two jobs; use to have full tuition reimbursement, it gone; use to have a job, but it's been outsourced to India and China; etc. If you keep changing jobs, you walk into how that new company's situation is now and there's nothing to compare it to.

May 09 2010 at 4:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Your salary scale for teachers is not accurate, and shows what happens when people only look at gender.

Teachers--all teachers--are paid a step/column salary that is based on college credits earned, degrees held, and years in service. The salary schedule does not discriminate by age or gender. I, for one, earn more than any man I know after 20 years, two degrees and three teaching credentials.

What may reflect here is that more males earn advanced degrees as they are considered the major breadwinner in their homes. Women who teach are still looked at as "pink collar" workers.

May 09 2010 at 4:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Linda Brodsky

The situations described are illegal and yet the laws do not protect the victims. The EEOC is not a regulatory agency with the ability to fine institutions and organizations that willfully and repeatedly break the law.

Having spent years fighting for equal pay, having tried all of the tactics listed above, I resorted to litigation. It was another 7 years. It was no fun and nobody wins.

Women are equally qualified and have proven they can and will do the work. Time for these dinosaurs to become extinct.

May 09 2010 at 3:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gary Mayer

No. It is not fair. I'm a retired CPA and I get 1/3 in pension and SS of what I made when I was working. People who think retirees are rich are either stupid or mis-informed, which is the same thing.

May 09 2010 at 2:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What should you do if your salary is too high? I see case after case of pay being way out of line compared to other similar positions, but everyone tells me to "not rock the boat"! Isn't excessive salary just like buying a house way too large with an impossibly large mortgage? Is this what Republican philosophy says we "deserve"? Rush Limbaugh seems to think so!

May 09 2010 at 2:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ajschrod's comment
Gary Mayer

ajschrod: Rush Limbaugh thinks there should be a limit? I don't believe that. What he is probably saying is that some people over-extend for what they make.

Sounds more like Obama's philosophy, i.e. the socialist thinking of 'we only need so much, there is a limit as to how much we need in earnings.'

May 09 2010 at 3:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web