What's your Problem?

I've discovered my company pays women much less than men.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: I work in the HR/payroll department of a large organisation. I've just joined and, while processing salaries, have noticed quite large differences between what men and women earn for the same job title. I haven't raised the matter with anyone but I'm shocked, as, in my previous company, salary scales were equal and transparent. I don't know what to do about it.

A: When you joined this department, you'll undoubtedly have been told that all the information to which you would have necessary access is confidential - and under no circumstances to be revealed to other parties. It's probably enshrined in your contract, which you willingly signed. This being the case, you obviously can't quote specific numbers and salary disparities between men and women doing the same job - even to your line manager.

But since yours is a large organisation, it presumably has staff clubs or union representation, or other regular opportunities for raising questions and concerns with senior management. And you're entirely entitled to ask about company policy on salary scales and transparency.

Before you start on some small crusade, however - which may well earn you the reputation of being a bit of a trouble-maker - do be scrupulously careful not to jump to indignant conclusions. There are some companies that can't realistically operate a strict job-grade/salary-level system; they need to apply more sensitive and individually tailored criteria to how they remunerate individuals.

But if widespread gender discrimination really does exist within your company, the chances are that there will also be widespread unease and dissatisfaction: even when management does its best to keep them under wraps, these things have a healthy habit of seeping into public consciousness.

So I wouldn't advise you to embark on a lone campaign to champion salary reform without testing the temperature first. If there's a latent movement under way, by all means join it. (You're perfectly at liberty to talk about the policy on salary scales and transparency as practised by your previous company.) Just be ultra-careful not to break the terms of your employment contract - or you'll do your case more harm than good.

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