Please tell me about sharing your salary
December 12, 2018 10:06 PM   Subscribe

This question prompted by this post on the blue. Hiding salary information is bad for workers, especially bad for women and minorities, and good for employers. So I feel a lot of pressure to be more open about mine. Simultaneously, I find sharing the information terrifying and worry about the consequences to myself. I would appreciate hearing stories (the good and the ugly) about times you have shared your salary or other people have shared their salary with you, and any advice from HR/other about the safest ways to do this.
posted by Cozybee to Work & Money (25 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
One great advantage of being in a union: Everybody's salary is written in the contract.

But I know the non-union people "strongly discouraged" by HR from discussing their compensation.
posted by Marky at 11:54 PM on December 12, 2018

When I worked at large tech firm, I had drinks with a few women after a cross team working group. One said, after a work based chat, "so I'm willing to discuss salary if everyone else is?". Agreements from everyone and we did which was interesting. Only time that's happened to me but I thought a very good approach, and one it seemed she'd used a lot - she was very effective in growing her career and negotiating, so I'm sure that helped her to find out what other people got paid.

At a previous company, me and a fellow employee council officer had asked management to consider greater salary transparency - they didn't want to as I think would just cause resentment. When I then became a manager at that place then there were large discrepancies in pay between members of my team mostly due to if they had started as a graduate versus say previously worked at an investment bank.

Definitely useful for workers to share salary and I many are keen to, so I think testing the waters by suggesting it 1-1 or in small groups in informal settings is a good approach.
posted by JonB at 11:54 PM on December 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

I had lunch with another woman on my team one day and we bonded. I asked her how much she makes per hour and she named a number ten dollars higher than my hourly pay. I didn't mind - in fact, I was so happy to hear that a woman in tech is making that much. And I had no problem telling her what I make.

Right now I could not have that discussion with a male cow-orker. The answers would fill me with rage.
posted by bendy at 12:10 AM on December 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

I like JonB's answer - definitely informal groups and test the waters carefully - some people are very sensitive about talking about this information, and companies don't like it in general (I've definitely had contracts that explicitly said my salary was confidential information I shouldn't share. Probably not enforceable, but they can still make your life difficult if they want to).

If you have a group of peers that want to share some information but that don't want to reveal individual salaries to the group, there's a little process you can follow that will tell you average salaries without revealing individual numbers. You need at least 3, preferably 4 people to make it reasonably anonymous.
First person, A, adds an arbitrary number onto their salary and privately tells it to B. B adds on their salary and privately tells C, and so on. Last person in the chain tells A the final total. A subtracts the arbitrary number and can now work out the average of all salaries in the group.
Note: this only works if people don't know any information except the previous total, so be careful with email chains!
posted by crocomancer at 3:40 AM on December 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

I work for the federal government and you can look up my salary online. I know the salary of everyone I work with, and it's the only kind of salaried job I've ever had.

The good is that it's very clear when we have failings around diversity and inclusion, which we do. Hmm, I guess that's also the bad, huh? I do think it makes those of us in leadership try harder to recruit and retain minorities and women.

After 20 years of experiencing this kind of salary transparency, it does seem whackadoo to me that salaries are "secret" elsewhere.
posted by kinsey at 4:13 AM on December 13, 2018 [16 favorites]

I think this is the primary reason Glassdoor exists. Most professionals I know have shared their salary info on that site during sign up. It's useful for getting a general reference point before going into a salary negotiation.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 4:40 AM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Once, about a year into a job I had turned out to be rather good at, a brand new co-worker with no experience off-handedly complained about their salary while giving me a ride home. It worked out to $2/hr higher than mine. I wasn't upset with them at all, but it was very eye-opening and I realized I ought to have negotiated harder (at all) and that even people I liked would take/were taking advantage of me on behalf of the company. Shortly after, I began pushing for a promotion and ultimately got a middle-high-range salary for that position, instead of bottom-of-the-barrel as I was hired on at. I stayed on that salary trajectory the rest of my time at the company. Meanwhile, a grumpy mid-level manager who couldn't prove anything sent out a passive-aggressive memo about the importance of not sharing salaries, which of course prompted a bunch of other people to disclose theirs too. At least one ended up quitting over what they learned -- or, rather, over management's refusal to correct the imbalance discovered.
posted by teremala at 5:44 AM on December 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

Ten years ago, when I was a temp technical writer at a soap factory (owned by a major corporation) my coworker with the exact same title and duties was kind enough to share her hourly wage with me. It was almost twice what I was getting. I had been getting about twice minimum wage just because I was ignorant -- I had been working for glory in academia, as one does, and I just didn't know any better. Soon after, they wanted to transfer me to another department so I was able to renegotiate my contract and get what she was getting. (Of course I claimed I had done internet research, not that she had told me.) That hourly rate set a baseline for every subsequent job, and... I was off to the races.

I would like to propose a toast to Susan, who with that simple, kind act, changed everything about my life. To you, Susan.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 6:22 AM on December 13, 2018 [36 favorites]

The last job-search, I called three acquaintances in similar work and asked if they'd mind sharing their compensation. (Along with some other advice.) It made me uncomfortable. But my starting salary could make a difference of hundreds of thousands over the years, and I felt I owed it to me and my family. One was enthusiastic, two said no. I think it did help a little.

"At a previous company, me and a fellow employee council officer had asked management to consider greater salary transparency - they didn't want to as I think would just cause resentment"

I suspect a breakdown like: 10% "might cause resentment", 90% "somebody might find out they could do better, either here or (if necessary) somewhere else". Maybe I'm paranoid.

posted by floppyroofing at 7:08 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have given hints by referencing the raise percentage: eg, I am leaving because x is giving me a 20% bump to coworkers I was closer with and heavily promoted people to be familiar with industry salary surveys (association/guilds) but nothing more bold.
posted by typecloud at 7:51 AM on December 13, 2018

Just last month I discovered a spreadsheet lying on our company intranet (okay, it's just a shared drive on a server that everyone uses). The spreadsheet was left by a careless HR director and has the exact salary for everyone in the company including our international employees. It's...eye-opening bordering on infuriating, to say the least. But that's another story.

It also shows that I'm the highest-paid engineer in the company even though there are others (including managers) that have been here way longer and have been put through way more grueling projects. If they knew this information they'd be very upset.

All of it gives me an odd gut feeling that if things turn downward, and management does their usual "what value is employee [X] bringing in versus their salary [Y]?" self-examination, I could definitely be on the bubble. They must feel I'm worth it, but could that change in a moment's notice?

It's just an extra piece of information I now know that changes how I view my place in this ecosystem.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:08 AM on December 13, 2018

When I was offered my current position it came with a large salary increase. My previous boss offered me a raise to entice me to stay, but it was nowhere close. I told her what my new salary would be and she was shocked that I would be making more than her. She was able to use that information to negotiate a shorter work week.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 8:26 AM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I work for a large State university, so the salaries of all employees are public information and easily available online. Everyone knows what everyone else makes.

All salaries aren't perfectly matched to duties/seniority, but I do think that this is a much more equitable arrangement since everyone knows where they stand and therefore has some leverage to pursue changes. This is probably also why some employers prefer secrecy.

Honestly, I can't imagine working any other way and would recommend transparency to anyone. There's some great advice above about navigating the sensitive nature of this question, but for my part I'd say go for it (carefully if it's a hot topic at your workplace).
posted by owls at 8:50 AM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Two months ago, a friend sort of inadvertently told me her salary (she's a different, usually way less compensated industry) when comparing against a new subleaser's salary. This was nearly as high as my own.

This made me realize that my salary was waaay under market and I used Metafilter and others to help my negotiate a 16% raise, all within 6 weeks.
posted by sandmanwv at 8:57 AM on December 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

The one time I've ever negotiated a salary, a coworker friend in the same job, hired at the same time, asked me about it. I told her they had offered me $reasonable, and I had asked for a little more and hand-waved a bit about my relevant experience and they said yes. (Easy!) She was like "dang I can't believe I didn't do that!" and I like to think she made sure to do it for her next job, though I don't know for sure. No other impact on our work or friend relationship that I know of.
posted by clavicle at 9:49 AM on December 13, 2018

(Now I'm in state government and you can google my salary. No negotiating except by the unions. There are drawbacks but this aspect of my job rules.)
posted by clavicle at 10:02 AM on December 13, 2018

You should share your salary history in accordance with your privilege. Secret salaries are a major tool of capital against working people, and you should resist that to the degree that the system enables your privilege. I am a tall white cishet male in my middle 30s with valuable technical skills, so the working western world is basically set up to enable me. You can find my salary history pinned to my twitter account, including an accounting of how and why I've chosen to work in the way that I have. I haven't shared my salary as widely in non-work interactions, and that's probably something that I should do more of. In a networking context, and in both sides of a mentor/mentee relationship especially, it's a crucial part of the relationship and I will share and ask in those contexts. I have yet to notice any social or work-related repercussions-the system insulates me!

You are the expert about what your privilege allows, but in my opinion you should share to your utmost ability relative to your privilege. I'm probably not doing enough of that even though I do more than most! I accrue all the privileges. Anyway, that's how I contextualize this issue, I hope that's helpful.
posted by Kwine at 10:30 AM on December 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

Not sure how helpful it would be in the context of just your employer, but there exists anonymized public google sheets of salaries for women in tech that are passed around in semi-private groups. There are no names, but there is info like company size, location, etc. If you are not in tech, are there any community or user groups that may have one already or if you can start one? Alternatively you could also try this with your coworkers if you socialize outside of company time.

In my experience, people that would be hesitant to directly share their salary info would be more privy to share anonymously if they could view others anonymized salaries as well.
posted by xtine at 1:11 PM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am lucky in that my field publishes yearly salary tables, which show you the 25th/50th/75th percentile of salaries by rank and region. I was able to use this information to negotiate a 10k salary bump for my first job, which brought me from the 25th to the 40th-ish percentile. For a new grad who happens to be a minority woman, I thought that was pretty good.

However, a white male friend, same number of years out of training, in the same department, voluntarily shared his salary with me, and he makes 45k more than me, close to the 75th percentile. When I mentioned the salary tables, he was like "huh?" So that number is just what the department offered him, off the bat. So ... that's pretty infuriating. (This field has a very well-documented gender pay-gap, but 45k is pretty egregious. I don't yet know if/how to weaponize this, or use it to negotiate a raise for myself.)

In spite of believing in salary transparency, I would not feel comfortable sharing my salary unless it were purely aggregate. This is driven largely by an experience I had when first entering the job market, which I am not willing to share in detail even in a forum like AskMe. Suffice it to say that I learned early on that any information in writing, even if shared confidentially, can and will be used against you.
posted by basalganglia at 3:29 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

On a post it I saw a younger coworker's hourly rate, which was much lower than mine even though our experience level wasn't all that different. I immediately told her to ask for a higher salary the next season (this was seasonal work) and told her what I made. She said that they had actually ended up paying her more and that if she came back she would ask for the higher rate based on experience.

Another time a group of coworkers were out for a drink and I and a younger guy tried to get people to share salaries. A different woman said she was afraid that would make us resent each other so no one shared. That same woman was overlooked by management repeatedly in favor of much less qualified men (to the point where I think she would have a credible lawsuit to pursue) but has remained at the company. So I think she has stronger deference for authority than I do.

I have shared my salary with multiple people in the past, almost always to encourage younger women or colleagues of color to push for higher pay. I'm unemployed now but I am pretty sure it's not related, since I quit my last job.
posted by Emmy Rae at 5:07 PM on December 13, 2018

Oooh, let me tell you about the Hostile Takeover!

At a previous organisation (small but national not-for-profit) a new CEO was hired without ever going to market. It was discovered by staff that one of the conditions new-CEO had placed on their employment was that they wanted to sack three of the existing staff and bring in five of the employees from their previous (government-funded) organisation, which was now being restructured.

New-CEO then proceeded to accidentally CC several old staff when emailing with the treasurer about the budget. In an attached spreadsheet all our salaries were listed, the old and the new staff. Old staff were all being paid at not-for-profit rates with salaries generally between 30-80k. New staff were being paid at high-salaried government rates - not a single one under six figures - despite having much less experience and qualifications than many old staff.

Needless to say, this did not go down well with old staff and created an irreconcilable barrier and a sense that there were first-class and second-class citizens at work. A couple of old staff were sacked or "made redundant" as new-CEO wished; the rest of us (11 people) were gone within 18 months.

Now I work at a university where if you know someone's level you know roughly what they are being paid, and I am very happy about this. There are rules about advancement and salary increases, decisions can be appealed, etc. I am much more comfortable with this.
posted by andraste at 6:30 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

A few college friends of mine organized an anonymous survey shortly after we got out, since we all had roughly the same resume. We just filled out a google form with our salaries, anonymously. That, I think, was not a good way to do it. Mostly we found out that NYC and the Bay Area pay way more than Nowhere, IL.

I would love to compare myself to some peers at my current job, but I have no idea how to go about doing that. I will be reading this thread with interest.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:23 PM on December 13, 2018

My first job after college, a kind of awful consulting gig at a tiny firm, another consultant and I got along especially well, and I asked her casually once, "Perhaps you would be interested in sharing salaries?" Her eyes lit up, and she replied, "I would certainly be interested." We confirmed we were similarly underpaid, though she had a small bump due to her master's degree. That conversation probably strengthened our solidarity and mutual agreement as to the general awfulness of our employer. I don't remember if I ever felt comfortable enough to ask the other consultants, but she might have.

Much later, I was a unionized tech worker at a large company, and the union provided annual aggregate salary charts (including raise percentages) by job classification, level, age, years of experience, etc. They were the bee's knees, and may alone have been worth the union dues for the transparency, and the reassurance that my pay was where I expected compared to my peers.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 1:27 AM on December 14, 2018

I'm really open about mine and offer it whenever it even remotely comes up in conversation, because I think it's wrong for employers to hide it. This mildly annoyed my boss once when a new coworker asked for a raise based on what I'd started at and was indiscreet enough to flat out say I'd told her mine, but my boss got over it (and didn't give the much less experienced coworker the raise). I'm kind of insulated where I am, and I'm a white college educated woman which I know matters, but I have a hard time picturing significant negative consequences. I think the NLRA prevents you from legally being fired for it; I know bosses can make your life hell in a lot of other ways, but it seems like a fairly unlikely scenario.
posted by metasarah at 9:46 AM on December 17, 2018

I had a conversation with a coworker at lunch and we exchanged pay rates. Mine was a lot higher than his (due to when we were hired, and other combinations of luck). He wasn't upset about it.

Apparently someone high up at the company was at that lunch place and overheard the conversation. My boss brought me into his office and explained that if I ever disclosed my salary again, I'd be fired instantly. He also told me that he thought this was unfair, and he was following orders in telling me this.

I have never shared my pay rate with a coworker since then (although if I did, it would be in a more secure location than a seemingly private conversation at a restaurant).
posted by el io at 12:25 AM on December 22, 2018

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