Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week, a question about the gender pay gap, the difficulties of being a referee for an employee, and figuring out what to do after false allegations.
I am male and have since found out from a colleague that the person who hired me for my new role was instructed when he was recruiting that he could offer a higher salary to a suitably qualified female applicant. This is because the organization wants more females in management roles and wants to “close the gender pay gap” within the organization. I feel I have been discriminated against and am suffering financially as a result. Are they entitled to pay me less because of my gender?
Your employer should be applauded for wanting to ensure there is a gender balance in your workplace but also needs to understand the backlash from situations – such as you describe – can end up making their initiatives counter-productive. For you and for the women (and future women) in your business, it is important there is clarity on the efforts and work being done to ensure equality across the board. There was a great report on this exact issue around the issue of backlash prepared by Chief Executive Women in 2018, which is worth a read.
In your situation, before feeling you have been discriminated against I recommend seeing if you can get the facts first. It sounds like you were told by someone, who was told by someone else, that there was more money available for a female applicant. It is problematic enough that someone is divulging this confidential information but, to answer your question, of course no employer is entitled to pay anyone less because of their gender than her. However, it is clear at your new workplace, there is a gender pay gap and women have been getting paid less than their male colleagues for some time. It is not an ideal situation for anyone that these issues are being handled in this way so I recommend you go to HR and ask to understand your own circumstances more clearly.
How do you inform an employee, if you are their direct line manager, that you may not be the best person to be their referee? At times I am uncomfortable with the new position the person has applied for and know a poor job skill-set match may be detrimental to the person’s mental health. I am also wondering if being a referee for a poor performer to get them out of a job may be a thing?
I have been asked before about references and sometimes there is confusion about the type of reference being sought. I am going to be referring to references given verbally to a recruiter or a former employer, not a written reference that outlines the dates of employment and the role that may have been held (for the record, they should always be given).
In terms of the more subjective, verbal reference, the bottom line is if you don’t think you are the best person to be someone’s referee, for whatever reason, tell them that. This is especially the case if you have had to performance manage the person at all.
Reinforce the person any reference you give will always be completely honest, and that way the person can make their own choice about whether listing you as a referee is likely to be a good thing for them, or not.
You should never use giving a reference as a way to move a poor-performing employee onto someone else. If giving a reference means you are going to have to be dishonest and stay silent on a really important detail about their employment with you, don’t do it. I do think it is a step too far to refuse to be a referee just because you make an assessment that the future role will not be good for that person’s mental health. You don’t know that a new organization, a new culture, or even a new boss may be just what they need.