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What to do when you find out your co-worker makes more money than you do

Crystal Sing | Twenty20

I've always been in favor of co-workers sharing salaries with each other. It can be uncomfortable, sure, but transparency is a key element to closing the gender wage gap, where women typically get the burden.

According to a new study from the ADP Research Institute, women earn $25 an hour on average, which is 79% of the $32 an hour their male counterparts make. The study analyzed payroll data from 13 million employees at 30,000 firms across eight sectors in the U.S.

Finding out that a co-worker who does the same work and has similar qualifications is getting paid more than you can be an infuriating experience. Here are the five most common mistakes to avoid when bringing up the conversation with your boss — and what to do instead:

1. Don't act out of immediate anger

I know what you're thinking: Duh. But it happens more often than you think. While your frustration is understandable, this tit-for-tat approach makes you look unprofessional. It also distracts you from thinking about important points to bring up when making your case.

What to do instead: Take a moment to process the news and calm your emotions. Ask yourself: Do I deserve a raise?

If the answer is yes, let your boss know you'd like to set aside some time to discuss your compensation. It's important to be specific about the topic of the meeting so they can get prepared and not be caught off guard.

2. Don't mention specific names or salaries

Remember, this conversation is about you, and not your co-workers. Details about how you found out that your co-worker makes more or their exact salaries are irrelevant. Your goal is to keep the conversation focused on your performance and the value you add to the company.

What to do instead: Start the conversation with a positive tone by explaining how hard you've been working, how much you've enjoyed the experience and that you'd like to know what you can do to get a significant raise.

3. Don't come unprepared with market data

Many employees fail to go the extra mile and do some market research. They often think that explaining how they've been putting in the extra work is enough to qualify for a raise. It isn't.

What to do instead: Show that you have a strong understanding about the salary range for positions that are equivalent to yours. I recommend engaging with agency recruiters, hiring managers or other people in your industry. They'll have a more objective view on what a position like yours pays and what you should expect.

Come prepared with information about where you rank — at the top, bottom or somewhere in the middle — so you can discuss potential growth areas.

If you find that you're a high performer who falls in the lower pay bracket, for example, explain your understanding to your boss. The most valuable employees know their worth.

4. Don't take 'no' for an answer

Your boss might conclude that a raise is not in the works anytime soon. Whatever the reason, don't shrug it off and accept the reality.

What to do instead: The conversation doesn't end at "no." Be persistent in asking what exactly needs to happen in order for you to get a raise. A few examples:

  • If your boss says you're not ready for a raise, ask: "What do I need to do to get a raise?"
  • If your boss says there isn't enough in the budget for a raise, ask: "When do you think would be a reasonable time to revisit this conversation?"

Make sure you're both in agreement in terms of objectives you need to do reach and a time frame in which you can follow up. Document everything you discussed and check in with your boss frequently to ensure that you're on track.

It also doesn't hurt to ask if there are other benefits or perks in lieu of a raise. You may be able to negotiate more vacation time, option to work remotely or a title promotion.

5. Don't stay at the company out of fear

Depending on your industry of work, there may be plenty of opportunities for you in the job market. If you discover that your company doesn't plan to promote you at all (or anytime soon), don't give up.

What to do instead: Start your job hunt as soon as possible. It may take a lot of time and hard work, but you'll likely have a better chance of negotiating a significantly higher salary at another company.

Moreover, if you land a job offer elsewhere, your current company may be open to revisiting your salary conversation in attempt to get you to stay.

Vivian Garcia-Tunon is the founder of VGT Consulting Group. She has an extensive background in human resources within financial services, private equity and investment banking. Having worked the majority of her career in male-dominated industries, Vivian is passionate about helping other women break through the glass ceiling of their industries. Follow her on LinkedIn here.

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Crystal Sing | Twenty20
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