Salary Transparency and Assertive Women

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I talk about “Women in the Workplace” a lot. I am one. It’s one of our programming areas at wolf & heron. And it’s something that happens to be coming up in the media a lot lately. Because of that, I’m looking back at my own professional experiences and trying to challenge my perspective of those experiences based on some of the discussions we’re having today.

For example, while with a previous employer, I had a weird salary transparency moment. I had always advocated for salary transparency, and didn’t hesitate to ask my peers or the people immediately above me what they earned. I wanted to be armed with the information. I wanted to know what was normal and fair within my organization. Of course, many people weren’t necessarily comfortable with that line of questioning and I didn’t always get an answer.

On the flip side, however, I was very transparent about my own salary. One day, a peer of mine asked me what I made, and I immediately shared that information. I wanted to arm her with the information she might need to be informed and empowered.

But then a few weeks went by and I was invited to have a conversation about salary transparency with HR leaders at the company. The meeting was presented as a fact finding mission. I logged onto the video conference and was asked to share my point of view. When I was finished, the HR leaders then spent time explaining to me the negative ramifications of salary transparency: it shames people who don’t make as much, it creates extra meetings and conversations, it causes hurt feelings... Instead of a fact-finding meeting, I had been invited to a lesson in why the company is not happy with the fact that I shared my salary with a colleague who didn't make as much as I did.

In the moment, I felt caught off guard and also began to regret sharing the information. That grew into frustration with the situation, with the HR leaders and even the peer who I had tried to empower in the first place. It felt like I was being chastised by the organization for causing trouble… for being assertive… for helping others around me be assertive… for causing drama.

It’s always been my point of view that an organization should have a fair and equitable pay policy, and be able to explain it to their employees in a way that makes sense. Obviously not everyone at the same title should necessarily have the same salary - there are too many variables and factors that influence pay - but they should be obvious and explicable.

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We’re going to break some eggs along the way to a universe where not just the gender pay gap, but the minority pay gap is closed. Rising women are going to be caught in moments where they’re advocating for what they deserve and are seen as too assertive or scene-makers. Organizations are trying different ways to both defend/justify past behaviors and create an environment where people are supported and empowered. We’re not in a perfect world so we’re all going to be a bit uncomfortable and awkward sometimes.

That’s okay. I don’t think it’s going to go away tomorrow. What my experience does tell me though is that you still have to try to navigate that space, and it requires some intention and awareness.

Here’s some advice for the rising leaders out there:

  • Ask for what you deserve AND understand the organizational context and where your employer is coming from.
  • If you want to share your salary information, ALSO be aware that there’s a time and a place for everything.
  • Speak up AND think before you speak.
  • Make change on an individual level (for you, your peers) BUT don’t forget the larger context.

How are you challenging the status quo?

-- Kara Davidson, Cofounder, wolf & heron