Lynne Curry: City accountant thinks she's underpaid

Lynne Curry

Q. I'm the city accountant for an Alaska municipality. Our mayor calls me our city's chief finance officer and tells me I'm a department head just like the police chief and two other city directors. I attend department head meetings and offer department head comments at council meetings.

So why am I paid less than the chief and two other department heads, all three of whom are male? When I ask the mayor, he says, "There simply isn't enough money." So why have the three male department heads received large raises this year and I a tiny one?

What can I do to convince the mayor I deserve to be treated the same as my male counterparts?

A. Although many organizations pay one department head differently than another, you may have a valid claim that you're unfairly paid less. You also have several tools for convincing your mayor or council they need to remedy the situation -- or for realizing you're off base in your concerns.

Here's what you and your mayor need to consider.

The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from basing salary on an employee's gender.

Organizations base salaries on a wide variety of factors. For example, a manager's performance, tenure and years of experience in a job or industry; the number of employees and size of budget the manager oversees; and what comparable organizations pay similar managers. The police chief may easily merit more pay if he works long hours in the evenings and weekends and handles life-and-death situations. If the responsibilities, workload and skills required in your position are less than those of your fellow department heads, you may deserve less pay.

Employee relations director Michele Sommer suggests asking your mayor to have an "objective third-party reviewer assess your job responsibilities and necessary qualifications to determine the marketplace value of your role compared to the other department heads. If your role is lesser than your peers', there is a nondiscriminatory reason for your lower pay. If not, this third-party review provides a neutral advocate for your getting a salary increase."

Human resource consultant Richard Rossignol offers two additional suggestions: "Your mayor's answer to your legitimate question is dismissive. I recommend you force your mayor to show how he's established your rate of pay, given (that) employers generally pay department heads within the same range."

Rossignol also describes two software tools that use publicly available, easy-to-use applications for those interested in their pay in relation to others. "These apps focus on the accessibility of pay data broken down by gender, race and ethnicity, and provide coaching on pay negotiation."

According to Rossignol, the two best tools are Aequitas Mobile App, which provides users current wage data, interview, resume and negotiation tools along with wage and Equal Pay Act information, and the OES Data Explorer, which provides U.S. wage estimates by city, state and job title from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Employment Statistics program. Sommer also suggests you research what other municipal CFOs in your area make and provide this information to your mayor, along with this article.

Finally, while providing your mayor comparable salary information helps make your case, so does your job performance. Are you an employee who comes in early, works late if needed and gives her all during the day? Are you proactive with the accounting information your mayor and council need? If so and you do the suggested research, you may get your raise. If you deserve a raise and it's not forthcoming and you're correct about the reason, you'll have the information you need to make a case to your council.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send questions to and follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10.