#Salarytransparency Is Hard But We Need to Do It: Here’s Why

So #salarytransparency was a minor trending topic on Twitter and LinkedIn recently (although I didn’t see anything on Facebook). While we’re pressuring legislators and the private sector to support a living wage (or a universal basic income, though that idea has less traction at the moment), there are also behavioral changes we can make at the grassroots level that can help even the playing field.

The discussion was kicked off this time by a leaked spreadsheet with the salaries of entertainment employees, such as writers, assistants, actors and producers, sorted by gender, race, years of experience and title. I haven’t seen the spreadsheet myself but my understanding is that it was anonymous, not outing anyone’s private financial information but providing enough demographic data that the obvious inequities between groups were on display. Pay equity between men and women all over the world is still largely an unreached goal, and many groups that have traditionally been racially discriminated against, like African and Latino Americans, also lag when it comes to economic gains.

How does sharing our salaries come into this? Adam Ruins Everything did a pretty good job of hitting the main points in a four-minute video, so you may want to start with that, but if you prefer to skip it I’ll hit the highlights.

In unionized workplaces or industries, collective agreements clearly lay out exactly what pay and other benefits a person in a particular role is entitled given their experience and other relevant factors (re: not race or gender). But outside of organized labor, individual pay may be individually negotiated based on perceived worth. At first glance this may seem fair enough, until you realize how spotty (not to say subjective) employers can be when it comes to accurately assessing employee value, and that study after study shows that white men are typically overvalued relative to other groups.

Where does salary transparency come in? In the same way that a market or region with a lot of strong bargaining units tends to have higher wages, because publicly available information about collective agreements provide baseline standards for job value and force all employers to pay more competitive wages, individual salary transparency provides the same kind of valuable data to all job-seekers and employees. It also shines a light on obvious disparities and discriminatory compensation practices, producing bad press that no employer or industry wants.

This is good for people of all income levels, but it’s not unrelated to the minimum wage debate. The bottom socioeconomic quintile is overrepresented by economically-marginalized and discriminated-against groups, so improving equity also contributes to pulling up the working and lower-middle class. Economics, policy, society–it’s all connected. If a trickle-down effect actually exists, it’s not the one Reagan talked about–it’s a trickle down of improved equity, transparency, and accountability for employers, including one-percenters and corporations.

So that sounds pretty straightforward, right? So I’m surprised that in following the public discussion on this topic I’ve seen so many people–especially, though not exclusively, older white men–state that sharing your salary is a bad idea. I haven’t seen many actual arguments as to why, mind you, and those that bothered to explain were often way off base, like those who said sharing your own pay could be illegal or against company policy. In most cases it’s the policies insisting on pay confidentiality that are illegal!

The advice to clam up hurts minorities and women. But it’s easy advice to follow because most of us grew up thinking that income was something to be kept private, and this kind of openness does take both courage and practice.

But if you do clam up, remember: you’re not protecting yourself, you’re protecting your CEO’s 300-times-the-average worker compensation package, you’re protecting white privilege and male privilege, and you’re contributing to the status quo of widening inequity.

I realize that’s a lot to put on your shoulders. But I don’t think we’re going to reverse the trend of growing inequity any other way than together. So let’s talk.

Photo credit: Dell

70 comments

Paulo R
Paulo R2 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R2 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R2 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R2 months ago

ty

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DAVID f
Dave fleming3 months ago

Thank you

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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Ann B
Ann B3 months ago

we already have too many people with college degrees working for minimum wage and the CEO's that do little or nothing are in the 6 figure jobs--the entire system need an overhaul

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Paulo R
Paulo R3 months ago

ty

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