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THE QUESTION

I am a visible-minority female working in middle management at a major Canadian bank. Recently I have come to know about significant pay inequity between myself and my male peers, despite similar experience, the same role and level of expertise. I also have a higher degree of education.

In our mid-year review, I raised the issue with my boss, who said he would look into it. Fast-forward two months. After not hearing anything, I followed up, and he cited budget issues and so on. One more month passed and nothing happened. Should I talk to human resources about this issue?

I feel cheated. I didn't negotiate at the time of joining, or at the time of promotion. I relied on them to be fair.

THE FIRST ANSWER

Eileen Dooley

Vice-president of Gilker McRae, Calgary

You don't get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate. That said, if you have the exact same job as someone else at the company, and notice a significant pay difference, then absolutely you should be speaking with your manager and human resources. Be sure, however, that your role is classified exactly the same as your higher-paid counterparts.

In many organizations, especially large ones, each role is slotted into a salary band, which is a range of what that role will be paid. Typically, where employees start out within that salary band is determined on their industry experience, professional experience and education. The more you have, the higher up the band you will go.

Find out from your manager or human resources partner what your salary band is, and where you and your counterparts sit within it. Ask why there is such a discrepancy and what can be done to level the playing field. Document your efforts, complete with date and the nature of conversations. If you seem to be getting nowhere, by all means contact your local human rights commission.

In the future, never assume any employer will be fair when it comes to compensation. Look after yourself first, always. Upon joining an organization, if you feel you should receive more pay, ask for it. Because if you don't ask, you don't get.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and career specialist, Toronto

Banks are probably among the most fair pay-equity employers in industry. It may be true that your colleagues are being paid differently than you, but it is not because you are a woman or a visible minority. You are a number in a bank; there is no discrimination. Job evaluation departments within human resources set salary band ranges and put each position on a level relevant to the job requirements. Within each band, there is discretion based on performance.

You have a right to know how pay equity works at your bank. The budget your boss referred to has nothing to do with pay equity. If your pay is different than others, there is a reason.

There are three pay ranges – minimum, mid and exceptional. It could be that you were hired at a lower pay range than your colleagues. Or that others possess a specialized skill, or they worked hard to acquire new skills or they started with higher pay so their salary reflects that.

Set up an appointment with your boss. Explain that you would like to understand the pay equity system. Say that you don't feel mistreated, and you would like a referral so they can explain how it works. If the human resources department finds a discretion that is unjust, they will adjust the pay accordingly.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com