Changing the job posting policy in Content + UX

How our professional group is tackling the pay gap…

It’s a reality most job seekers take for granted: combing through job opening after job opening, without a clue about the salary being offered. We tailor resumés and bang out cover letters, sitting through hours of interviews, before we have any idea whether the role is something we can even afford to take. The process can seem innocuous, another annoyance for working folk to put up with. But it does real economic damage beyond merely sucking up our time— particularly to people of color and women.

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The issue was first introduced to me by Paula Brantner of the nonprofit Workplace Fairness. Paula sent out an email on Equal Pay Day to a professional group we both belong to. In it, she suggested we make it policy to require salary information in job listings shared to the group, and included an article describing the many ways withholding salary information from job listings contributes to the pay gap. After much debate but no policy change, it struck me that I should bring it to Content + UX, a Slack community for content (and content-adjacent) professionals that I belonged to at the time.

So I asked: to support pay equity, should we consider requiring salary disclosure in job postings? At the time, my suggestion was met with plenty of likes and heart emoji. But…nothing actually changed. It seemed like exactly the sort of thing a group of working professionals would support. Content + UX has been, since its inception, a deeply generous, open, and encouraging group. It seemed entirely logical to me that we would do what we could to encourage pay equity in our profession.

To support pay equity, should we consider requiring salary disclosure in job postings?

Then, in the summer of 2018, I inherited the role of group manager. Bolstered by the initial positive feedback, I raised the possibility of a policy change several more times. It’s sparked a lot of debate both in the group and in my direct messages. As the person with the proverbial power, I’ve struggled with the best way to make the decision — as well as which decision, exactly, to make. Do we unilaterally prohibit postings that don’t include salary? Do we allow both, and just “strongly encourage” people to include it? Do we create separate channels for jobs with salary details and those without? There are pros and cons to each of these approaches. I’ve leaned on a lot of incredibly thoughtful people — including my dedicated admin team, diversity and inclusion professionals, and our own membership— to help me puzzle through it.

What a little data can do

It’s remarkable how little public discussion, let alone research, there is around the impacts of salary disclosure. Most explorations of the pay gap focus on which masculine words to avoid in a job posting, and how perceptions around negotiation, gender, salary history (and less so, race), impact pay inequity. But there’s very little actual data around salary disclosure in job postings specifically.

So, being the rational strategist I am, I took a step back to look at the bigger picture. I started by pulling job posting data out of our own #job-openings channel. I wanted to understand what kinds of jobs were actually being shared, and how frequently. Just how valuable is the channel to members, and why?

Because Content + UX uses Slack’s free plan, we only had access to several months of prior posting data. I pulled what I could, then continued to manually track the numbers on a monthly basis. I was reassured to see that while non-content jobs do find their way into the #job-openings channel, the bulk of postings are still content-specific and relevant to the group.

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We’ve gotten an average of 20 content-related job postings a month since May 2018, although the numbers swing wildly (from a low of two to a record 36). Then I wondered, were these jobby jobs, or gig jobs? So I drilled down into the content-specific openings to understand what they actually looked like. Interestingly, the majority of content jobs posted turn out to be permanent, in-house roles.

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Finally, it was time to get down to the real business at hand. How many of these content jobs actually included salary details? That’s when things took a turn for the worse. The numbers are pretty sad, if unsurprising. On average, only 24% of job postings included salary details. Most months, however, that number was far lower. In June ‘18, it was zero. There was a hopeful, if slight, uptick from June to October, which I suspect is due in large part to the active discussion and encouragement happening in the channel around the salary question. This suggests that talking about this issue and making it visible may encourage job posters to include salary details more frequently.

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What do members really want?

In these discussions, much of the dissent to a salary disclosure requirement was focused on two areas:

  1. The concern that most folks posting don’t have control over the post content (i.e. they’re posting on behalf of their employer or sharing a job they saw elsewhere), thereby limiting the number of jobs posted;
  2. The suggestion that any job posting, however incomplete, was better than nothing.

Collecting posting behavior data was the first step in understanding if the first concern had merit. But it was the second concern that really threw me: were people really okay with crappy postings? Is we’ll take what we can get really the standard we should be setting for employers of content professionals? As an industry, shouldn’t we have certain standards and expectations from employers? And if so, where better to uphold those standards than in a group whose mission is to support content professionals?

Is “we’ll take what we can get” really the standard we should be setting for employers of content professionals?

Either way, we needed to understand a bit more about who was posting openings and what job seekers wanted in a post. I developed a four-question survey, opting for short over thorough for the sake of completion rates. I cheated, though: one of the questions was your classic 10-item ratings matrix, asking people to rate the importance of different factors when evaluating a job opening. We asked a couple of questions about how people use the channel to gauge overall goals, and then asked for location (since we have an international membership).

We agreed that the outcome of the survey would inform but not dictate our policy decisions. After all, one need only look at the history of the United States Senate to understand that a vocal majority has voted to reinforce patriarchy and white privilege over and over again, against the best interest of underrepresented minorities, pretty much since voting was a thing. But understanding our members’ attitudes about job postings overall was critical to determining how best to approach a policy change.

Why are people visiting the #job-openings channel?

We had 101 responses in total, out of a membership of about 2,700 at the time. That gives us an 8% margin of error overall, with a 90% confidence level (so, grain of salt and all that).

When it comes to purpose, the vast majority of respondents (92%) are using #job-openings to find a role for themselves. Of those few respondents using the channel to share openings, slightly more are sharing on behalf of their network, rather than their employer (we’re talking a difference of one, here). Although not one of the options, a couple of respondents commented that they actually used the channel to get a general sense of the industry as a whole.

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How we evaluate job postings

Content + UX is an international, distributed group, so it’s not surprising that location is most important to people when evaluating a job posting (86% of respondents said it was “very important”). Location is more important to people than the actual job duties, which placed second (with 71% indicating it’s “very important”). This, taken with the large number of open-ended comments wanting more visibility into remote status, suggests there’s a need for more location flexibility in jobs generally. The nature of the work we do lends itself to remote work, yet employers aren’t catching up.

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Vying for third place are salary and whether the role type is in-house or contract/freelance. While those ranking type of role as “very important” ekes out salary by one vote, when looking at degree of importance in aggregate (e.g. “important” and “very important”), salary noses out role type for third. Regardless, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see job title at the bottom of the list. The industry is still trying to figure itself out and find its place among design, product, marketing, and engineering teams. Content-related titles vary wildly as a result and may not always reflect the realities of the job.

The one thing members would change

The final question on our survey asked what one thing would you want to change about the #job-openings channel? The responses were extremely varied, but there were several clear themes. Most respondents were genuinely happy with the channel, and a handful shared their success stories. “In general, the caliber of jobs posted on the #job-openings channel are of higher quality than those posted elsewhere,” said one. “Right now, I’m waiting for a final offer on a position that was posted here and am working with a fantastic content strategist at my current employer that responded to a position I posted.”

Salary disclosure: an even split

Given the context in which the survey was conducted, about a fifth of respondents (20) included open-ended comments about the issue of making salary disclosure a requirement. Those with a clear opinion for or against were evenly split 8–8, with the balance generally expressing a desire for salary information weighted by a fear of missing out on opportunities should it become a requirement.

It’s worth noting the tension among respondents opposed to a requirement: many felt it’s more helpful to share a problematic posting without salary than it is to put pressure on employers to change their policies.

We also heard from members who felt very differently. “I am definitely pro enforcing the listing of salary range,” said one entry-level job seeker, “…though there may be fewer jobs posted, it will hopefully apply the right pressure so that job listings start to include pay range.”

One respondent questioned whether this would really be effective: “Limiting access to opportunities within this closed and supportive group doesn’t necessarily seem productive, or like the best way to encourage salary transparency as a practice at companies.”

But this doesn’t jive with experiences that members have shared with me of going back to their recruiting or HR team to request salary information because of our group’s discussion. As a result of those conversations, some have successfully been able to add actual numbers to their postings. Others have planted a seed where before there was none. So making this issue more visible has already had a measurable impact.

Finding consensus around structured content

These ping-ponging pros and cons might make you wonder: was there anything we could agree on? Luckily, there was. A large number of the respondents who commented (14) told us they wanted a way to more easily browse and identify relevant listings.

People want to see more prominence and consistency given to location, for example, and whether remote work is an option. In fact, the single most frequent request was for more structured job content. From a group of content professionals — go figure!

What does the future hold for Content + UX #job-openings?

Making policy decisions on behalf of a close-knit professional community — especially one as large as ours — isn’t cut-and-dry. I think our policies should generally reflect the values of our community. But I also know that group decision-making doesn’t always serve the best interests of underrepresented populations. So where does the balance lie? As much as I’d hoped data and surveys could make this decision easier, the reality is that I don’t have a quick fix.

Rolling out a new posting process

Our next step will be to test some changes to how jobs are posted. The ultimate goal is to bring greater visibility to the impact of salary disclosure on the pay gap, and to actively support members who want to be more proactive about addressing the issue.

We’ll start by making job postings more uniformly structured and the channel easier to skim. Templating a job posting will mean requiring all postings go through a submission form, which gives us an opportunity to consistently request salary details, and provide context and support material. It will also make salary information more prominent in listings once posted. We’re also exploring additional ways to incentivize the inclusion of salary range, such as spotlighting listings with pay ranges, or even delaying those without.

The trade-offs are real, so we’re taking an experimental approach and intend to iterate until we find a sweet spot.

While we’re actively experimenting with different tools and approaches to automate as much of this as possible, it will ultimately require additional labor for our all-volunteer admin team. The trade-offs are real, so we’re taking an experimental approach and intend to iterate until we find a sweet spot.

[Update: As of Mar. 11, 2019, jobs are now submitted through a form. Openings that disclose salary details are posted immediately. Openings that don’t include salary details are held for one week, then posted in a truncated form. In this way, we hope to incentivize inclusion of salary, without limiting access to jobs that don’t share these details.]

Encouraging community-powered change

This issue greatly impacts our field, which (anecdotally) tends to skew female. It also tends to skew white, which means women of color are impacted even more heavily. I disagree with those who feel it’s not our group’s place to take on issues like this. If we don’t — if we, collectively as a community, refuse to use our weight to displace inequity — then we are contributors to that inequity. “As admins we can help the community shift from believing something but not acting on it,” explains group admin Jess Hooper, “to enacting an easy change in their own behaviour that can have a cumulatively large impact.”

Content + UX was founded on the belief that a supportive community makes the profession stronger as a whole. How we earn our own living within this profession is different for each of us, and is deeply personal. But as a community, we have an opportunity to leverage our collective strength to push our field toward a more equitable playing field for all. Some might say we have a responsibility. I look forward to rolling out the first changes to this effect over the coming weeks with the help of the admin team.

I encourage Content + UX members to share your thoughts in the #suggestion-box or other relevant channels, or by sending a direct message to myself or any of our admins in the group.

Sidebar!

One of the things I’ve bumped up against when researching the issue of salary disclosure is language. Because it’s so rare, there isn’t a clear, consistent term for this practice. “Salary disclosure in job listings” is a mouthful. And it begs the follow-up question: is it a job listing, or a job posting? Or perhaps it’s a job opening. So I turned to Google Trends for insight:

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It turns out that globally, job listing is pretty low on the radar, while job opening is far and away the winner.

Additional data cuts

I’ve included some additional visualizations of the data set we were working with, for those data nerds among us.

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Written by

Jess works with risk takers and change makers, helping their digital teams create better content. // Get her semi-regular update: jessicasand.com/get-updates

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