Salary secrecy; should we discuss our pay?

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8 months ago by Jessica Brown

Salary secrecy; should we discuss our pay?

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Over recent months, pay has become a source of controversy. Typically something that causes even the most confident of us to become uncomfortable, until now disclosing salaries hasn't been the 'done thing' to do however nobody seems to be able to decipher why exactly that is.

In 2017, Refinery29 conducted a Her Brain survey of more than 3000 women aged between 25-34 and found that only 7% of respondents share their salaries with colleagues, and even with their close friends, only 17% were likely to divulge. Their reasonings behind the numbers stemmed from everything from jealousy to fear of being judged.

As the gender pay gap still generates controversy, experts have suggested that the only way to begin addressing the problem is to speak up, however recent high-profile stories rather than spurring on the fight have actually left some fearful of disrupting the status quo. Susan Brennan, Associate Vice President of University Career Services at Bentley University, suggests this is because sharing salary information can create tension between colleagues and resentment toward management so it can really lead to a toxic work environment. Those who can't afford to resign over pay discrepancies and follow in the footsteps of Carrie Gracie, may choose to be blissfully unaware rather than open themselves up to resentment. Something which is very possible according to Professor of Organisational Psychology, Cary Cooper, who notes that "salary is bound up with our perceptions of self-worth."

Another often noted concern for employees is that disclosing their salary may land them in hot water with their boss, however not only is it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who discuss their salaries but Law Professor, Estlund, writes that "even a nudge from the boss saying we don't do that around here could be unlawful."

In 2015, the hashtag #talkpay generated over 26,000 tweets and although many of them were users disclosing their pay, #talkpay also demonstrated fully the extent of people's discomfort with the conversation. Dr Ryan T Howell, Professor of Psychology, summed up the pervasive feeling on Twitter that "people feel sensitive about how much money they are making, they feel there is an overwhelming concern that they're going to be judged."

Happy Computers, a company who state they're "seriously committed to making your workplace great", are attempting to target these concerns with 'total salary transparency'. Their open culture, which includes an "intranet spreadsheet that everybody can access and which displays what every employee earns as well as their pay history", is an integral part of the way they work. CEO, Henry Stewart, explains that it makes them much more careful with paying decisions, writing "it means whenever you make a salary decision it has to be well thought out and based on what that staff member contributes. It also shows people what you need to do to get rewarded." Suggesting that true transparency makes everybody better at their jobs.

Stewart suggests that "whenever [he] asks people who don't practice salary transparency why not, their answer is always our salaries aren't fair", however Professor Cooper, warns that total transparency could mean everybody misses out, with employers reluctant to "reward people without making others upset or angry."

Whether youíre on the side of Cooper or Stewart, experts suggest that the traditional view of money, as a taboo subject, may be on the turn and as Julia Carpenter of CNN Money says, "the more younger [people] are being exposed to how harmful salary secrecy is, the more they're becoming comfortable with opening up."