Talking about money is a pretty taboo subject, especially talking about how much we make.
After listening to this interview on Popcorn Finance with A Purple Life, who shared their salary with their coworkers and it was revealed to that other coworker how much less they were making, I thought to myself, “What if I am leaving money on the table, too?”
They were both women.
How did that happen? Why did one make more than the other? Why was the woman in the position lower than the other in a higher position making more?
Did one negotiate better than the other?
I instantly thought of what makes the other better to receive more pay. That is the number one problem most people have with talking about money; they think it ties in some way to their self-worth.
Your career is not your self-worth, and neither is your money.
You are not what you make, of course. But, some of us can’t help but feel that way in money conversations with others. That anxiety around if we are enough when we start accidentally comparing.
But as a Latina woman, I see these discussions as somewhat necessary as we try to promote a more transparent culture to help close the wage gap.
The questions continue to swirl around in my head as I look back on my past work history (and within my own freelancing and side business), sharing my own salary in the past and holding off on the decision to do that again current job.
We will go through those questions, my past decision to share my salary, and why I haven’t with my current coworkers. It will make for a nice segway into negotiating for higher salaries and how we can use these discussions to do that.
Should you share your salary with your coworkers?
Money is quite triggering. It is like asking how much someone weighs or at least can feel that way. Partially that is because of how most of us were raised to not talk about money.
My parents talk about money, and I talk about money (but haven’t always been comfortable with it). I’ve discussed with past coworkers about our salaries, but back then, it was different. At least different from the work culture at my current job.
So no, I haven’t shared my salary with my current coworkers, but I have in the past. We will get to why I haven’t shared it with my current coworkers in a little bit.
Before we get to that, I thought it would be interesting how many people have also shared their salary and why or why not.
Naturally, I did a Twitter poll.
My favorite research is the kind I can derive from my own circle. In this case, it is my circle of friends, family, followers, followers, etc.
Out of 218 votes, 33% said yes, and 67% said no.
There are some factors in those numbers we can’t see, such as if the position already has the salary published (either by the company or if they are public employees), work culture, and age range of the voters. Millennials and other younger generations are much more likely to share their salary than older generations like baby boomers.
What we can see are the comments for why people voted yes or no. A few indicated they haven’t shared their salary but would in certain situations (such as if they didn’t work in HR or didn’t want to rock the boat).
Why You Should Discuss Your Salary
I think it is absolutely important to discuss salaries with your coworkers but under the appropriate circumstances.
When I shared my salary with my coworkers, it was at my second job out of college. Another woman and I were in equal positions and sort of close (we were also roommates). She asked me what I was paid and when I told her, we found out we got paid the same. It was low, but it was equal.
Another male member also told another male member on the team who started the same day as us (same education, same experience) on the team was paid $10,000 more than both of us. This was all in a fun conversation, mostly out of curiosity as we were all still somewhat new to the I.T. corporate world.
We were kind of angry about that finding, but we never went on to do anything about it. Maybe we should have? We also found another man on another team but in the same position, made $5,000 less than us.
There were inequalities all over the board with no real explanation.
But it was still beneficial to have those conversations as it made us more comfortable to talk about those things with each other, and we learned we should be asking for more. This all ultimately led us to look for ways to do that, job-hopping and increasing our salary every year after that.
Advantages of Sharing Your Salary
There are some definite advantages to discussing your salary with your coworkers if they are open to the conversation, and that is:
- Give yourself and your coworkers a leg up during reviews and raise discussions.
- Get an idea of the salary to expect when moving up or laterally within a company.
- Promote a more transparent work culture
- Help close the gap in pay inequality
- Get more comfortable talking about money in general with others
Why You Should Not Discuss Your Salary
I leaned towards bringing up a salary discussion with a coworker at my current job until I really thought it through.
I currently work for publishing its salary ranges and structure across levels on the company’s internal portal, which my own salary matched. It also matches the range on Glassdoor.
I wasn’t on the higher end when I first started. From that time to now, I’ve received a “market match” raise in which the company automatically handed out 10% raises to our entire team because the market price for those positions went up (I was just as surprised as you).
Then I got an 8.3% raise and the largest bonus I ever had in my life, which came from the first review I had with this company. I was blown away and really didn’t have a reason to put any blood in the water with my team (I am not very close to any of them to see myself bring it up in conversation in a way that it won’t be weird).
Why bring it up if they already publish it? Sure, I could challenge it, and I might, but I’d rather be content than stir up drama … for now.
I work for amazing benefits and dish out raises more than any other company I’ve worked for. I really have no suspicion that there is a huge gap there, if any. Not all companies are the worst to their employees.
Reasons to Keep Your Salary to Yourself
There are many reasons why you should keep your salary to yourself or have no reason to share it in the first place because it is already public knowledge (similar to my current work situation where they publish it):
- When you are a part of a union, and you already have that information
- When you are a public employee in the U.S., your salaries are published (such as teachers and police officers)
- If you are on a specific contract and make an hourly wage (popular with I.T. companies to hire out on contract). Other people on a contract at that same company will most likely already be getting the same hourly wage. I’ve been in this situation, and the company I was on contract at paid the same hourly wage for every contractor at that level. Your pay actually depended on how many benefits you selected at the contracting company. The more you select, the lower your hourly pay would get (but with quarterly bonuses out of a bucket and everyone got the same amount).
- If it is not something your coworkers wants to discuss
- If you are doing it to shame a coworker
But if someone on my team truly wanted to know my exact pay, I’d tell them.
Can you be fired for discussing salary at work?
No, you cannot get fired for telling a coworker your salary. It is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 for private-sector employers to prohibit their employees from talking about their own wages or others’ wages.
I’ve read horror stories about others who have shared their salaries and still experienced some negative aftermath. A common experience is fear-mongering from their managers (out of being misinformed about this law). They usually come around once they realize what they did was basically illegal.
What about companies asking about your past salary history?
In addition to employers not being able to take any action against you for sharing your salary, they also can’t ask you about your salary history in the following U.S. states and counties (in an attempt to give more power to prospective employees):
- San Francisco
- Louisville, Kentucky
- New Orleans
- Kansas City, Missouri
- New Jersey
- New York
- New York City
- Albany County
- Suffolk County
- Westchester County
- Puerto Rico
Remember that during your next interview, when someone asks you what you were paid at your last position. You also aren’t obligated to answer that question even if it is legal in your state.
Respond with “market rate” instead.
Financial Literacy and Your Salary
Financial literacy starts with communication. The more we communicate with each other about money, the less intimidated and scared we will be of it. This includes companies and their communication with their employees too.
Private sectors should absolutely publish the salaries across the company like the company I work for does. The more they incorporate transparency in as many ways they can with their employees, the more positive the work environment is.
We have to help inform each other and not cower away in the shadows with our riches (or fears) in hand.
Why am I talking about financial literacy? Because it 100% has to do with your salary and paid a fair and equal wage. You have to inform yourself of how you can communicate with the company you work for and the strategies to follow to make sure you negotiate the benefits and salary you deserve for your work.
Things You Should Research
That includes being educated on things like:
- 401k, IRA, and what your company matches for contributions
- HSA and company contributions
- Medical, dental, and vision coverage and the company contributions
- Additional benefits like holidays, additional insurance offerings, disability, life insurance, stock options, etc.
- What the market salary is for your position
- How much money do you need to reach your financial goals
- What are those financial goals
- And basically, anything that registers in your head about how your job affects your financial life.
How to Bring Up Pay With Your Peers
If and when you decide there is a need to start a salary discussion with your coworkers, there are ways to approach it so you aren’t intimidating and end up sabotaging your efforts.
Be open and genuine about why you want to discuss pay. If you have a really good work friend who is not really out of character to bring up this kind of thing, it might be easiest to start there.
Talk about how you want to discuss it for the benefit of both of you to make sure you are getting paid fairly. The more you promote it as a judgment-free conversation, the easiest they will be willing to participate.
If you think it will wreck your friendship for whatever reason, then start with someone at a more senior level than you. In the Women in Technology group that I am apart of at work, it is encouraged to reach out to each other for mentoring, sponsorship, and discussion on any topic we want (with the judgment-free, informal energy attached to it).
You could look for a mentor or sponsor within your current company and ask if they are comfortable discussing each other’s salaries for a bigger picture of how salaries work throughout the company.
Maybe there is a promotion you want to go for or looking to move to another position and team, seek out counsel from the current managers and members on that team, and be honest that you are looking for the sort of salary to expect from that new position.
Salary Negotiations for Women and How to Handle Them
Salary negotiations are just as scary as talking to each other about how much we make.
There is a double standard where if a man is matter-of-fact, they are professional. But if a woman negotiates with that same tone, she could be seen as being difficult.
Even though that doesn’t happen in every single salary negotiation when a woman asks for a higher salary, it still happens.
We are either too scared to ask for a high number because we think it might take us out of the running, or we are scared that we are leaving money on the table if we don’t ask for a high enough number.
Salary Negociation Techniques
How do we go for the number we want without psyching ourselves out?
These are the most effective ways to negotiate the salary you want, in my experience:
- Forget your past salaries. What is the market rate for that position in your state? You can check this on Payscale and Glassdoor. Where do you think you land? Ask for more than that.
- Don’t talk ranges; talk specific numbers.
- Know the exact number you want and if they are not willing to give you that number, make sure you have a number decided beforehand that you are willing to settle on if this is a job you really want (and benefits could maybe pay for that difference).
- Try negotiating for certain benefits to see if they can budge on those (think remote working options, more PTO, etc.).
- If they aren’t offering you close to what you want, know that you can walk away and be prepared to do so.
- Do as much research as you can, use your strengths, and pitch yourself.
- Practice and rehearse as much as possible before the meeting, so you are comfortable and prepared.
- If during a review, write everything you did down for the year and be prepared to talk about it as you try to negotiate the raise you want. In raise discussions, focus on percentage when referring to the raise you want.
I recently found the Ask a Manager podcast that had some great insight on this.
Some positions have a fixed hourly rate which you won’t be able to negotiate much. These are normally retail positions (steer clear of MLMs in this space), customer service, other hourly jobs, government jobs, and union jobs.
Negotiating Your Pay as A Freelancer or In Your Side Business
As I am both an employee and a business owner, I have to negotiate my pay in several different ways.
Some of the ways I’ve been able to raise my pay as a freelancer and small business owner have been:
- Talk with experienced freelancers about how to set your rates and what to account for.
- Determine if you should charge hourly or a fixed fee per project (or if you’re a writer, you can charge per word count).
- Raise your rates as you see fit (it’s about quality).
- When a company doesn’t agree to match what you’ve pitched as your rates, you can let them know it isn’t a good fit. I’ve found much more success with turning down lower-paying projects than doing them “just for the money,” as I use to when I first started freelancing in 2012.
Side Gig Negotiations
There are many side gigs where you won’t negotiate your pay as you will depend on a fixed hourly rate plus tips.
Side gigs where you can set your own rate:
- Rover walker or sitter
- Put your freelance services on Fiverr
Side gigs where the hourly rate isn’t negotiable, but you earn tips or small bonuses:
- DoorDash driver
- Instacart driver or shopper
- VIPKID teacher
It’s Time to Get a Raise (But Choose Wisely How You Communicate That)
There are many different reasons why people share or don’t share their salaries. Don’t feel pressured to share your salary if it might make for a sour work environment. Work drama isn’t worth it, even if it is totally legal to discuss it.
Know your audience of who you are talking to before bringing up a casual salary conversation over beers. Ultimately, it depends on what your goal is with sharing your salary.
What are your motives? What benefits can they also get out of the discussion?
If you find out that you’re getting lowballed, or if someone else is, look into ways to work together on how to bring that up to the company to promote a positive change in the way the company handles transparency.
There are companies out there that promote salary transparency and try to be there for their employees as much as possible. All you can do is ask for their support, and the worst that can happen is they say no.
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