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Hey, colleague: How do you talk to your boss about unequal pay?

It’s not a secret but the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss: unequal pay contributes to the root cause of gendered poverty.
gendered pay
In Canada, there is a gendered pension gap of 22%.

Send questions about careers, productivity and work-life balance to kpn@glaciermedia.ca. Please include your name and location, or request to remain anonymous.


Hey, Colleague:

How do you raise the issue of comparable pay during a performance review? I started with my current company at a rate that I thought was fair, but after speaking to colleagues and looking up comparable salaries for my position, industry and within Vancouver, I realized I’m earning 15% less than my peers. 

That seems like such a wide gap to bridge in a raise request, and I wonder if I would be better off seeking a similar position elsewhere and then using a potential job offer as a negotiation tactic. What would you do?

—Anonymous


It’s not a secret but the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss: unequal pay contributes to the root cause of gendered poverty.

Women graduate from post-secondary with student loans to pay off and lesser means to do so. Unequal pay also contributes to Canada's gendered pension gap of 22%, leading to men retiring with significantly more income than their female counterparts.

1) Be aware

First, we have to be careful not to contribute to a toxic “cancel culture.” Consider your performance before jumping to conclusions that you are the victim of an unequal pay gap. Ask yourself the hard questions and be honest: is there a reason you are being paid less? Are you meeting your deliverables and goals?  

Be realistic: is there a clear path to advancement in your job family matrix? Working for large corporations can involve a lot of red tape and bureaucracy, whereas working in a startup culture can be the opposite. Consider all of this along with your long-term goals and how much risk you can manage. 

2) Plan and prepare: do your research

Now that you’ve got #1 out of the way, ask yourself: “how do I convince my employer that my contribution is worth the raise?”

I don’t think it’s fair we even need to make a case about equal pay to our employers but let’s not take things personally. Change doesn't happen right away, and it's important to spark conversations that ignite reform. 

Arm yourself with data to prove your case: talk to your friends and peers. Use Glassdoor, Monster and Payscale to get an understanding of your industry. Assemble facts and records of your accomplishments at work—research local laws about equal pay. 

3) Be confident and assertive

To be confident, you will need the correct mentality and achievements to back it up. To speak up assertively, you need to be confident in your skills, which tie in together. Hence the importance of going into this negotiation with your boss armed with facts and data.

4) Leave your emotions out of this

It may not be easy, but it’s best not to take these issues personally because there is something larger at work behind the scenes. We are fighting very institutionalized ways of thinking ingrained in our society for decades. In the spirit of altruism, reform takes time, but we all need to contribute.

5) Work with your boss

Let’s reframe this issue as a collaborative problem with your boss. How can you work together to develop solutions that will drive the company forward as a whole? You can educate your boss and emphasize how equal pay would contribute to the company's long-term goals.

Evidence shows that diverse organizations outperform their peers.

In the book Conscious Capitalism, we learn that valued-driven companies that focus on forward-thinking work cultures help advance capitalism with a positive impact on the economy, which affects our quality of life. If we can reimagine capitalism by sparking a shift in mindset, we can contribute to this issue.

6) Consider new opportunities

Sometimes things don’t work out. If your boss won’t work with you, it’s time to consider new opportunities.

It’s important to feel respected at your job because we spend a lot of time in the workplace, and our mental health needs to be prioritized if we want to live a happy and productive life. Unfortunately, some employers don’t recognize this basic human need.

I began my career in tech when I turned 20, fresh out of school, and I had no idea I even had to negotiate a higher base salary, which affected all the raises in my entire career there. Over the years, I spoke with many colleagues and learned moving to a new company or even coming back as a contractor allowed you to negotiate higher salaries every time. Of course, this largely depends on your industry. 

Part of that involves confidence and being able to walk away from “stability.” This is essentially a mindset shift — from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. The world is full of opportunities, but we often get caught up in that stable job, stable career. 

I am entirely aware that industries have different “rules,” many people have logistic issues, mortgages and child-care expenses which adds an extra layer of complexity. But what can we do to take control of our destiny?

Does your partner have room to contribute more as you make a transition?

Do you have savings or investments you can dip into?

Can you commit time to learn a new skill?

Can you take advantage of tax breaks?

Does your recurrent company contribute to continuing education? 

Is there a new skill you can learn? Calendar and commit a few hours a week to an online course.

Every small action done consistently will add up to exponential changes.

I recommend talking to people, reading articles, listening to podcasts and finding a mentor. Knowledge is power. Knowledge will inspire and help you think outside of the box to come up with creative ways to increase your earnings.

Life is all about taking risks, and risks are scary, but you should think a few steps ahead and keep your options open.

Good luck!


Kate Pn writes about mastering a healthy work-life balance by focusing on productivity hacking. Write to her at kpn@glaciermedia.ca.