Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.
Question: I know we’re not supposed to talk about salary at work, but I recently learned my male colleague who is on the same level and shares the same responsibilities is making a sizeable amount more than I am (a female). How can I address this with my manager? Should I ask to be compensated the same amount? – Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: I understand how it could be upsetting to learn you’re making less than your colleague – especially when you share the same responsibilities. Nearly 1 in 5 American workers say they don’t trust that their employer pays people equally for equal work, regardless of their gender, race, or ethnicity.
That said, there could be more to this situation than meets the eye.
I can’t speak to the specifics of your workplace, but if you choose to meet with your people manager, I encourage you to do some homework first and review your company’s compensation policies and pay structure – HR can provide this information to you. Employers often consider several factors when determining salary, including education level, certifications, and years of experience.
One important piece of advice: Be respectful and mindful in your approach. Remember, we’re still in a pandemic, and many workplaces are still struggling to keep their businesses operational. Frame this conversation not as demanding a raise or promotion, but as an opportunity to learn more about the pay structure and compensation philosophy at your organization.
Instead of focusing on how much your colleague makes, which is likely confidential, take this as a chance to learn more about how your salary was determined. If you feel like you need more clarity, reach out to HR – they can help you gain a better understanding of how pay is determined for employees at your workplace.
Additionally, while it may feel like an uncomfortable conversation with HR, employees are lawfully allowed to discuss terms and conditions of employment – including pay – under the National Labor Relations Act.
Pay equity is a timely and important topic for HR and workplaces across the country. In fact, 22% of organizations say they plan to conduct voluntary pay audits to proactively assess any gender-related disparities in compensation.
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Q: I applied for a promotion several times, and on each occasion, my age was hinted at as a deterrent (I’m older). My last interview started with, “Don’t you want to spend time with your grandkids?” I have filed a complaint with HR, but they could find no discrimination. What are my options? – Colleen T.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: It’s concerning to hear inappropriate comments about your age were mentioned in your interviews. It’s important for employees and job candidates to be evaluated based on skill, experience, and merit – not factors like age, race, gender, and ethnicity.
I’ll start by saying age discrimination – which includes offensive or derogatory comments or jokes about someone’s age – is real and prevalent in U.S. workplaces. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of age-related discrimination charges filed by workers aged 65 and over doubled from 1990 to 2017, and 36% of workers feel their age has prevented them from securing a job since turning 40.
Despite negative perceptions, workers aged 60 and above have proven to be reliable, smart, and hardworking. They are also less likely to exhibit workplace aggression, substance abuse, tardiness and voluntary absences.
If you feel you were discriminated against based on your age, you could be protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which forbids age discrimination against individuals who are 40 years old or older in any aspect of employment.
If there’s no evidence of discrimination, you could file a complaint with the state Fair Employment Practices office or the EEOC.
When it comes to future interviews, I want to encourage you to focus on your skill set, experiences, and unique assets you would bring to a job. If your age is brought up, redirect the conversation – share a story about how you solved a program or an example of a time you helped your team reach a goal. Hopefully, the discussion will center on your merits and strengths.
Best of luck!