Salary compression and general issues of salary inequity are perennial issues in the departments with which I have been associated over the years. These are challenges for department chairs and other administrators who need to balance economic reality with fairness, all the while attempting to maintain a moderately high level of morale.
A common scenario that results in salary compression is when a new hire negotiates a high salary relative to peers or more junior colleagues in the same department.
You might think that such issues would become moot during an economic crisis. Many of us are fortunate to have secure jobs with decent salaries, however challenging it is to do our jobs with decreasing resources for teaching and research, and thoughts of alleviating salary compression must be set aside for now. For the most part, these issues are indeed temporarily on hold until we can be done with furloughs and pay cuts and unfilled positions and even terminations of positions. This was my impression, anyway.
For some reason a certain administrator recently told me that, although I had had (in his opinion) "a spectacular year" in terms of publications, grants, students graduated, teaching, service, honors etc., he was going to allocate what few extra resources he had at his discretion to some of the assistant professors. He said his decision is not based on "merit" but on what he thinks is fair.
OK, that's fine.. sort of. I am not going to argue that I deserve more of these scarce resources than my hard-working junior colleagues, and my morale is not crushed by this turn of events. My so-called "spectacular" year was made possible in part by the fact that I am a mid-career professor with an established research group that is functioning well. My younger colleagues are still building their research programs, and the contents of their annual reports should therefore by viewed in this context, rather than by a strict comparison of numbers of publications or grants etc.
And yet, there is still a very large difference between my salary and that of a peer (male) colleague whose higher salary is not based on the fact that he is more productive than I am (because he is not). He was hired as a full professor and negotiated a higher salary than what his nearest peer colleague (that's me) was making. My initially low salary has of course increased over the years, but not at a rate that would put me at the same level as this colleague anytime soon, if ever.
I told the aforementioned administrator that I understood and even supported his plan to help some of the assistant professors, but I also said that I didn't want my situation to fall entirely off the radar screen in future years, as I saw it as an equity issue. One could argue that my colleague is paid "too much" and that my salary is more appropriate for my position and job, but that still leaves me as a good example of a woman paid ~85% of what a man makes for the same job.
The aforementioned administrator replied that I should have done a better job negotiating my salary when I was first hired.
Ah yes, maybe I should have. And maybe the assistant professors who need an economic boost to bring their salaries in line with other young colleagues should have done the same thing or else they also would not now be in such dire need of assistance.
But for some reason, my poor negotiating skills are relevant here, not theirs.
I was OK with the plan until the administrator made this gratuitous swipe at the circumstances of my hiring more than a dozen years ago with a different department chair and in a situation involving a 2-person hire.
Why did he think it was reasonable to criticize my negotiating skills and not those of my younger colleagues? (FYI, these younger colleagues are all men). He was telling me that I should just accept my salary situation relative to my peers but he's going to help these other colleagues who are experiencing salary compression for the exact same reason that I am??
Lucky for me, I am doing quite well despite my evident flaws as a salary negotiator lo these many years ago (although this will apparently haunt me, or at least my base salary, forever), and I feel fortunate to have a secure job. I do not begrudge my younger colleagues the fact that they have an administrator looking out for their best interests. These young men are fortunate in this, despite their lousy salary negotiating skills.
And yet, although I think I will not pursue the matter further this year, I am not inclined to remain quiet about it in perpetuity. I work hard, I believe I am an asset to my department, and I should be compensated fairly relative to my peers, just as my younger colleagues are.
9 years ago