#TalkPay Is Great, But It’s Just the Beginning


This past Friday, May 1, thousands of people took to Twitter to publicly reveal their salaries with the hashtag #talkpay. This mini-movement was inspired by an article in ModelViewCulture.com by Lauren Voswinkel, a computer programmer, with the goal of making the pay discrepancies faced by women and minorities public knowledge. Breaking taboos and speaking publicly about salary is a brave first step toward addressing the multi-faceted issue of pay inequity, but it is only the first step. To truly achieve pay equity, employees need to understand their worth in the marketplace and employers must communicate how they structure pay to employees.

Of course I applaud a movement that gets people talking openly about compensation. I work for PayScale; a company that is based on the belief that transparent, fact-based relationships between companies and employees generate the best outcomes, and provides anonymous, quantitative data about salaries based on reports by millions of users. And as a woman working in tech, I embrace any effort to address pay inequity. One hundred and forty characters is only the beginning of a real conversation about compensation, and some of the tweets that came from the #talkpay conversation provide great jumping-off points for further discussions about truly understanding your worth.

Use Quantitative Data to Truly Understand Your Worth

The data shared through #TalkPay is fascinating, but to drive a data-driven discussion of salary, you need quantitative data. The sample size of people who shared their salary data was small, skewed heavily toward a single industry and can’t be verified. Even with these limitations, it’s a great impetus to start researching whether or not you are earning the salary you deserve.

Making a decision based on something a few people tweeted isn’t the best way to begin a conversation with your manager about compensation. And even though legislation like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act has made it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who talk openly about their pay, it still isn’t comfortable for everybody to simply broadcast their salary details. PayScale, however, provides a dependable source for transparent but anonymous salary data that employees can access for free.

If the #TalkPay phenomenon inspires you to negotiate (and let me be clear, I’m always in support of employees negotiating for the salary they deserve), make sure that you do all the research necessary to know how much you should ask for. Thankfully, using data sources like PayScale will often provide better support for your argument than having pointed, uncomfortable conversations with coworkers about personal details of their salaries. Gaining a deeper understanding of how much your skills, experience and education are worth in the market will allow you to not only negotiate the best salary today, but be strategic about other career decisions that increase your worth in the future.

Understand Your Employer’s Compensation Strategy

Buffer, a social media marketing and analytics company, jumped into the #TalkPay conversation with a fascinating, transparent formula of how they compensate their employees. This kind of clarity is rare from employers, but can be extremely empowering for employees. Employees can easily identify what they need to do to increase their salary, and the chances of gender or racial wage gaps decrease because all parties understand how pay is calculated and what is required to get promoted or get a raise.

Even if your employer doesn’t provide this kind of transparent framework (and it’s very possible that your employer doesn’t have any formal framework worked out for themselves), you can still do research to find out general trends about how your employer pays compared to market. PayScale has data sources you can use, but you can also talk to former employees who have gone on to work elsewhere — even if you aren’t comfortable asking for hard numbers, you can ask how pay at their present employer compares to their previous employers. You can also speak with your manager or HR representative about your company’s general compensation strategy — you’d be surprised how much people will tell you when you just ask.

The truth is, every employer has a different approach to pay. Some reward employees with handsome salaries but demand long hours, and some provide flexibility and work-life balance in exchange for lower monetary pay. Understanding where your employer falls on that spectrum will let you know how pay at your company should compare to your peers who work for different employers.

Keep the Conversation Going

Lauren Voswinkle initiated the #TalkPay conversation because, as she said, “The lack of knowledge regarding reasonable salaries and predatory behaviors in tech companies can be directly attributed to the social taboo surrounding people talking openly about their salaries.” But this conversation needs to extend beyond the tech industry. Speaking openly and fearlessly about compensation and understanding your worth in the marketplace is something that matters to every worker in every industry.

#TalkPay is more than a trending topic on Twitter; it’s a platform for workers to demand transparency from employers. Really, that’s the power of social media — empowering the public to bring long-neglected issues to the surface and generate action. Hopefully #TalkPay is just the beginning of a deeper conversation that allows employees and employers to discuss pay in a safe, data-driven environment, so that we can no longer rely on secretive methods that allow wage gaps to fester.

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