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What You Need to Do if You Discover Your Co-worker Makes More Than You

The Question

I accidentally came across my company’s payroll notes and found out that my co-worker (who I outrank, but who has been at the company a year longer than me) makes significantly more than I do. I understand that she’s been here longer, but my position carries much more responsibility and really should merit a higher salary.

I want to ask for a raise. How can I bring this up? Should I mention that I know my co-worker’s higher salary? I’m not asking for a yearly raise (which I deserve, since I am great at my job and integral to the company). I’m asking to be a part of a fair pay structure.

The Answer

Great companies—companies that have their pick of the very best people—operate under a consistent set of ethics and clearly defined values. They operate with integrity and a high level of transparency.

If you’re lucky enough to work for one of these companies, chances are they strive for a fair pay structure and, if you bring this issue to their attention, they will value it and do what they can to rectify the situation.

Sadly, many companies don’t have such clearly defined standards and goals. If this is what you’re facing, you have an inherent risk in bringing the issue to your employer’s attention. And that risk is that they are paying you exactly what they think you’re worth.

If that’s the case, one of two things will likely happen: Your employer will deny your request (in which case your resentment will build and you will stay, disgruntled, or leave), or they will make an adjustment in the short term—but their resentment of you will grow, and over time it will be apparent that opportunities have vanished and you need to move on.

The important thing is to walk into any meeting knowing what’s important to you. It sounds like you want to work at a company where a fair pay structure is valued. If that desire outweighs the risk, tell your boss(es) that you discovered the disparity in salary and pay attention to the reaction. If it’s positive and in your favor, you’ve discovered that your values are aligned with theirs and you’ll no doubt be even more committed to excelling at your job there. If it’s anything short of that, you’ve gained clarity about the company, which should inform the career choices you make going forward.

Christine Tardio is a trusted advisor and business coach to a dynamic range of women business leaders. She can be reached at

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