Many years ago, I sat in a room reviewing the contract for my first full-time job. I ran my finger down the paper and stopped at the dollar amount. The HR rep told me I was being offered the highest salary for my position.
I nodded and signed my name.
Three years later as I was leaving that job, my soon-to-be replacement asked me what that number was. I remember telling him and hearing his exact words, “I can’t make that little!”
He walked into the same office, asked for more pay for the same job, and got it.
I can’t help but wonder: If I had broken the money taboo, would things have been different?
A 2015 Fidelity Investments study found four in five women have at some point chosen not to discuss their finances with friends and family. This can affect a woman’s financial stability, especially when it comes to the very real gender wage gap. On average, women working full time in the U.S. in 2017 got paid 80 percent of what men got paid. In Washington, it’s worse: women made 78 cents per dollar of men’s earnings, ranking our state 35th. Those numbers vary based on race and ethnicity, with black women being paid 61 percent and Hispanic/Latinas 53 percent of what white men got paid.
The corporate sector has a culture of pay secrecy, where rates are personally negotiated and employees don’t often know what their colleagues are making. Bear in mind that in Washington, it’s illegal to retaliate against employees for discussing their wages. Economist Benjamin Harris, writing in the Harvard Business Review, says transparency can raise wages for underpaid employees, as well as lead to pay compression for city executives with high salaries.
Women, talking about money can let you know whether you’re paid fairly and allows you to practice your negotiation skills. Many men I know are already doing this.
It does help to be strategic about your money conversations. Don’t expect others to share what they are making without sharing first. If actual numbers makes you uncomfortable, talk about the salary range. And if you do discover a wage gap, keep in mind the subjective elements of salary, such as your personal performance.
Future for Us co-founders Sage Quiamno and Aparna Rae say it’s important for women to not only do market-rate research on Glassdoor and PayScale, but to also ask their personal and professional networks for salary averages. In the end, information is power that you can use to make better business decisions. Organizations such as theirs and Ladies Get Paid provide online platforms to have open and honest dialogues about this topic.
A lot of our self-worth is tied up with how much we make. If you are skittish and choose not to break the money taboo, I can understand why. It can be an uncomfortable topic. But it doesn’t have to be — it can also be a means of empowerment.