Ask HR: Why Does My Male Colleague Earn More Than Me?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP April 23, 2021

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

I know we're not supposed to talk about salary at work, but I recently learned my male colleague, who is the same level and shares the same responsibilities as me, is making a sizable amount more than I am (a female). How can I address this with my manager? Should I ask to be compensated the same amount? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I understand that it is upsetting to learn you're making less than your colleague—especially when you share the same responsibilities. Nearly 1 in 5 American workers say they don't trust that their employer pays people equally for equal work, regardless of their gender, race or ethnicity.

That said, there could be more to this situation than meets the eye.

I can't speak to the specifics of your workplace, but if you meet with your people manager, I encourage you to do some homework first and review your company's compensation policies and pay structure—HR can provide this information to you. Employers often consider several factors when determining salary, including education level, certifications and years of experience.

One important piece of advice: Be respectful and mindful in your approach. We're still in a pandemic, and many workplaces are still struggling to keep their businesses operational. Frame this conversation not as a demand for a raise or promotion, but as an opportunity to learn more about the pay structure and compensation philosophy at your organization.

Instead of focusing on how much your colleague makes, which is likely confidential, ask how your salary was determined. If you feel like you need more clarity, reach out to HR—they can help you gain a better understanding of how pay is determined for employees at your workplace.

Additionally, while it may feel like an uncomfortable conversation with HR, employees are lawfully allowed to discuss terms and conditions of employment—including pay—under the National Labor Relations Act.  

Pay equity is a timely and important topic for HR and workplaces across the country. In fact, 22 percent of organizations say they plan to conduct voluntary pay audits to proactively assess any gender-related disparities in compensation.

Be well!


I applied for a promotion several times, and on each occasion my age was hinted at as a deterrent (I'm older). My last interview started with, "Don't you want to spend time with your grandkids?" I have filed a complaint with HR, but they could find no discrimination. What are my options? —Colleen T.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: It's concerning to hear inappropriate comments about your age were mentioned in your interviews. It's important for employees and job candidates to be evaluated based on skill, experience and merit—not factors like age, race, gender or ethnicity. 

I'll start by saying age discrimination—which includes offensive or derogatory comments or jokes about someone's age—is real and prevalent in U.S. workplaces. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the number of age-related discrimination charges filed by workers ages 65 and over doubled from 1990 to 2017, and 36 percent of workers feel their age has prevented them from securing a job since turning 40. 

Despite negative perceptions, workers ages 60 and above have proved to be reliable, smart and hardworking. They are also less likely to exhibit workplace aggression, substance abuse, tardiness and voluntary absences. 

If you feel you were discriminated against based on your age, you could be protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which forbids age discrimination against individuals who are age 40 or older in any aspect of employment.

If there's no evidence of discrimination, you could file a complaint with the state Fair Employment Practices office or the EEOC.

When it comes to future interviews, I want to encourage you to focus on the skill set, experiences and unique assets you would bring to a job. If your age is brought up, redirect the conversation—share a story about how you solved a problem or an example of a time you helped your team reach a goal. Hopefully, the discussion will center on your merits and strengths.

Best of luck!



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