I recently came across an Instagram that said, “There are more CEOs in the world called James than there are female CEOs in the world”. Below the quote followed a post about pay inequality.
I know what you read on Instagram needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, however, we do need to talk about the intention of this post – opening up discussions about pay inequality (as of last week, Irish women are effectively working for free for the rest of the year) and pay in general.
When I first started working, my aunts and uncles had no qualms about asking me how much I was being paid. At the time I couldn’t believe they had the gall to ask that question. However, as time has gone by, I get it.
Some of it was out of pure nosiness but another part was to ensure I wasn’t being taken advantage of. When they heard the figure, they would either applaud it or baulk at it. This was because they knew my worth and the value the company was getting. If they felt I was not being paid what I was worth they would tell me not to stand for it – I deserved more. Perhaps we shouldn’t necessarily do it the way they did it but we do need to talk about pay. The main thing is, they were opening up the conversation.
I am strongly of the opinion that we need to open up about what we are getting. Many companies tell you not to discuss your pay with others. It is often said that the reason behind it is confidentiality. However, when it comes to salaries, confidentiality is not beneficial if it means pay inequity in the workplace. The secrecy is helping the employer but not necessarily the employee. Have you ever thought about it this way?
At the beginning of my professional career, my co-workers and I were very open with how much we earned. It ensured that we weren’t being exploited and it made walking into salary negotiations easier as you had knowledge, hard facts, to support you. We didn’t use this information against each other but to build each other up.
It was far easier in years gone by to know what a job was worth. When jobs were advertised, not only was there a job description but alongside it was the job remuneration. Over the past few years, many jobs have phased out advertising what their pay expectations are. Instead they are now asking candidates to name their price.
This new strategy has created a race to the bottom.
In an eagerness to get the job, many candidates are underquoting and not asking for what they believe they deserve (and the job should pay). Women in particular will go in lower because they feel lucky enough to be given the opportunity in the first place. The only one who wins in this circumstance is the organisation. They are the ones who end up with talented, hard working employees for a bargain and as a result they see an increase in their profit margin.
It must be recognised that the reason many people don’t talk about pay is because of the fear associated with doing so. There is a real fear that if they talk or ask for a pay rise, they will lose their jobs (or not get one in the first place). Many of the people who do speak out are the ones who, more often than not, do not have anything to lose or are willing to walk away from their job.
So what can we do?
If you are in this position, the one that has nothing to lose; the one that is happy with what they are being paid; use your voice for those around you. Just because you are not affected it doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t. Speak up if you see the inequality. Be a shoulder for people to lean on. Be a mentor. Be a listener. Share your pay story. Do not take part in the practice of hiring people and paying them next to nothing because they will accept it. Do something. It is up to all of us to break the cycle.
If you are the one who, on the other hand, is getting caught up in the previously mentioned race to the bottom, make the decision not to participate. Being in the race may help you in the short term but you are not doing yourself, or those that come after you, any long term favours.
Put a price on yourself.
If people aren’t willing to pay, it is time to say no. I know this is easier said than done and sometimes personal circumstances do not allow for this. However, your time, expertise and talent must be remunerated. Many people give out about Millennials refusing to work for nothing or about the fact they are asking for a decent wage. I say well done Millennials!. Well done for valuing yourselves and for working together to say this is no longer acceptable.
If you are leaving a job, go out of your way to tell the incumbent what you were being paid. What they do with that information is up to them but at least you have tried to break the cycle.
Speak to your colleagues. If they are unwilling to share their salary with you, look for people in other companies, working in similar positions and try and have the conversations with them.
Conversations with your boss are also vital. They may not want to have them but be persistent. I am not saying walk out if you don’t get what you want. What I am suggesting is, as tough as it might be, the ‘uncomfortable’ conversations have to be had. You’ won’t regret it in the long run.
We need to stop thinking about pay from a ‘me’ perspective. We are all in this together. If your co-worker is getting what they actually deserve, the likelihood is that you will too! So let’s start talking about pay more. The secrecy is not helping anyone (except the employer). You don’t need to shout it from the rooftops but do share the secret with someone.