Discuss: The #TalkPay Movement

May 6, 2015

Last week, Lauren Voswinkel encouraged people to post their salaries on Twitter along with their job titles and experience levels.  The campaign was called #talkpay.  Voswinkel postulated that if more people talk about what they are paid, pay inequality will be eliminated.

Why?  Because so much of the inequality we see in pay is based on secrecy. If women don’t know what others of comparable title, skill, and experience make, then how can they speak up for themselves?

For a few days, #talkpay topped the Twitter and Facebook trending topics list, but most were still reticent to post their salaries.  After all, talking about your salary and learning the salaries of others can have emotional and practical repercussions.  And most employers would prefer that you keep your mouth shut about it.

This Wired article about #talkpay by Emily Dreyfuss is honest and thought-provoking.  In it, she talks about how she just accepted her starting salaries without question only to learn later that she could have negotiated.  She also found out that a male co-worker was paid nearly double what she made to do the same job.  But as helpful as knowing what your colleagues earn can be, it also has drawbacks.

For most of my career I was working for employers who had to publicly disclose employee salaries.  On the Hill, one visit to Legistorm or an IRS 990 filing could reveal your salary and those of your colleagues.  In my Hill office, all of the aides made comparable wages for comparable work, but it was hard knowing that the gardeners made nearly double what we did.  That rather dangerous knowledge contributed to a feeling of being under appreciated.  Over time, it led to bitterness among some of the staff.

There are certainly upsides to salary disclosure.  Knowing the earnings of others helps you negotiate for an equitable rate of pay.  But workers of equal rank and education don’t always put forth the same amount of effort or have the same value.  We’ve all had peers who just didn’t pull their weight.  My fear with full disclosure would be that some employers, particularly larger ones, would feel pressure to keep pay rates level to avoid accusations of discrimination.  But perhaps that could be remedied by altering the titles of the better employees to reflect their contributions.

So what do you ladies think: Would you be comfortable publicly sharing your salary information?  Do you think it has more benefits than drawbacks?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.


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  1. Anonymous for this says:

    Share what you make.

    Without denying the truth of the situations you brought up, I still heartily believe that keeping pay information secret benefits the employer–and the status quo–mightily. It’s why so many places have rules that tell you not to share information about your pay (or at least used to–it’s been a while since I have had a “typical” employer).

    Right now I’m making zero dollars as I am looking for work.

  2. Jenn S. says:

    I don’t mind sharing – unless there’s an NDA in place specifically forbidding it.

  3. Alison says:

    I think it has more benefits than drawbacks, but I understand the drawbacks.

    One thing I feel more certain about is that I don’t think companies should be allowed to to ban employees from discussing compensation information.

    A main reason the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, in my opinion, is the state of pay inequity for women and people of color — if these problems weren’t so severe, I think I’d still have the same opinion, but I wouldn’t feel as strongly about it, or think it’s as important. Then again, I think there’s an argument to be made that lack of transparency in this area will always breed corruption and/or discrimination.

    I think many of the drawbacks can be mitigated by good HR professionals, and consistent, honest communication between employees, managers, and HR — not all, of course, and maybe I’m being naive, but I believe that when people are treated fairly and respectfully, for the most part they’ll respond in kind.

  4. Alleira says:

    Salary and benefits should be shared. Transparency should be encouraged. I also disagree with this statement by you:

    . . . workers of equal rank and education don’t always put forth the same amount of effort or have the same value. We’ve all had peers who just didn’t pull their weight.

    Yes, we’ve all had co-workers who just didn’t pull their own weight. But when an employer offers an employee a salary for a position, the employer knows exactly nothing about the employee’s work ethic. It is thus almost impossible to blame salary inequity on work ethic because salary is offered blindly, at least at the beginning. And if you’re suggesting that employers promote employees with bad work ethic, but simply pay them less, then those employers are painfully dumb.

    Finally, if larger employers are offering lower salaries based on discriminatory criteria – age, sex, race, sexual orientation – then they SHOULD be sued.

  5. Rachel says:

    I don’t have that luxury. I work in the public sector and my salary is in a searchable database published by the local newspaper. And it’s for this reason that I don’t have hangups about disclosing my pay.

    • Elisse says:

      I admit that I’ve never really thought about pay inequality because I work for a government agency and my salary (as well as the salaries of all my coworkers) can be easily found with a quick search. Overall, I think salary transparency would have more benefits than drawbacks. It would open up discussions and hold employers more accountable.

  6. Al says:

    Her name is “Lauren Voswinkel” not “Lauren Winkelvos”

    • Belle says:

      Thank you, why I had the Facebook twins wedged into my mind when I typed that is beyond me. Weird.

  7. k says:

    I am in the non-profit sector in PR. I am about 5 years in and making $61k. I have no idea if that’s high, low, or average. I am always interested to hear from other people.

  8. Amanda says:

    Same here as Rachel and your Hill colleagues– I work in state government, so it’s all public anyway. I had some fun (depressing, actually) a couple of years ago by take all that public data and doing my own (admittedly unscientific) analysis of the gender wage gap in my agency. Sure enough, the men were paid about 20% more overall–though I couldn’t control for factors like seniority and who may simply be a better worker. Still, my agency is about 70% women to 30% men, so it seems unlikely that the entire smaller group of men are senior to and/or are better workers than than the much larger group of women.

  9. GingerR says:

    I’m a contractor with the Federal government and I have mixed feelings about public pay announcements. I’ve been to the database and looked at what my clients make, and it hasn’t done a thing for my motivation given that they all make more than I do. I’m sure they look at the rate my employer charges and think, “she really cleans up compared to what I make” but it’s just not so, even less so when I consider that my employer is matching a paltry 1.5% of my salary towards my retirement.

    Knowing what others make doesn’t really improve my motivation and attitude at work, so I avoid discussions or disclosure amongst my co-workers. If I’m unhappy with my pay, I should look for a new job.

  10. just fyi says:


  11. Alie says:

    Similar to other comments above, I’m a federal employee, so my salary is easily searchable. The advantage is that I know someone with my exact same credentials, regardless of gender, race, orientation, etc. will be making the same amount as me.

    The two disadvantages are that I have nearly zero opportunity for negotiation. I can’t negotiate vacation time, pay, title, promotion. I dislike telework for myself. The other disadvantage is that when asked how much I make, I will share it and people (mostly family) will say “That’s it? But you have a PhD!” Uh, thanks. Also, it’s a STEM PhD, so they may have a point.

    I think there are huge gaps in education and pay, and in many fields, also in gender and orientation. I’m all for disclosure if a person feels comfortable with it, and it can help improve a discussion.

  12. Amanda Kelley says:

    I’m with Ginger. I think it would only hurt morale. I think knowing your colleagues salary has potential to hurt more than knowing you make more than a colleague has potential to, what, make you feel better? (I doubt it will)

    I think it is a valid (and shared) concern that we could enter into a space where disclosure does not promote fairness but handcuffs companies from offering different benefit/compensation packages that meet the needs of the individual employee. I fear that the employees focus will shift from, “am I doing my job, am I doing it well, do I enjoy my life, do I feel valued?” to negative, emotionally driven thoughts about our coworkers perceived performance while knowing little to nothing about their review, goals, private medical or family arrangements, etc.

    I’m all for disclosing benefit and compensation details so we can all get an idea of what kind of arrangements are out there, how much are people making, etc. I just think we should do it anonymously and on a large scale. I do not believe it is the business of my coworkers to know what I am making, unless I chose to disclose it.

    I’m happy to post my salary on sites like PayScale where details are hidden to ensure my identity is not revealed. I wish more companies disclosed employment and salary information (linked to job descriptions, years of experience, etc.) to sites like these so that the data set would be more reliable.

  13. Carla says:

    I think that despite the awkwardness and other issues, overall it would be a tremendous benefit, especially for women, to know salaries. I love your suggestion of changing titles to more accurately reflect the work one does, too. We provide $tart $mart Wage Negotiation Trainings to college juniors and seniors as one way to combat the gender wage gap… so many people, particularly women, are uncomfortable talking about money and don’t even consider negotiating salary.
    So, while I don’t think it’s a comfortable thing to do… I do think its essential to ending wage disparities and has more benefits than drawbacks!

  14. Anna says:

    Before my current (public) job, I worked for a mid-size software company that was very secretive about compensation. Direct supervisors didn’t know our salaries, and we weren’t allowed to discuss numbers with them. We were told we would be fired if we talked about salaries with our colleagues.

    The secrecy allowed the company to treat people very unfairly – I was told that I could not negotiate starting pay or benefits, but I later found out that some of my colleagues (who started at the same time) had negotiated for more vacation and pay. They also repeatedly increased the starting salary for my position, without adjusting current workers. I don’t believe I was ever paid less than a brand new hire, but after two and half years (and very positive performance reviews), I was being paid the same as many new hires.

    It was only once I was close enough with my colleagues to discuss numbers that I got a picture of what I should have been earning. The conversations changed from, “I feel undervalued,” to “I am paid $X less than these colleagues doing comparable work. That tells me I am not valued, despite my positive performance reviews.” Unfortunately, supervisors weren’t in a position to address the issue, and it cost the company a lot of great employees. I feel super strongly about this: information is power. Can it be painful to find out you’re making less than a colleague? Absolutely. But if that seems unfair to you, you now have the opportunity to make your case for a raise.

  15. KC says:

    the National Labor Relations Act (which despite it’s name applies to non-Union workplaces as well) actually prohibits employers from prohibiting employees from discussing wages.

  16. MaryMary says:

    Is it terrible that I would post anonymously (and have, actually, when Ask A Manager did an informal salary survey) but I wouldn’t post to Facebook or Twitter? I’m a professional services consultant and I know I make more than most of my friends. I make as much or slightly less than my friends with advanced degrees, but without the debt (I only have a bachelors). The rest of my friends are not in lucrative fields (retail, journalism), are underemployed, or are SAHMs/work part time. I think men in my industry make more (they sure do at my company), but I also think I make more than a lot of my friends’ husbands. Hell, I make more than my parents did combined before they retired.

    I worked hard to get where I am, and yes, some of it was luck (some of it was also working in a major metropolitan area and moving back to the rust belt while keeping my previous salary). And I love my friends. But there would be a lot of resentment if I made a random #talkpay post.

  17. B says:

    I think it’s very subjective to your workplace, and unless you work for a governmental entity with public records, no one should be forced to disclose or not to disclose.

    I used to be in the public disclosure camp, but now own a franchised business. Just today I was discussing staff salaries with another franchisee, and my service manager makes significantly more than his does. However, our businesses are located two very different cities, with significantly different costs of living ($50,000 a year affords a significantly different lifestyle in DC or NYC than it would in Des Moines or Little Rock), and there is a more than 10 years difference in how long the two employees have been in their role. My manager is a veteran of more than 18 years, his manager has 8 years under their belt. It’s simplifying the equation far too much to merely look at the job title and the salary figure and think you can draw a conclusion as to the rationale behind the figure, there are many reasons why two people in the “same job” might make different salaries.

    As an employer, the first goal is always to run your business responsibly and profitably (so there’s a business around to employ the people who work for you). Naturally, most business owners want to take care of their people and to retain good employees. Turnover is costly and time-consuming. As a business owner, you have to offer fair pay and benefits to your employees for the work they do, incentivize them to go beyond basic expectations by providing them with goals and bonuses, do reviews and give them feedback on their work, and keep an open door policy about bringing issues to your attention or beginning a conversation with you, like asking for a raise.

    For employees, if you like your job but don’t feel you’re being fairly compensated for the work you do, say something. Your manager or the owner of your business would much rather hear it from you early and have a chance to work through it with you than have to hire and train in a new employee. I can’t read your mind, and I don’t know all the details of your situation, but if you start a conversation we can get somewhere. I recently denied a request for an increase, but because we had set some goals previously with this employee that were not being met at a level I need this person to be at, we went back over the goals and I left the door open for a future raise if this person can meet and maintain the goals set out for them. There are always two sides to the conversation, but if you don’t talk to your boss, you’ll never know their side.

  18. Yeah, tell! says:

    I’m in my first year of work. I work for a large CPG in their procurement division and make $72k. I negotiated for a higher base. I was requested to not tell my team members since I am among the highest compensation on the team (I don’t know if it’s true) and most people on the team didn’t negotiate their offers (I believe that to be true – but I don’t understand why they wouldn’t have negotiated…)

    • Belle says:

      Most ppl don’t know they can negotiate a starting offer. I think they’re also afraid that the person might rescind the offer or they might make a bad first impression if they do.

  19. C says:

    I live in a country where all salaries in both the public and private sector are public information. The big benefit of making salaries public is that the fact that individuals *can* check to see whether they are being paid fairly is enough to encourage employers make fair offers, and to play fair during salary negotiations.

    No one thinks that everyone should be paid the exact same amount. People living in the countryside still make less money than people living in cities. Companies are known for how well they pay their employees, and companies with a better work environment reputation do tend to pay less because people are willing to be paid less to benefit from the environment.

    People still negotiate salaries and earn more or less than the others around them with the same education and experience, but employers can’t lie and manipulate employees in the same way that they can when salaries are private. I really do think that national salary disclosure forces people to have a more mature outlook on their salaries, and companies to act in a responsible way. The negative effects of disclosing salaries that people have mentioned just don’t exist here.

    I don’t think it’ll ever happen in the States, but we can dream 😉

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