In Salary Negotiations, Ask How Much Your Male Colleagues Are Paid

Photo: Samuel Zeller, Unsplash

Maybe you’ve done your online research about what your experience is worth in the job market. But if you aren’t asking your peers what they make, you might be selling yourself short at your next salary negotiation.

Nina Semczuk at Money wrote about renewing her contract as a yoga teacher for the same hourly rate she had made the previous year. She was about to sign until she wondered: What was her male counterpart making?

Semczuk made a bold choice by asking her employer by email if the rate listed on her contract was the same rate the male yoga teacher was making. She learned he made 15 per cent more, and the studio offered to match the rate.

Granted, a lot of employers would probably tell you they can’t discuss other staffers’ pay, if you even get up the nerve to ask them if your pay matches others’. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find out how your rate stacks up.

While employers will usually cite confidentiality matters, they usually can’t prevent you from discussing pay with your peers (just check your contract for pay secrecy clauses).

Talking to peers — at your job, at other companies, in your city, in online networking groups — can provide a gut check about whether you’re being paid fairly.

Here’s an example email Semczuk provides for asking a peer for their opinion on pricing for a freelance project:

I was quoted [price] for [describe the scope of work]; since you’re a [insert a true description, like seasoned professional or expert], I wanted to see if you think the offer is fair for someone with my experience [add details if the person doesn’t know you well].

If broaching this topic makes you sweat just thinking about it, consider the potential outcome.

Caitlin Boston, a user experience researcher in New York, posted a video on YouTube this week to celebrate paying off the last of her student loans, which totalled $US222,817.26 ($328,468) between undergraduate and graduate school.

In what only can be described as a joyous celebration dance, Boston’s video shares the top tip that helped her pay off her loans:

Ask your peers what they make. That’s it. Especially if you’re a woman you just need to expect that you’re being underpaid, your job is to figure out by how much.

She recommends asking your male peers, especially. She credits this tip as “the sole reason I started making an additional 41 per cent a year”.

To get started, you don’t have to wave your pay stubs around as you march up to your nearest coworker. Boston recommends asking if a coworker or industry peer makes “over or under” a certain amount, to give you a general idea of how you compare.

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For example, if you ask a colleague, “Do you make over or under $70,000?” and they go wide-eyed and blurt, “Over! Wait, doesn’t everyone get paid at least that much in our field?” Well, then you know there’s a problem.

Yes, kicking off these conversations will feel awkward as all heck. But the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get at discussing salary. Before you know it, you may be the one guiding your peers to better compensation.


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