It was a few years into my career that I first talked to anyone about my salary, and then I couldn’t shut up about it.
I negotiated my first raise after I learned that a male colleague with the same title was making significantly more than I was. As a freelancer, I often shared day rates and consulting fees with friends in my field, so we could know which companies to tap for more.
Later, when I took a staff job, a co-worker and I went out for drinks to get to know each other, and ended up sharing our salaries before the appetizers hit the table. That helped me lobby for a better rate when it came time for my review.
Call it the salary whisper network for getting paid, “except we’re not whispering, we’re yelling,” said Claire Wasserman, the founder of a career development platform called Ladies Get Paid.
Everywhere I turn, it seems, female friends, colleagues and mentees are quizzing each other about money: How much they make, their stock options and signing bonuses, how they negotiated, and what their dream number and their walk-away number is — or if they have one at all.
“I make all my friends, no matter their industry, talk about this,” said Samantha Wiener, a 25-year-old software engineer at Instagram. She said she recently turned a Thanksgiving dinner in San Francisco, with a dozen or so girlfriends, into something of a salary confessional.
“I just think we need to learn from each other to know what’s reasonable, what’s possible, and have information to make informed decisions,” she said.
Talking about money, especially for women, has long been considered taboo. “For a long time, the narrative was that to even be interested in money was on some level unfeminine or crass,” said Amanda Steinberg, the founder of a financial literacy website for women called DailyWorth, who runs a leadership training startup.
And yet slowly but surely, it seems, that taboo is being broken down by a new generation of workers. Forget talking about our sex lives. The modern woman is talking about money.
And why wouldn’t she be?
Talking to a colleague can help pinpoint the going rate or range, particularly in newer industries, or creative fields, where there isn’t a precedent (or information on websites like Payscale or Salary.com). For younger workers, one of the ways of moving up is often to take on additional duties, only to then realize, as one friend recently did, that you won’t necessarily be paid for the work.
And, of course, there’s that whole wage-gap thing. How can you know you’re being paid less than other races or genders if you don’t know what your colleagues make?
“My personality is not to look at it, not to think about it. It’s not my goal in life to become rich, and it’s not what drives me,” said Lotte Marie Allen, 31, who works in arts education at the School of Visual Arts in New York. “But I know that, especially for women, money is one of the necessary things to talk about — like broccoli or something.”
And so, like anything, she has practiced. She said that she and a friend recently shared their salary figures during a walk in the park by her home. “I have a very close inner circle of friends,” Ms. Allen said. “I talk about money, politics and sex with them all the time.”
Over the past few years, a variety of organizations have followed suit: Ellevest, started by the former Wall Street executive Sallie Krawcheck, has a mission to help teach women how to invest. (“I would argue that in our society, money is viewed as a male construct,” she has said.)
At events for Ladies Get Paid, which has a membership community of more than 60,000 women, according to its founder, Wasserman said she often asks attendees to state their desired salary number — “a number that makes you uncomfortable” — out loud. “It’s so fascinating to watch,” she said.
Elsewhere, Cardi B is giving advice on asking for your worth; stars are speaking out about the pay gap in Hollywood; and in November an anonymous “Real Media Salaries” spreadsheet — that, for what it’s worth, some have noted may not have been so accurate — prompted a conversation among journalists about compensation.
That was followed by an Instagram account, Real Agency Salaries, that listed salaries in advertising. (We share everything else on Instagram — why not our salaries?)
“This is like a sexy thing,” Wasserman said. “It’s not boring, it’s not scary, it’s not something to be ashamed of.”
Of course, that media list may have been anonymous for a reason. While it is illegal for most private-sector employers to retaliate against workers for discussing wages — and in 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who talk about pay — penalties for those who break those rules are often weak.
Different companies have different policies. Sometimes they are buried in an employee handbook.
Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, an economist, found in a 2013 study that workers are more productive when salary is transparent. But there is also research, from the University of California, Berkeley economics professor David Card, that found that learning about the salaries of peers could also make employees pretty miserable.
Sharing information with a friend or colleague you trust, however, is not the same as involuntarily learning that the slacker you share a cubicle with makes more than you do.
Though it still requires some tact.
Wiener, the software engineer, noted that her Thanksgiving-turned-salary-sharing-confessional was at first awkward, though less so “once we started talking.”
“I’ve ultimately found that it’s much more comfortable when you do it one on one,” she said — and with someone you know and trust.
And she doesn’t just blurt out her number. Recently, over dinner with a male friend, she said she opted for a version of: “I was talking to another friend about how they share their salary figures, and I am trying to understand if other people do this. So I was wondering, do you do this? Would you feel OK telling me what your salary is? I’ll tell you mine.”
“I feel like it’s almost like dating in that you have to be tactical about your pickup line,” she said.
In this case, it worked.