When I was growing up, there were three things you weren’t supposed to discuss in public: politics (boy, have the tides changed with this one), religion, and money. It was considered rude to talk about how much money you made with anyone other than your family. However, things are different now. The gender pay gap is a thing, and we need to drop the taboo around discussing salary.
Why it’s important to openly discuss salary
Open salary discussion is important for a few reasons:
1. It boosts employee morale
Human beings have a tendency to think the worst, so when salaries aren’t openly discussed, employees will often assume that the co-workers next to them are being paid more. This can lead to employees resenting their employers and their colleagues, ultimately lowering their productivity. It’s hard for people to feel like their contributions are valued if they don’t think those contributions are being rewarded with equal pay. Open salary discussion means that employee x and y at least have an idea of what each other is paid, which mitigates the thought that an employee is being underpaid relative to his colleagues.
2. It exposes discrepancies and unfair pay practices at a company and provides an opportunity to close those gaps
Despite increased efforts from companies to get to gender pay equality, there are still discrepancies. Tech companies like Google and Uber have published internal studies about their own male-favoring gender pay gap, but most companies still withhold this information from employees. Open discussion about salary helps illuminate pay gaps for different demographic groups. Women only know if their being paid less than their male counterparts if those male colleagues are willing to share. Similarly, Black and Latinx people only know if their being paid less than their white counterparts if those white willing to share.
3. It can increase employee retention
In a Harvard Business Review interview, David Burkus, an Associate Professor of Management at Oral Roberts University, highlights that “research shows that when people know how they’re being paid and how that compares to their peers, then they’re more likely to work to move up it.”
As a lower-level employee, knowing how much people in leadership positions make can be an incentive to remain at the company. That knowledge can serve as motivation to work hard and obtain a more managerial position. Without that insight, employees might not realize what’s in store for them as they move up the organizational ladder, and, assuming the worst, they may begin to look elsewhere because they aren’t convinced that they’ll be able to achieve their compensation goals at their current company.
Potential pitfalls with open salary discussion
While open salary discussion does benefit companies and employees for multiple reasons, there are a few potential issues that can arise from the practice. For one, compensation is the sum of many factors, some of which employees might not be aware of. Education, experience, certifications, location, specialties; all of these may contribute to an employee’s pay. Salaries aren’t always apples to apples, so simply comparing your salary to that of a person with the same title doesn’t guarantee the most accurate insight. Avoid jumping to conclusions after speaking with just one person; try to get a broad look at salary by speaking with multiple workers of the same level and/or experience.
How to discuss salary with co-workers
It might seem obvious, but you don’t want to go around asking everyone about their salaries. Some companies have implemented strict rules about discussing salary in an attempt to keep this information hidden from employees. Be judicious about it — approach to co-workers that you’re closer with. Try saying something like this: “Hey! I’ve been doing some research to see if we’re being paid fairly. Would you share your compensation with me if I share mine? I’d be happy to share my research as well. No worries if you aren’t comfortable with it.” This strategy lets your colleagues know that your questions are coming from a good place, and that you have a goal of transparency and equality for everyone, not just yourself.
The only side that wins when employees hide their salaries is the company! Often, employers don’t post salaries on job listings because they want to ask the candidate about her current salary in an attempt to low-ball her. While companies are beginning to pull off the veil around salary information, it’s important for employees to force the issue and openly discuss salary. Maybe, just maybe, employers will follow the lead.