How to talk to your boss about the gender pay gap

No one said it would be easy.

By: Jessica Chandra

When Lisa Wilkinson made the announcement that she was leaving Channel Nine's breakfast show Today after 10 years of co-hosting it with Karl Stefanovic, people were shocked. Lisa had become such a beloved and respected TV personality, and it's been said that breakfast TV is one of the top gigs in the biz (despite the 3:30am wake-up calls) — so why would she leave?

Depending on who you ask, it came down to pay. The official statement from Channel Nine said the company had been "unable to meet the expectations of Lisa Wilkinson and her manager on a contract renewal for a further period." It also said Nine would be "going in another direction and will be considering our options in the coming weeks and months."

The pay disparity between Lisa and Karl has not been a secret. Over the years, it's been reported that Karl earns much more than Lisa — he was said to be getting $2 million a year, with a deal to potentially increase that to $3 million if ratings targets were hit. In comparison, Lisa was reportedly earning $1.1 million a year.

Sources said Channel Nine were willing to go up to $1.8 million, but in the end, Lisa left the company she'd worked with for a decade, and landed a deal with Channel Ten that is believed to be upwards of $2 million.

Lisa's resignation from Channel Nine brought the conversation of the gender pay gap back to the forefront of everyone's minds, but unfortunately, not all of us are in the same position as Lisa, where our male colleagues' salaries are often written about in the media.

So, how can us non-TV folk talk about equal pay for equal work at our own workplaces? And how can we raise this with our managers? It's never an easy conversation to have, which is why we asked Dr Simon Pervan, Associate Professor of Management and Marketing at Swinburne University of Technology, for his tips.

How can you approach your boss about having a conversation on whether the gender pay gap exists in your workplace?

"The simple answer is it's very difficult. It's a taboo subject for most people and it's considered OK to not talk about it, even rude to be asked about it! Unless you're under strict award conditions or fortunate enough to have complete transparency you are unlikely to find out. This news often only ever slips out at informal functions after a few drinks or many years down the line. It is likely to be occurring in your workplace though as our evidence and an overwhelming number of other studies suggest."

If you find out a male colleague who does the same work as you is earning more than you, how to you broach this with your manager?

"I think this is a time for passive confrontation. My advice would be to calmly present the case based on the qualification requirement and dimensions of the role. Make your boss aware that money is important to you and you will feel more valued and perform better in your job if paid as much as your peers, male or female, in a comparable role. It's OK to say money motivates you.

"Economic theory tells us that it is your human capital that should dictate your wage, things like your education and experience in the job. Why should this be different for women or 'less so'? Certainly many women accumulate work experience at a slower rate than men, because they are still often the ones looking after small children.

"However this in itself is an indirect bias that flexible workplace practices can improve. Some enlightened employers, like my own, factor in explained time away when considering achievements toward promotion and pay increments."

Are women and men ‘taught’ how to ask for pay rises differently?

"Not really — I just think women need to ask more. To change this I think it's important to manage up. You can do this by understanding how you are valued in your workplace and consistently letting your boss know when you have a success. Don't take comfort in thinking you are doing well by silently being capable in your job.

"I'm not saying ring bells or high-five the office. It may be a bi-weekly email or even a regular coffee chat. We are hardwired to reciprocate and these form little packages of value.

"The clincher though is that at some stage you need to ask for something in return, to balance that relationship. I think men are better at asking and research shows this. But, if you've been slowly building your case, asking becomes easier. Another way of looking at that is that you are asking for what you deserve."