Mind The (Pay) Gap: What Can You Do If You’re Getting Paid Less Than Your Male Colleagues?

We talk to those in the know.

In March a producer for Netflix’s The Crown admitted that actress Claire Foy was paid less for her work on the series than her co-star Matt Smith. Yep, even the woman playing Queen Elizabeth II, the actual star of the show, could not command the same salary as her male colleague. It was shocking, but just one story out of many – a not at all comprehensive list of famous women who have recently spoken out about pay inequality includes Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, Amy Schumer, Viola Davis, and E! News’ Catt Sadler.

Here in Ireland, it was revealed last year that RTE News anchor Sharon Ní Bheoláin was earning €60,000 to €80,000 less than her co-presenter Bryan Dobson, prompting the broadcaster to conduct a review of “roles and gender equality”. But the pay gap doesn’t just apply to women in high-profile jobs: EU figures show that Irish women earn on average 13.9 percent less than men, or the equivalent of working full-time for free for one month of every year.

How could this still be happening? Well, there are many factors that contribute to pay inequality. For example, there is the segregation of jobs between the genders – so the idea that men are lawyers and women are teachers, or the fact that men are more likely to hold top positions. Women may also take time out to have children or choose to work part time afterwards, which leads to them being seen as having less to offer than men. And on top of all that, we have to contend with the plain old undervaluing of women’s work.

“Women being ‘less valuable’ than men is a perception that I don’t believe is true,” says Jane Downes, a careers coach with Clearview Coaching Group. “There isn’t enough evidence to show this. We have to avoid these stereotypes. Organisations need to move towards being more transparent about the gender pay gap, otherwise they’re going to be found out.”

While we know that there’s very little substance behind gender stereotypes, they are annoyingly still very much at work. If you discover that you’re being paid less than a male colleague doing the same job – perhaps through a casual conversation or in a performance meeting, know that you do have options.

“If you’re being paid less than anybody who’s doing the same role as you, it’s going to be a blow to you,” says Jane.

The first thing to do is to consider what you are in control of. Get really clear about how you’re performing, what you’re delivering, and noting your successes. This is going to build your case. On that basis, you can say that you deserve to be paid at equal level to anybody else in your division or role.

What keeps many women silent in situations like these is a fear of rocking the boat. What will happen if you speak out? Like any difficult conversation, how you approach your employer is everything. Save your rage for the group chat, remain calm and collected, and focus on the facts.

“Tell them about your performance, and build the fairness case around that,” says Jane. “Explain what you’d like to be done about this disparity. Ask if the organisation is doing anything to review any gender gaps that are arising, and to let them know that you want an update.”

There are some successful examples of women speaking up about pay inequality to look towards. Emma Stone recently revealed that some of her male co-stars have taken a pay cut so  that she could be paid the same: “That’s something they do for me because they feel it’s what’s right and fair. That’s something that’s also not discussed, necessarily – that our getting equal pay is going to require people to selflessly say, ‘That’s what’s fair’.”

Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer tied their deals for an upcoming movie together to ensure they would be paid the same, a move which resulted in Octavia receiving five times her asking salary. “She has been underpaid for too long,” Jessica tweeted at the time. “When I discovered that, I realised I could tie her deal to mine to bring up her quote. Men should start doing this with their female co-stars.”

Saoirse, 27, is an advertising art director who works with a male partner – they negotiate their salaries together, so she knows they’re being paid equally.

We’ve seen teams negotiate separately and together, but it just seemed more natural and less awkward for our working relationship to approach our bosses at the same time. It depends on the agency. There was one company I wouldn’t have trusted to pay us equally at all, and others I would trust more.

“If we didn’t negotiate together, I think I would be anxious,” she says. “I know of cases where women were paid less than their male partners, so it’s something I’d be wary of.”

While a relationship like this can be very helpful, not all male colleagues will be as amenable as Saoirse’s partner, or Emma Stone’s co-stars. “You’ve got men who are afraid that their salary is going to come under review, and they’re trying to hold on to what they have,” says Jane. “It’s a tricky dynamic.”

So say you don’t have a colleague like Jessica Chastain ready to go to bat for you in a salary negotiation. How do you ensure that you give it your best shot?

“Gather evidence to back up your performance and know your output,” advises Jane. “Have a game plan before you go in there, know the terms that you’re willing to move on, and the
ones that you’re not.” Like in the initial conversation, you should also make sure your tone is right: “You have to come across as calm and con dent, otherwise they’ll pick up on body language that shows that you might not be.”

While it might be tempting, Jane warns not to bring up your financial commitments outside of work, no matter how much they might be increasing. “This is not their problem,” she says. “Talk instead about your value and how you are delivering. That’s the key.” Lastly, make sure you do your market research and know your worth outside of your current company.

“We know that we need women in the workplace,” says Jane. “Study upon study will show that women are the glue of an organisation. We have to go in with our best foot forward and know what we have to offer.”