The New York Times: Breaking the Salary Sharing Taboo

The New York Times, February 19, 2020: Breaking the Salary Sharing Taboo

Open discussions of pay lay bare some of the basic contradictions that govern so many workplaces, which claim to embrace their workers like family while insisting, all the while, on professionalism and discretion. They are communities whose members care about one another and yet also know that their respective right to belong is based on their utility, perceived or actual. To ask a co-worker her salary — especially one who has worked at an institution for years — opens up deeper, unsettling questions. How valued are you in this community? Are you more valued than I am or beyond what I perceive as your worth? Or have you undervalued yourself, been timid, clueless, exploited?

It’s not necessarily clear, then, from the employer’s perspective, that the net effect of pay transparency is a happier, more productive work force. For workers, the effect may depend on where you are on the pay scale. But some careful calibration of transparency could be optimal for all parties. Many surveyed workers favor the publication of pay bands, but without the revelation of individual salaries. And yet one often seems to follow the other, if only because publishing pay bands seems to foster a culture of transparency that might lower the psychological hurdle for individual employees to discuss pay in greater detail.

[Zoë B.] Cullen was quick to clarify, however, that even if, over all, wages do not rise with pay transparency, they do rise for those who are on the lowest rung of the pay scale — which is, in most work forces, women and people of color. Wages decrease for top earners over time, but the lowest paid experience a boost. Whatever pay transparency does for morale and wage growth, it does, in fact, help close the pay gap.

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