I know this is a controversial topic. But I’ve seen it discussed a lot on Twitter recently and I think it’s more a nuanced conversation than 140 characters (or a Tweetstorm) allows.
A few years ago I had an office job where I was lucky to become good friends with the two other girls I worked with on a daily basis. We all had the same job title and got to talking about how much we made. I and one of the other girls made the same amount and the other made a bit less than us. But the two of us that made more had worked at the company one year longer and had a higher level of education. So it made sense. And the next year the one who made less was bumped up to our pay grade from the year before.
But here’s the thing – what if I had talked to my friend who had the same level of experience and education as I did but one of us was being paid less? That’s not okay. We were doing the same job and had the same qualifications, we should be treated as equals and that includes financially. Then what if there was a man on our team and he made more than us? That’s really not okay. But that is the reality at workplaces all across the world.
This open and honest conversation meant we were able to know what we were worth and how we were being treated. But there is a stigma around this conversation. I’m sure many of you reading this now have a lot of thoughts you are rushing to put in the comments. BUT WAIT.
Not talking about how much you make does not benefit you. You might be embarrassed to ask, but that you shouldn’t be. Be brave and ask. Not asking benefits employers and company executives, they don’t have to pay you as much if you don’t know how much they’re underpaying you.
Of course I’m not giving you a free pass to go up to anyone and ask them how much they make, that’s not appropriate either. So let’s talk about it…
How to ask
I’ll start off by saying I’m a fairly blunt person who will ask lots of questions others wouldn’t dare but I do still have tact. I know there are situations when you should and shouldn’t ask these questions. There’s a way to go about it. I know because I’ve asked lots of people before.
First of all you need to be prepared that they are allowed to not tell you and lots of people won’t. People will be shocked that you’d even ask. So when you ask be prepared for rejection.
Start out by saying why you want to ask, why you think the information is relevant. Then ask, but don’t qualify it yet. Leave it open ended.
Then if they say they’d rather not answer tell them that’s totally okay and you understand. But then you might want to re-iterate your position, state that you aren’t asking to be rude or to be nosy or for gossip. You are asking for a very specific reason that stands to benefit both of you.
Then close it out by saying that it’s okay, you understand why they won’t tell you but if they ever change their mind you will keep it confidential. Then move on.
When not to ask
I interview a lot of people for work. I work in business/entertainment journalism and ask about financials ALL of the time. But I NEVER ask about pay unless it is relevant to the interview. So don’t ask a celebrity or YouTuber or anyone in that field what they make… it’s usually not relevant.
Don’t ask your friends who do not work in your field. It is not most likely irrelevant to your life and everything you’re doing – at that point unless they offer up the information it’s just gossip.
The same goes for more casual friends.
Now family… depends how close you are. But you might want to stay away from bringing this up to your uncle at Thanksgiving. Remember if anyone puts you in that position, you are also allowed to say no when you feel it’s not relevant.
Even if you, like me, think this is an important conversation to be had that doesn’t mean you need to talk about it with everyone who asks. I certainly don’t. Like I’ve stated above, there are right and wrong times to ask the question and that goes for you as well.
When to ask
There are a couple of instances when it is important for you to talk to people about how much they make. But keep in mind all of the above information.
The most important people to talk about this with is people you work with. Especially those in your department who do similar work to you. If you have a colleague who works one step above or below you this information is incredibly relevant to both of your careers. It lets you know two things – 1. Are you both being compensated fairly? 2. Is a raise possible for either of you?
If the person one step above you is making within $5,000 and you want to ask for a raise it becomes much less likely. But if they’re making $20,000 more than you, well you’ve got a lot of wiggle room to work within. Of course this is not the only grounds on which to ask for a raise. You need to earn it and prove you’ve earned it but that’s another conversation.
It’s also a broader conversation to have with people in your office. I’ve often found men much more willing to have the discussion than women. Men will proudly tell you, whereas women will hide it, I think partially out of shame.
I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on this topic so please share them in the comments.
I often write these more serious discussion posts and never end up posting them. So if this is something you’re interested in reading more please let me know. I’d love a little push to post some of the ones I’ve been saving up for so long.
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