“If I tell you my salary and find out that I make more than you, I’ll feel bad and will need to apologize and make excuses to make my colleague feel better. If I find out that she’s making more money than me, I’m going to be upset. The only scenario that would not make me feel bad is if we both make the same amount.” – Fairy Godboss
Does this sound familiar? If you said yes, you are not alone. Most professionals feel very uncomfortable with openly discussing their salaries with coworkers, superiors, or even friends and family. But why?
According to Elle Magazine, people are afraid they will be resented for making more than their coworkers at the same seniority level. Known as wealth guilt, it stems from the idea that a person’s worth is determined by their personal income and power. In a capitalist society, we value money because it determines social class including the quality of goods one should acquire. Why else would the wedding industry push the idea that people should pay a month’s salary for an engagement ring? The size of the diamond represents that couple’s wealth. But what if you asked that couple how much they paid for the ring? I bet most would be shy and hesitate, citing discomfort with the question.
The problem this presents is that people do not know their self-worth market value. Let’s look at an example. Say Worker A makes $65,000 annually and Worker B makes $70,000 annually, but they both have worked at the company for five years and have the same position. If Worker A never asks Worker B what they make for salary, Worker A may never realize that there is a difference. If Worker A decides to ask Worker B their salary and find out they’re making $5,000 more than them, questions arise. The next logical step would be for Worker A to ask their supervisor the reason for the difference. While there may be a logical and equitable reason for the difference, starting the conversation ensures company transparency. It prevents the employer from discriminating against race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or other ways. And that is the main point, fair pay.
I discussed wealth inequality last week and discussing salary openly among the company can mitigate against pay discrimination. According to a 2017 survey conducted by The Cashlorette, Millennials are four times more likely to share their salary with peers than older generations. I speculate this may be true because pre-Internet days it was much easier to keep things private. However, that mindset has been passed down through generations without most people asking why.
Companies might not encourage salary discussion amongst their employees but remember that it’s not illegal to disclose amongst each other. The latter keeps the company accountable for ensuring they are compensating an employee based on their competitive market value. So, do not be nervous or shy about it. Fair and equitable pay is not greedy and if people get jealous, that is their concern. You deserve to know what you are worth in the market and ensure you are not being discriminated against.