What’s the solution to ending gender-based pay disparities and all income inequality in the office? For a US programmer named Lauren Voswinkel, a simple way to start is by making it clear what everyone makes. After all, we can’t know we are being paid less unless we know what everyone else is being paid.
For years, Voswinkle had no idea she was being underpaid. A software developer from Pennsylvania, it took her three job switches and several hard negotiations before she landed her current position and an annual salary of $122,000 (about 757,000 yuan), a pay rate she now thinks is comparable to her male coworkers.
“I just found myself thinking, how long have I been underpaid? How could I have prevented this? What was I missing?”
Voswinkel told The Guardian: “And I realized it was mostly because of a lack of conversation around pay.”
On May 1, she shared her salary, job title, and professional experience on Twitter. She also created the hashtag #talkpay to encourage others to do the same.
In a manifesto she wrote and published on April 28 on tech and culture website ModelViewCulture.com, Voswinkel said she hoped that mass salary disclosures would “break the taboo surrounding salaries, so that people would become more comfortable with discussing pay.”
Although #talkpay has become a trending TOPic on social media for the past two weeks, most of the posts using the hashtag were simply taking part in the discussion, and did not reveal actual salaries, according to BuzzFeed.
Wall of silence
There are major forces at work protecting the trend of silence when it comes to salary transparency, says Emily Dreyfuss at Wired magazine. Beyond the powerful inertia of maintaining the status quo, there is also fear of retribution from current or future employers and of ruining relationships with current co-workers, she says.
Company policies can make sharing information about salaries difficult, too. According to The Guardian, pay secrecy policies are common in US workplaces, even though they’re often carried out illegally. With “work at will” laws, which allow employees to be fired at any time for any reason, getting sacked for discussing one’s pay is a real threat. That’s why many of the posts with the #talkpay hashtag were cautionary or filled with concern and no salary details. For Voswinkel, that’s a good thing. “There needs to be a degree of risk,” she told The Guardian. “People need to feel that fear to realize just how much these conversations have been repressed by employers.”
According to an April survey by The Washington Post which polled 1,000 full-time workers in the US, nearly 73 percent aren’t comfortable with the idea of discussing their pay with anyone at work other than their boss or the HR department. Only 13 percent said they’d be “completely comfortable” with sharing such information more broadly, recognizing that it might offer workers better leverage in negotiations. The remaining 14 percent said they would be comfortable discussing their salaries only with close colleagues.