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Asking the guy in the cubicle beside you how much he earns may seem indelicate.

But do women have good reason to be rude?

In Britain, that's a subject of some heated debate among politicians, after the country's minister for women and equalities, Jo Swinson, proposed that female staffers should "confront" their male colleagues about their paycheques.

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Her comment earned the support of deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who diplomatically said that women should "feel free" to pop the pay question.

But the leader of Britain's Independence Party took the contrarian approach, declaring, as a headline in the Telegraph put it, that "how much men are paid is none of your business." Nigel Farage told the paper that "how much someone earns has always been a deeply private matter," and "some things are not the world's business."

Besides, he argued, it would only make for "jealousies and rancour" in the office.

You can bet it would make for some rancour – probably for both genders – if someone less qualified, or even doing the same job, was earning more for them.

The issue was actually prompted by a fair-pay campaign by the British edition of Elle magazine, with the tag-line: "If he does the same job, ask him his salary." It's been making the rounds on Twitter with the not-very-subtle hashtag of #makethempay. There's also a website in which British workers can put in their salaries and get a comparison by gender – though some on Twitter were disputing its accuracy.

Speaking to the magazine, Ms. Swinson suggested that "if women realized they were earning significantly less than male colleagues at a similar level, that might be the catalyst they need to ask for a pay-raise."

Pay equity remains an issue today – and frankly, in a world of two-income families, a fair wage should be everyone's business.

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But should women need a man's salary to demand to be paid what they're worth? While bosses may be getting the advantage, it's also possible that the male co-worker just asked for more from the beginning. Studies suggest that women are less likely to ask for a raise than men, and often accept lower starting salaries.

According to research by Linda Babcock, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, only 7 per cent of women asked for more money than their original offer, compared to 57 per cent of men. The result? An average salary boost of about $4,035, Babcock says.

Of course, there is the whole truth factor: Is your colleague giving you the real numbers? Maybe it can be the new office game, where everyone throws their pay stubs down at the same time and sees who wins. Who knows? It may even send a few guys to knock on the boss' door.

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