What happened when I complained about my low salary

And by low, I mean low compared to similar and some worse-published (men) in my department and field. (I am making more than the non-research active people in my dept).  I am still incredibly privileged and my salary still leaves me a little shocked.

Still, even if I’m making more money than I ever dreamed of as a child, I should still be paid fairly.

And I wasn’t.  So I complained up and down in my annual review.  I talked about my cv and the work I do for the dept and the fact that although I have never gone on the market, people ask me to apply to schools.  I complained about how my (male) colleague who used to have the same salary that I did whose cv is similar to mine (but not quite as good) is making quite a bit more than I am despite his never having gotten an outside offer.  I mentioned the fact that I’m making less than our new hires straight out of grad school, even though all the male associate profs are making quite a bit more.

So my chair and dean talked and they agreed.  They noted that although I didn’t have the lowest salary in the dept, I’m in the bottom 20%, and I noted that of the people making less than me, none of them are research active.

They can’t give more than 10% raises a year without something extraordinary happening.  So they said I get 10% this year and if I complain again they will do their best to give me 10% next year.  If I want more I would need to go on the market because they are allowed to match outside offers.  He also mentioned that I was one of two women in the dept with this complaint and she would also be getting the same deal (pretty sure the other one makes just a little more than I do and also has an obviously better cv than the above-mentioned guy).

So where does this put me?  After the first raise I’ll *still* be making about 7K less than the male colleague mentioned above is making this year.  Presumably he’ll get a raise this year as well.  So I’ll still be behind.  But 10% is better than 3% (is better than 2% is better than 0%).

I probably should go on the market, but I’d prefer not to.  Still, I’ll probably actually look at the listings this year even though I usually don’t.

So… is there a moral?  Well, sometimes complaining works.  If it doesn’t work, then it might not be a place worth staying.

32 Responses to “What happened when I complained about my low salary”

  1. yuppiemillennial Says:

    Yay @ asserting your worth and double yay @ it actually leading to a raise in your pay!

  2. Liz Says:

    How do you know how much you colleagues are making? I’m likely in a similar boat, but not academic, and don’t really know what others are earning.

  3. Sue Says:

    I just found out I am baking considerably less than my male counterparts and if they don’t increase my salary significantly I’m hitting the road. One of my male colleagues was dumb enough to tell me probably because he thought we made the same. I think companies/institutions do it because they can and it’s infuriating.

    Imo I don’t think your school increased your diary enough. They think the pat on the head will make you happy. In your situation I would start looking elsewhere. Gl

    • Debbie M Says:

      That stinks. Meanwhile, I have to say that I quite enjoyed your typo about baking considerably less than your male counterparts. Mmm, counterparts baking and bringing baked goods to work.

  4. bogart Says:

    Good for you and glad it helped, even if it hasn’t solved the problem. Keep pushing.

  5. Leah Says:

    I’d keep pushing. Seems like they’re saying that if you go on the market, you’d get an even bigger offer that they could match. Job shopping is a pain, and there’s the ethical part of taking up people’s time without being genuine in looking for a job, but isn’t that worth a significant jump in pay?

    At a minimum, push for another 10% next year.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I will definitely request another 10% next year. But I’m not really interested in going on the market. I will probably look at the listings this year unlike in previous years in case I need to go on the market next year.

  6. CG Says:

    Good for you for speaking up, and good for your chair and associate dean for at least making an effort to do something about it. In our department the lowest-paid person is a man. He makes about the same as I do and he’s been an associate for 5 years. I just got promoted to associate and haven’t gotten my salary bump yet; when I do, I’ll make more than he does. My understanding is that he came in at kind of a low time and didn’t negotiate his starting salary, and has lagged behind ever since. I negotiated about $1200 more in starting salary than I was initially offered (my advisor told me to forget asking for summer salary since an increase in starting salary would be worth so much more over time–great advice) and have been benefiting from that ever since. So, yay for asking for more!

  7. Nanani Says:

    Yay for standing up for yourself and yay that they actually acknowledged it was a problem!

  8. SP Says:

    I’m glad the recognized and are committed to (slowly) fixing the discrepancy. Do they not have special processes for “equity” increases? This should seriously be considered, rather than forcing people to waste time with outside offers. I’m sure there is too much bureaucracy for anyone to implement something new, but it is silly that they can’t do anything more quickly.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      This is the special process!

      • SP Says:

        ugh, really?!? Seems too slow. 10% cap seems arbitrary and low!

      • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

        It seems strange for the equity review to have a %age cap on it. Normally the point of equity reviews is to fix previous biases to achieve a fair result. Putting a cap on it makes the claim that nothing is very wrong—defeating the point of an equity review, which is only invoked when something is wrong.

        Incidentally, when I went applied for an equity review several years ago, there were 4 different outcomes at the department, dean, faculty committee, and chancellor level (the chancellor’s decision is the only binding one). Some saw an inequity, some didn’t, and the amount of recommended adjustment varied, so there is no guarantee that equity reviews will result in the results you expect—politics plays a role in the reviews just as it does in the normal merit review process.

  9. Kris Says:

    Sounds to me like ‘THEY’ just told you “they” have a gender based inequality pay gap in X department. Do you know a lawyer who might encourage them to ‘fix’ it faster? Could it be suggested that the ‘prior’ people created it, not their sainted selves and …… 7K inequality (AFTER) a bump to correct a gender pay inequality difference still makes a huge difference over time. And really the additional 7k now would save ‘YUGE’ lawyer bills for them and bad publicity too…….. It would also set you up for a better pay increase next time even at a 8 or 9% pay raise to ensure you actually are at the right pay level for your expertise, time in service and publication rate…….
    This is a prime example of how women get screwed financially over and over and over……

    • Kris Says:

      The more I have thought about this the madder I get. It sounds like you just agreed to 7K less this year because “the boys” would have to actually do something special to achieve gender equality in pay. I would think your university would want to avoid charges and appearance of gender bias in pay. I must have misunderstood. Please tell me why I misunderstood. 50 years ago I thought your generation would have equal pay and equal opportunity. 40 years ago I thought it might be possible for my granddaughters. (They are 5 and 11 now.) Right now I am wondering if my great grand daughters stand any chance. THAT IS APPALLING. You appear to be taking a 7K PAY CUT …… WTF?
      By the way, I think you work in research that has to do with money. Could you review what the sex discrimination in wages costs over the working life time of women, which I think someone said averaged to about 1/2 million per woman and figure the tax implication at a normative rate, and Social Security tax and Medicare has and state taxes…. all LOST because the wage is not paid….. and compare that number against the Social Security and medicare deficit problem and the National Debt. Sound to me like an interesting project. YOU ARE AGREEING TO A 7K WAGE LOSS???????? WTF! I must have misunderstood. Please tell me I misunderstand.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        If I weren’t happy with the current state of affairs, it would be better for me to go on the market than to try to fight. I would get more money and wouldn’t kill my career. We will see what happens going forward.

      • Kellen Says:

        Plus even if they bring her up to par, how many $’s were lost from underpayment over prior years? Should push to compensate for that too to make up the whole loss.

  10. Ana Says:

    Good for you for speaking up…and yay that it you are getting more $$$

  11. gwinne Says:

    Well, yay for the outcome here! It SUCKS that the system rewards those who go on the market, which is to say, those who are less loyal. Our college is exactly the same.

    And like you, I’m very grateful for the salary I have and also aware that I’m low paid compared to other assoc profs. Some attempt (as in your case) to rectify the problem with new dean last year…but it needs to happen again.

  12. chacha1 Says:

    fwiw in the past 20 years I have never gotten a significant raise or promotion except by changing jobs. Apparently the legal industry also has these “raise caps” for support staff, and yet also can match outside offers (by the time I was looking outside, I would not have taken a match offer … because I have tended not to look outside until I was completely and utterly fed up with being inside). A friend of mine has twice been induced to stay in a dead-end position because the firm keeps dangling “a new position” that they are supposedly eager to create for him, and yet two years on, nothing has happened. He is finally looking outside for real.

    If you are 80/20 (or even 70/30) in favor of staying in your current environment, I would encourage you to reconsider looking outside – not next year, not when you are utterly fed up, but now. Get those outside offers and present them. They have flat-out told you that is the only way for you to achieve pay equity, and if they want to keep you (which it appears they do) it will actually be easier for them to do so on the basis of competition rather than in a way that some will perceive as pacifying the complaining employee – and which *still* keeps you behind the man.

  13. Cloud Says:

    I’m glad they recognize the issue and are willing to start addressing it. It sounds like if you keep pushing, you may get close to a fair salary. The idea that you should conduct a bogus job search to get a fair salary is silly. What if you conduct a job search and find a job you’d actually rather have? It is stupid that they want to take that risk.

    As you know, feeling like I was “behind” my male peers (and even some less qualified men) contributed to the anger and frustration that built up and eventually led me to just quit. I feel extremely fortunate that my dramatic method of making a change actually worked out. It would have been smarter of me to try to address the issue. I just couldn’t disentangle all of the issues that were leading to the frustration until AFTER I quit. If I had it to do over, I would tell the me of 5-6 years ago to do a better job of analyzing my own feelings about work and to take them seriously and address things before I got so angry. I.e., I should have done what you are doing!

  14. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    Yay for complaining and getting at least some response (though perhaps, as others have said,not enough).

    Somebody needs to count the cost of all the searches that fail because the first-choice candidate was actually looking for an outside offer, not a job (and by the time that negotiation is complete, the other choices have taken jobs elsewhere). It’s a bit hard to make a pragmatic argument based on those costs to your own employer, because of course they aren’t incurring them (well, not in a search to fill your position, unless and until, of course, you actually take an offer, and they’re stuck doing a search).

    And the whole thing gets even more complicated when couples go on the market (which they sometimes do, at least in my department, not only in search of a higher salary, but also in search of a tenure-track offer for the partner who is currently non-tenure-track).

    Maybe it’s just my frustration at having participated (at a fairly superficial but nevertheless time-consuming level) in two failed searches in the last two years (for my immediate boss, which is why I invested the time), but it seems to me that the whole get-an-outside-offer game is consuming a good deal of time that the already-overwhelmed professoriat, collectively, could better be spending on something else (e.g. research, teaching, service activities with a better — or any — payoff for the department). It’s definitely part of the every-increasing service burden, especially for associate professors. At least one of you is an economist; is there any way to create a cost-benefit analysis that stops the madness?

  15. ProdigalAcademic Says:

    Good for you on asking, and good for your department on going to bat for you. I hope you get your 10% next year too!

    The outside offer thing is such a PITA. It complicates life for everyone–people who don’t want to move and departments doing a search bear the brunt of it. A failed search is a huge resource sink. Having to do a search to get a raise is beyond ridiculous.

  16. Debbie M Says:

    Yea, 10%! That said, it’s too bad that blatant unfairness is not considered “something extraordinary.” And it’s too bad that you have to “complain again” to get a similar catch-up raise next year; you’d think they could take notes or remember things or just be allowed to make promises for the future.

    Also, two wrongs don’t make a right (generally), but I can’t help wondering if there’s an ethical way for a colleague at another institution to give you an “outside offer.”

  17. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    Yay for getting that 10% on the one hand but @()@ at them for making it clear that they CAN pay what you deserve, they just won’t unless you go to extraordinary lengths to prove it and waste your time and hiring committees’s time. Obviously they’re not doing that to the men and it’s just shoddy. But 10% and 10% is better than nothing unless you’re inclined to go on the market for the whole raise you ought to be earning now. I can understand not being ready to spend that time and energy. Just infuriated for you.

  18. Sandyl Says:

    There are people at my company who had to leave the company for higher paying jobs and then come back to get their offers matched. I think that stupid practice is pretty common as they know many people will ask for more money but not quit if you say no. They call your bluff so to speak.

    2 years after we started the economy recovered and the new hires were making way more (20%) than our group. They didn’t do anything about it. Most of my era has long quit as the solution.

    For about 18 years I worked at the same company as my husband and we started the same year so I could monitor any gender Inequality in pay. For a long time I made more because I changed jobs more frequently but then he caught up and surpassed me with 2 big promotions but then he left and made less again. We are about the same now. We have always been within 10-15% of each other. He doesn’t think there is a problem. I still think many of the women who work in male dominated industries have to be rock stars to make it and that’s what most of us are. Generally speaking I am well paid for what I do but the perks are fewer every year.

  19. Sensibility Says:

    (delurking:) Congratulations on sticking up for yourself and the positive outcome!

    Echoing the folks pointing to the gender equity issue, I would be *very* surprised if the 10% and 10% raise was the official university policy. The kind of disparity you’re describing– and the context of respective vitae– is pretty egregious, and I’m pretty sure the federal gov’t doesn’t allow for phased redress of inequity. (I work in a no-doubt-different state university and deal with gender equity issues.) It might be worth having a discreet conversation with someone in the university’s equal opportunity and compliance unit. It’s also worth noting that, at least at my institution, the rumor or expectation of the difficulty of using the extraordinary process (an increase greater than 10%) is greater than the actual difficulty.

    • Debbie M Says:

      Sensibility is being very polite. I know people in my university actually lied to me about what was and was not possible. For example, there’s such a thing as an “added-duties” raise, which make it possible to go above state-mandated raises after all. And there is no rule about part-timers having to be in a position six months before you can get a raise–I let that lie because I was quitting/retiring 5 months after that. (Then they replaced me with someone working 40 hours a week with full benefits when I had been working 30 hours a week with half benefits. Somehow that money became available. Oh, and one of the big job duties was removed to another office.)

      Urg, still bitter. I do like Sensibility’s idea about discreetly talking to someone in the equal opportunity unit.

  20. First Gen American Says:

    This post really got under my skin. It really irks me that this stuff still can be happening especially when your performance vs peers is so easy to measure. I am glad that you stood up for yourself but am annoyed that you had to.

  21. Funny about Money Says:

    It’s like a stuck record (remember those?). About every second woman I know in academia has a similar story.

    Well, keep hammering away at them.

  22. Grumpy Rumblings 2016 Year in blogging | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] What happened when I complained about my low salary July […]

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