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Déjà Leonard is a copywriter and freelance journalist based in Calgary.

Earlier this year, technology giant Apple shut down an employee-led survey regarding pay equity – an issue the company claimed to have fixed years ago, even though more recent survey results showed otherwise.

As expected, it revived the question of pay transparency, as well as how employees at the company should be advocating for themselves. Putting aside the question of whether complete pay transparency – revealing how much everyone is paid – is the best approach, even just asking your peers how much they make isn’t always straightforward. There likely isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach you can take to initiate a conversation that has long been seen as taboo – much to the benefit of companies around the world.

So I decided to ask people who’ve tackled the challenge what their biggest piece of advice is for others wanting to do the same. I heard from multiple sources who wanted to stay anonymous for a variety of reasons, including fear of retribution from their company and even current or former co-workers.

1. Do your research

One woman, age 32, was working for a tech company and had suspected her colleagues were making more than her, based on conversations she’d heard and public information from Glassdoor, a website where employees can anonymously submit salary information and company reviews. To ease into the conversation, she offered up her salary first. She describes feeling exploited and angry when she found out some of her peers were making significantly more than her – some with less experience. After more than a year of fighting for better pay, she received a raise, but has since moved on.

Tip: Do your research before accepting an offer and use public websites such as Glassdoor to see what your peers and others in your industry are making. You can start a conversation by revealing your salary and asking someone if they make more or less.

2. Be willing to have a vulnerable conversation

Another woman, 35, was working in insurance when she asked a co-worker – who was hired on the same day as her and had similar experience – how much they were making and they refused to answer. Eventually, she was able to find out from someone in a management position that her peer was making $14,000 a year more; a trend that affected women and minorities in the company. While she was offered a promotion at the company that came with a $5,000 pay raise, she decided to quit shortly after.

Tip: If you can’t get an answer straight from a peer, consider asking someone in management and be vulnerable in voicing your concerns.

3. Ask questions around the topic

One man, 31, describes feeling angry and undervalued when he found out he was making $11,000 less than his co-worker, who revealed their salary to him. Both individuals were taking on a newly created role, but he had more experience at the company. When he approached management he was met with severe pushback and reprimanded for sharing salary information. He never heard back from HR after asking if the wage disparities were normal at the company, and is currently searching for a new job.

Tip: When accepting a new role within your organization, ask HR how they determine the appropriate pay for the role and then do some digging. If someone else is taking on the same role, ask HR how much the other person will be making. That can make all the difference before you agree to the offer. Remember that HR is ultimately there to protect your company.

4. Get it in writing

Another 32-year-old woman was working in consulting. She ended up being hired at the same time as someone she had gone to university with, so the salary conversation came about more naturally. She found out she was being paid 20 per cent less than her male peer. She was still in her probationary period, but she wrote an e-mail asking for an explanation for the pay discrepancy. The president of the company responded within 24 hours with an apology and a raise. She is now a senior executive with the company, and advises other people to speak up when they feel they’re not being treated equitably.

Tip: When asking leaders about salary inequity, inquire by e-mail or send a follow-up e-mail if you have an in-person conversation. This way you can track any responses and have a record of what has been said or promised – like a raise.

While all of these accounts led to varying results, one thing was the same among all of the people I spoke to. They all said asking their co-workers how much they made (no matter how awkward, or what the result was) was worth it. No one else can take the initiative for you. So if pay equity or your own compensation is important to you, consider starting a conversation of your own.

What I’m reading around the web

  • When you’re overloaded with work and working long hours, it can be hard to find the time or energy to think strategically. This article in Harvard Business Review delves into the two main barriers keeping leaders from having more time to think strategically, and three ways you can break them down.
  • You’ve probably heard about the positive effects of gratitude, but did you know that new research suggests that being grateful plays an indirect role in improving our health? Keep reading – we could all use an immunity boost right now!
  • Is your job the biggest part of your identity? How do you introduce yourself to the new people you meet? Find out how “our work culture pushes us to self-objectify professionally,” and how you can challenge this notion to become a fuller, happier version of yourself.
  • Future Forum just released the results from a survey of more than 10,000 knowledge workers around the world. The results show that executives’ preference to return to the office is a looming threat that will affect employee satisfaction and retention. Find out why execs are so much more eager to return.

More opinion from Globe Careers

Are you angry? Me too. Having trouble managing it? You are not alone. The past 18 months have tested our resolve. We have tried to hold it together and seek distractions in the face of COVID-19. But for many, we’ve run out of patience, writes management columnist Eileen Dooley.

In tumultuous times, a franchise might be a great option for small-business owners Running or launching a business is hard enough, and COVID upped the ante. While no business model was pandemic-proof, one can provide increased stability to those just starting out, writes COBS Bread CEO Aaron Gillespie in the Globe’s Leadership Lab.

More from the section

If you don’t comply with a vaccine mandate, are you owed severance? In this week’s NinetoFive advice column, a reader asks about the legalities around being let go due to vaccination status.

When to take risks to thrive in your career Too often, we buy into the myth of the “single choice” – that career success depends on a single leap that has the power to make us or ruin us.


Leadership Lab is a series where executives, experts and writers share their views and advice about the world of work. You can find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

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