A Guy Confides: I Get Paid More Than My Female Co-Worker

Gabrielle Karol

Within eight months of each other, two young college grads start work as paralegals in a small, New York City law firm. Both are graduates of top-20 colleges in the Northeast. Neither has any relevant paralegal experience.

One gets an office; the other gets a cubicle. The one with the office earns a significant amount more.

Now, for the riddle: Which paralegal is female?

If you guessed the lower-paid cubicle dweller … you’re right. The age-old pay gap between men and women is, depressingly, as strong an institution as ever. In fact, The Washington Post recently called the pay gap “entrenched,” noting that white men currently make $2.09 more per hour than white women. And in 600 occupations surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men earn more than women in all but seven.

RELATED: 10 Stereotypically Female Jobs In Which Men Earn More

We tried to figure out when the pay gap actually begins: Is it at that first job? When women have children? Or is it at each step of the career ladder, when, as many have argued, women don’t ask for raises as often as men?

RELATED: 11 Things Hiring Managers Won’t Tell You

We have an interview to prove that all too often, it may be the simplest—and saddest—reason of all: sexism.

Read on for a Q&A with Anthony,* the young male paralegal from the riddle above, to find out why he’s coming out on top, and feels guilty about it.

How long have you been working at the law firm?

I’ve been there a little over a year—about 13 months. Caitlin*, the only other paralegal at the firm, started working there about eight months earlier than I did. She graduated in 2010 from Wesleyan, while I graduated a year later from Yale. Neither of us studied something particularly law-related. I was a Latin American Studies major.

Tell me a little bit about the seating arrangement.

All the lawyers and I have offices (mine’s obviously the smallest). Caitlin and the secretaries are in the cubicles. She’s the only person who’s not a secretary who’s in a cubicle. All of the secretaries are female, and there are no female lawyers in our office.

In terms of a legitimate work-related reason for my having the office and not her, I guess I do keep a lot of files? But the more probable reason is that the guy I replaced had the office, and when they hired me, they just put me in the office. They might not have moved her to the office and given me the cubicle because when the receptionist leaves at 5 p.m., Caitlin fills in as the relief receptionist. She goes up to the front desk and handles that.

When I got here, they mentioned training me to do that—but they never did.

How do you know that you’re making more money?

A few months in, Caitlin basically asked me outright at the end of the day when most people were gone. She knew that my predecessor (also a guy) had been making more than she was. I asked her the same question, and the number she told me was 15% lower than what I make.

Do you think your work is 15% more valuable to the firm?

I couldn’t say, honestly, since we do very different things, but I do work slightly longer hours—maybe nine hours compared to her eight hours. She definitely does more of the day-to-day copying and mailing, which is less thought-intensive, but no, I couldn’t definitively say that my work is 15% more valuable than hers.

Many people speculate that the pay gap comes about because men negotiate more. Did you negotiate your starting salary?

No, I did not—I was just so excited that someone actually wanted to hire me. But I also know (because I asked) that she didn’t negotiate hers, either.

I know for a fact that Caitlin hasn’t asked for a raise since learning that I make more than she does. The headhunter who hired me works in our office, and I went to ask her for advice, because I wanted to ask for a raise. She said I absolutely should go ahead and ask, and then told me that she wished Caitlin would ask, too, because she feels strongly that women need to ask for more money.

RELATED: 5 Tips for Negotiating

I’m going to ask for a 15% increase. While that seems like a lot, I’ve done the research and I’m definitely making less than the going rate for a paralegal.

What are your feelings about the differences between you and Caitlin?

I definitely feel a little bit guilty. I can’t really speak to the partners’ rationale, but I do think it’s unfair that I have an office and she doesn’t, and I’m automatically making more money even though I’ve been here for much less time.

I discussed the situation with one of the secretaries, and she tried to justify the gap between me and Caitlin, saying that I did a lot more at the firm and had more responsibility. That was news to me, so to speak … I don’t know if the secretary was just trying to be nice.

Caitlin and I have worked together for a fair amount of time now, so we have a definite rapport. I’ve encouraged her to ask for a raise before–maybe she has and I don’t know about it, but I seriously doubt it.

The Conclusion

While sexism certainly seems as if it may be afoot in this situation, the story also drives home a more fixable point, should you find yourself in a similar position: Ask for more money! While solving the greater issue of sexism in your office certainly requires more than one person’s efforts, you can start to better your own situation by asking for a raise every year or every time your job significantly changes.

Also: Ask for more responsibility that will give you greater visibility in the firm. Often a raise will come after you’ve already proven you’re working beyond your job description.

If you know you’re getting paid less for the same or similar work as a co-worker, and you deserve more, you absolutely need to ask for a raise.

And if you don’t know how–we can help you with that. Check out our Negotiating 101 guide. Or read about how these four real women scored their raises.

*Names have been changed.  

*Editor’s note: This article has been slightly amended to clarify the author’s intentions. While LearnVest certainly believes you should always negotiate your salary when you start a new job, and studies have shown that many women do not, we know that sexism is still a rampant issue in many workplaces, which is why we chose to publish this story. 

  • Olivia C

    While I think that this it is solid advice to ask for more money, I think it is an unfair assessment to place the responsibility entirely on Caitlin.  The question we are trying to answer seems to be why the male is given more substantive work than Caitlin, thereby, increasing his value in the office.  The answer seems to lie more in the gray area of how women are perceived in male-dominated careers such as the law and why the partners assign the male employee more stimulating work while Caitlin is relegated to also doing the secretarial work. 

    Sexism is not unique to individuals, sexism is a system of gendered symbols and institutions grounded in these very symbols.  The worst kind of sexism, in my opinion, is nuanced– such as in this article where the reasons why the male employee is making more than Caitlin is attributed both by the secretary and the male employee, to be linked *perhaps* to doing more substantive work in the office and working one more hour a day than Caitlin. 

    With the added layer of sexism, it is no surprise that speaking up,
    drawing boundaries, and asking for raises is challenging for Caitlin and women in general. 

    So, while it would be a good idea to ask for a raise, focusing on the steps to build up the courage to ask for a raise sounds like it might be more useful advice to give to women reading this article.  For example, the male employee and the headhunter sound like friends that can encourage Caitlin and help her develop a plan and the necessary language to ask for a raise. 

    In any case, thank you to the author for opening up the conversation.  Sad to see that this is still an issue women must face in 2012– but also serves as a starting point for many of us to value our own work and to push for a salary/wage that is reflective of our worth. 

    • sunkneeg

       I agree.  Why was the male paralegal never trained, or asked to fill in as a receptionist?  It’s because receptionist is perceived as a woman’s role.  That is a very degrading office.  Also, does he really think his one extra hour of work per day justifies his extra 15%.  Not really, imo.

      • Chuck Schick

        While I agree that he doesn’t really believe the time substantiates the gap, mathematically speaking it does equate to ~12% more hours per year. 

        Of course, whether or not that is the REAL reason behind the gap is debatable.

        • guest

          due to labour laws in most places he would actually be getting time and a half for that 9th hour thus being paid for 9.5 hours to her 8.  8 / 9.5 = 84% almost exactly the gap she is technically getting paid slightly more.

          • YTisPissed


  • Liz H.

    This sounds a lot like my old law firm office where I was a paralegal.  All the male paralegals on my team were exempt from doing menial office tasks like copying and filing, and I was the only one asked to perform these tasks, even though my job description was the same as theirs.  The worst part of this situation?  The other admin women in the office reinforced this behavior and didn’t consider asking the men to perform the same tasks.  It was like because I was female I was asked to do the undesireable jobs and “fill in” like Caitlin does. Looking back, I would have done a lot differently.  I also wish my fellow women hadn’t perpetuated this sexist cycle.  Women need to stand up for each other, and we need to teach young women right out of school to recognize subtle sexism and nip it in the bud.

    • Ruckyrd

             Women practice sexism against other women of higher education or perceived “rank” just as much as men practice it against women in general in the workplace.  What happened to Caitlin at the hands of the “other” women (secretaires) in the office was jealosy.  They didn’t like the fact that she was a paralegal & they were just secretaires, so they explained it away by siding with the male paralegal by claiming he did “more” work than Caitlin.  They themselves helped to perputuate the sexism in that office.  (Yes, it is sexist, BECAUSE they don’t display that attitude towards the men.)
             I’ve had the same sort of thing happen to me in the engineering industry a few times.  I’m 53 & I sometimes still get crap from the other women (secretaires) in AN office because of my experience & education.  It doesn’t happen every place I’ve worked, but it does/has happened enough times that I’ve noticed there is a definate pattern.  I know when it is going to happen at a company the 1st or 2nd day at work because I’ll pick up on blatant hostility, i.e. the chip on the shoulder attitude directed at me from another/other women. When it happens, I’m still/always shocked.  And I can honestly say it’s not something I’m doing because the hostility starts so quickly after starting work AAANNND because I see the same women do it to other technical female hirees too.
             My advice to other women in any profession:  If you notice a lack of respect &/or a chip on the shoulder directed at you soon after starting work at a company from the other women (secretaires), then immediately start looking for work elsewhere.  Because if the “sexist attitude” is directed at you from the other women, then the attitude is entrenched in that office/company.  If economic times are bad, & you really need that job, then bite your tongue, bide your time, & exit as soon as you can once the economy picks back up again.  Do your best to leave on your terms & on good terms with the company, if possible, because, like it or not, you’ll want to be able to list them as a previous employer.  (NOT as a reference!)

  • am

    blah–I’m so tired of hearing that women who who make less money have themselves to blame for not asking.

    In this economy not everyone is in the position to ask for more money. Many employers see their employees as easily replaceable–why give someone a raise when you can easily get a new person for a lower starting salary?

    I also think that women who ask for more money or negotiate get branded as “difficult” while men are considered “go-getters”

    Asking for a raise is simply not a blanket solution for sexism and I’m kind of sick hearing this blog blame the victim.

  • Erin Uncapher

    I know for a fact that I make more than my coworkers. When I first interviewed here I asked for more. They couldn’t accomodate it at the time, but at the first annual review, I ended up getting what I had asked for the year before and then my raise on top of that amount. I proved my worth over that year and justified my raise.

    • CleoBarker

       This is very encouraging, I’ll keep that in mind for my next job outside the military :)

  • Michelle

    This article is very true! I recently found out that a male co-worker of mine, with identical credentials was making 10-12% less than me. It gave me a satisfied smile (on the inside of course), to know that I had negotiated better terms. 

  • Cmc

    The pay gap is the main thing has has motivated me to be a more assertive employee (I can be stubborn despite having a personality that prefers to avoid conflict and potential for rejection) and I reap some benefits. That said, this study : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/22988126/ shows that underlying sexism remains prevalent, in people who I’m sure wouldn’t see themselves as having any tendancies towards discrimination

  • Faith Merino

    Really? If you don’t ask for more money, then you have no one to blame but yourself? For a sexist workplace? The article really seemed to be diving into the pre-existing cultural assumptions that put women on unequal footing from the get-go–and then it ended with that bizarre line. 

    This, ironically, is the problem. You have women like Sheryl Sandberg who appear to be championing women’s causes, until she says that it’s up to women to make the workplace more women-friendly–that women need to speak up more, sit at the table with male coworkers, and “marry well,” whatever that means. Would you tell a black person “the reason racism still persists in America is because you’re not doing enough to disprove racist cultural assumptions”? 

    We need to stop putting the responsibility for equality squarely on the victim’s shoulders. 

  • IamPatrice

    This article begins by pointing a finger at “entrenched” sexism. The interviewee clearly states what he believes is the issue: sexism. Shortly afterwards, both interviewer and interviewee devolve into “blame the victim” attitudes. How much more import the article would have had if an attempt had been made to informatively discuss sexism, its causes, and possible solutions for the 21st century.

  • Morgan Rebecca123

    Sexism is wildly prevalent, and it’s SUBTLE. Most employers aren’t nearly that receptive, fair, or self aware to say “Really? We’ve been paying you less? Because you’re female? Let’s hop on that and get it fixed!” Any intimation that you’ve been paid less than a male colleague or underpaid because there are sexist policies in play will raise the hackles of every upper-level manager and HR person–it’s a tremendous liability and red flag, and they’ll go to great lengths to protect the company’s decisions, track record, perception, etc. So “you have no one to blame but yourself” is wildly naive. Pointing out inequity is very, very difficult. That’s why there are laws to protect people who do. Because they often end up fired for “other” reasons.   

  • AC

    Considering that 31 of 50 states have one or more senator that voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, we are partially to blame for putting these men and women in office who believe that this law would be a “burden.” This November, vote for legislators who think discounts are best left to department stores, not women’s wages.

  • Justin

    I’m a guy, and I’ve been treated unfairly too. In the past, I’ve tried to a get a job as a mere Teller at several banks, but I was always unsuccessful. I had Retail and Security experience, and I also worked at a Law Firm as an assistant. Clearly, I had what it took. Then I realized that all Tellers at banks were women, and that a good fraction of them were young good looking girls; some fresh out of high school. That really pissed me off! How can some cute ditsy 18 year old chick, with no job experience, land a job as a teller, and not me? Clearly, they discriminated against me! Men gotta deal with this sexism crap too.

    • CleoBarker

       Justin! I totally agree with you, and when you do get a job, you know how they always expect the men to carry or lift heavy things?? I hate that, it makes me so mad. Last time I checked most people are capable of lifting about 50 pounds. I always volunteer to help move the big boxes and such, with a comment such as “I’m not disabled, let me help” Its a cheery comment, but reminds them that they are definitely being sexist and its not okay, no matter whose favor it swings in.
      Better luck in all your future job endeavors, dude. Sometimes things just don’t work in our favor and just outright suck, at least you posted on a board where most can understand your frustration and relate to the feeling of unfairness. :/

      • Justin

         Thanks dude! You also gave me an idea. The next time I become aware of a woman trying to get me to do something she can do, I’ll just tell her “I can’t pick up the boxes. I am a weak and pathetic man. You are such a strong, independent, capable, and competent woman; surely, you are qualified to do it.” Haha!

        • CleoBarker

           Just make sure she wasn’t trying to hit on you by asking you to be her knight in shining armor. Make sure you only target the sexist ones, and the ones that expect you to do it FOR them and not WITH them, and your argument is valid :P. (Females are complicated creatures…)

    • http://twitter.com/devorahf devorahf

      Part of what you’re describing is over-qualification. They know you can get more and could leave at any time. And the inexperienced person is cheaper. So I can see it happening on this alone. I’ve always been a brainy female. I’m fairly certain that if I had been more ditsy and perhaps more blonde (burn my hair to a crisp in the process) maybe I could have been a restaurant hostess or had some other presentation-based job. There are coffee shops in major cities who ask for full length photos. The payoff for having “natural ability” isn’t necessarily as high as it seems though. Looks help, we all like good looking people, but if you want to move and shake in the world you need to have more going on.

  • terrilynnmerritts

    As a paralegal, why is Caitlin so stupid she doesn’t know she can gather proof and file a complaint with the federal government for sex discrimination? It is a violation of federal law and they can be forced to give her more pay, back pay, added funds for having been discriminated against, and an office? The firm itself should know the law and the ramifications against them can reach even deeper and include sanctions from the legal community. If she is smart, she can parlay this into having them fund her attendance at law school!

    • Vonetta

      Yes, but imagine the type of tension this would create amongst her co-workers if she pursued a case against her law firm? I don’t think it would be that easy if she still wanted to work there.

      • 25yrHR

        Not sure who posted about filing a lawsuit, but there’s no basis for one whatsoever. She was at the company for 8 mos before he was & he has no idea what her job responsibilities are, other than she does a lot of copying. Someone is correct in stating that just b/c they have the same title does not mean they do (even remotely) the same level of work. He was hired to replace someone; as a female HR prof’l, I would like to think that after observing her for 8 mos, should they have found her qualified, they would have promoted her or asked her to apply. They didn’t. She also didn’t feel the need to speak up for it. The company spent $$$ on recruiting to fill this spot; comps don’t like to spend $$$ filling a more qualified position if they can promote someone in-house. It’s more cost-efficient to do that & fill the position w/ lesser requirements. As for discrimination, no one knows; there’s not enough info to ascertain. Maybe they liked the notoriety of Yale, he had better grades, a major which is more closely compatible to law than hers. If he was smart enough to know how to negotiate his salary right after graduating college & she didn’t, he’s already more business savvy. Who knows? But this article is not a fair example on which to base an intelligent discussion on equivalent male vs. female pay. There are too many unknowns & the author didn’t even interview the girl. Sounds like a veiled example of one of her friends or just flat out made up.

    • Dejapooh

       Just because they had the same job title does not mean the did the same job, He was quite clear in the fact that he worked longer hours and did more valuable work.

  • Tojada

    Sexism is alive and well.  I believe it is more prevalent in the Bible belt states.  I’ve lived in the upper Midwest and was accepted across the board for my abilities.  Now, having returned to the South, I see it’s all about the gender. What I’ve also noted is that many men are threatened by an intelligent, educated woman.  They like to keep information to themselves and play games.  It’s sad, really.

    It’s still a fact that a man will be labeled a go-getter while a woman will be labeled a b*tch for doing the exact same thing.  In many places, if a woman asks for a raise she’s then labeled as something unkind and trouble maker. They will find some way to get rid of her. I see this behavior on an almost daily basis.

    Finding a way to be self-employed often times levels the playing field. Many men are too scared to go that route!

  • Gues

    While those are two very excellent schools, maybe the law firm liked the label of having an employee who graduated from an Ivy League school, and felt they had to make a higher offer? It does not make sense to me personally but some company cultures value brands and names.
    Nevertheless it is ridiculous how Caitlin got stuck filling in for the secretaries. It’s amazing how your physical work space can impact your work.  Perhaps Caitlin can use the argument that she has been doing work for two jobs as one of the reasons for her salary increase.

  • http://twitter.com/devorahf devorahf

    The Washington Post mentioned a study, a scientific one a few years ago that said when women negotiate, even to other women, they are more likely not to be hired or even lose their standing job. I’ve definitely gotten bad blood for doing so, or for making more than well-liked men in my office, even if my experience and work justified it. I did make a point of refusing to do receptionist type work early on, usually saying “I’m sorry, I’m slammed, could you please ask one of the others?”

  • Pamela

    Is that a sexist office?  Definitely!  However, I do have to say that no matter what your sex, you do have to stand up for yourself.  For years I wondered why all my fellow paralegals could afford better homes and cars than I could.  Then I found out I had been making 15 to 25 percent less than all of them!  I asked for and got a substantial raise. And, continue to get substantial raises and bonuses every year — by citing my profitability for the firm, etc. and simply asking for what I deserve.  And, when the firm tried to put me in a cube recently, I felt it was so important that I told them I would walk.  They gave me a window office, although I would have been just fine with any office that had a door.  Know your worth and be firm about it.  The results are amazing.

  • Dejapooh

    She works 8 hours a day, he works 9 hours a day, about 12,5% more. She does some filing and secratrial work, he does not, that could easily account for the other 2.5%. It seems to be a false issue here. If he asks for a raise, and she doesn’t, who’s fault is that? Statistics show that men negotiate harder and start with a higher base pay. Men ask for raises more often, and ask for higher raises when they ask. The 72% number is a false number and reflects many difference that go beyond the typical sexism to which it is attributed. 

  • YTisPissed

    Bull…9 hours vs 8 IS 15 % more work right there