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Salary Publicy

January 31st, 2015
money, publicy  [html]
After some discussion on a recent Atantic article about letting coworkers know how much you make, someone at work started a spreadsheet where people could post their salaries. This was reasonably popular, and now people have a much better sense of how much it's typical for people at their level to earn. [1] Is this a good thing?

Pay secrecy probably helps enable discrimination. This is pretty widely believed; in Obama's April 8th Remarks on Equal Pay for Equal Work he said "Pay secrecy fosters discrimination and we should not tolerate it—not in federal contracting or anywhere else." This makes a lot of sense to me: a reason that women are often paid less than men is that they're less likely to negotiate a job offer and ask for more money. This isn't just women failing to ask for effectively free money: the consequences of negotiation seem to be worse for women, where women who negotiate are seen as pushy or greedy in a way men acting similarly aren't. Disclosing compensation makes it much clearer what's going on and makes it easier for employees to push back against unfair situations.

In 2008, when I got my first job out of college, I started posting my pay. At the time my main motivation was less about secrecy allowing people to hide unfair dealing and more a general strategy of avoiding keeping things secret where possible. I don't think people should broadcast compensation information, since that pushes it on people who may not want to read it, but one of the nice things about the internet is it makes it really easy to make something available in case someone happens to be looking for it.

As you can see, I'm pretty firmly on the "make things public" end of the thinking here, but one thought keeps pushing me in the other direction. If you look at the places that are most transparent about pay, they tend to pay people primarily by seniority: police, fire, etc. That worries me, because I think basing pay on performance works out better for both the company and the employees. On the other hand, maybe it's just being in the public sector and having unions that leads to both seniority-based pay and pay transparency, and pay transparency alone wouldn't push organizations in this direction. I wonder how it's been working for Fog Creek?

(As someone earning to give I'm a bit more interested in compensation details than most, though of course nearly everyone would like to earn more.)


[1] Wasn't this information already available through GlassDoor? The data there doesn't include what job level or ladder someone is on, which makes it much less helpful. For example, say I'm curious whether employees in CA make more than in MA. If the employees in CA are generally more senior, or include lots of people doing jobs very different from mine, a straight comparison wouldn't be very helpful.

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