While working on staff at two different companies, I was startled when documents listing employee’s salaries somehow suddenly crossed my desk. Wow! Here I’d been wondering how much money coworkers were making and shazam – there were the numbers in crisp black and white. Twice!

Both financial documents were enlightening, but the larger company’s payroll turned out to be even more instructive.

The biggest surprise was the whopping salaries paid to the big cheeses. I knew of course they were paid a lot — way more than the peasants below them, but the disparity was just enormous. The gigantic salary of my own department head made me glad I had stuck to my guns and not accepted the lower compensation he had first offered me. Even though we immediately clicked and I sensed working with him would be enjoyable, something had made me hold out for bigger bucks than his initial offers. Indeed, If I had swallowed his lamentations of limited budgets and resources along with that lesser salary I would now have been ticked off in spades.

The next big surprise was the pitifully low salaries paid to employees at the lowest end of the totem pole. Yes, many had probably started close to minimum wage, but even workers who had been around for ten years plus had barely risen above that level. Which suggested they had not been receiving timely cost of living raises. Loyal and hard working, they certainly deserved those same increases that higher level employees were receiving. Yet not having received these raises, those employees had apparently not stepped forward and requested them either.

I was also unsettled by the much lower salary paid to some older, highly experienced employees versus young new hires with limited experience. Here again, a lack of raises seemed to be a factor. And in fact an older bookkeeper that was being replaced by a young “financial officer” at a much higher salary woefully lamented that her employer “knew all along” her position was worth a lot more than her low salary. True, but if the bookkeeper did not speak up for herself and point out her own value, management had apparently felt no obligation to reward her silent modesty.

Prior to glancing at this financial info, I had never given any thought to monetary wage differences between creative and sales departments. This difference turned out to be considerable. The higher ups in sales were being paid way more than higher up creatives. In the creative department myself, I felt no envy. In a way I felt it was almost a just distribution. The creatives got all the exhilaration and fun of conceiving and producing company products. All sales got for their efforts in selling that product was mere money.

And then we came to the same old inequity: male employees were being paid more (sometimes much more) than their female counterparts. It appeared too that men heavy in the chutzpah department were also ending up with more change in their pockets.  Nothing surprising there. But the important question was — when was the inequality going to end? When were men and women finally going to receive equal pay for equal work?

To find out how your salary stacks up to the national average in your field, check out Salary.com.

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