Why #TalkPay Raises Awareness, But Isn't Enough To Close The Wage Gap
When it comes to money talk, there usually isn't much to say.
Salaries are certainly not dinner party conversation, and talking about your savings for a house or new car is not something you usually share with anyone except a significant other (or maybe a close family member).
This makes something like #TalkPay, the Twitter hashtag started by Lauren Voswinkel as a way to raise awareness of pay inequalities, somewhat revolutionary.
Voswinkel works in the tech field and instituted a call to action on May 1, International Workers' Day, for others to share their job titles, experience levels and salaries.
In theory, it sounds like a great idea.
Let's compare wages, see what others in similar fields are being paid and, in turn, assess if we're earning what we're worth.
It's great someone is starting the conversation, as women to this day are paid considerably less than men.
This problem isn't just within the technology field, but a variety of occupations, and taking to Twitter to start the conversation could be inspiring to many. It's definitely a way to start change.
But it's just that: only the beginning. Lauren Voswinkel writes in her call to action,
Discussions of pay need to be happening, not only within individual companies to discourage pay inequality at that level, but across the discipline so incoming people, particularly minorities, have realistic expectations of what their skills can earn.
She's absolutely right, these discussions do need to take place more often, increasing wage gap awareness and helping to make the conversation about pay inequity more commonplace and comfortable.
It can't be a taboo and uncomfortable topic.
But there's a little more to it than just talking about money. This hashtag is important in and of itself, but also points to how much more needs to happen beyond conversation.
One problem is that simply comparing wages on Twitter doesn't show the whole picture. Twitter users work in a variety of career fields, in different locations, with a different number of years in their specific industry.
By looking at numbers accompanied only by job title and a brief outline of experience, the salary picture is inevitably oversimplified.
Individuals posting their incomes cannot, by mere virtue of the number of characters allowed on Twitter, portray the extent of their experience, education or negotiation skills, all of which may have increased their salaries.
Twitter salary postings also don't take into account the cost-of-living adjustments made by some employers to accommodate employees in specific locations.
The discussion of numbers is a valuable one, but it could also prove misleading.
It may also be a bit of a risk. While employers cannot legally fire an employee for sharing his or her salary, as Voswinkel points out, she also acknowledges that companies may find a way around the National Labor Relations Act.
Is sharing your salary for a cause really worth losing your pay entirely? That's up to you, but know that it could happen.
We've created a system in which women are afraid to speak up.
Within this discussion of salary, we have to wonder: To what extent is the salary gap a result of a lack of conversation, and to what extent is it a result of bigger issues among women who, frankly, are less comfortable than men when it comes to negotiating salaries?
There's a palpable lack of confidence among women; according to Salary.com, 46 percent of men always negotiate salary following a job offer, but only 30 percent of women do so.
Additionally, while 39 percent of men are apprehensive about negotiations, a whopping 55 percent of women say they are. This stems from issues beyond money talk.
MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, in an interview with Marie Clare, pointed out,
Women have it in their heads that people won't like them, that they'll be completely put aside... we feel the opposite of what men feel.
This happens because women have the correct intuition. If they negotiate salary, people won't like them.
According to Lisa Babcock, a Professor of Economics at Carnegie Mellon University and author of "Women Don't Ask," there are an array of "personal and societal issues" keeping women from negotiating.
Sometimes, women are punished for asking for more money, a phenomenon called "gender blowback."
According to The Harvard Business Review, studies prove that women who are nervous about negotiating do not lack confidence or self-esteem.
They are simply accurately assessing a problematic situation created by their perceived boldness:
In repeated studies, the social cost of negotiating for higher pay has been found to be greater for women than it is for men. Men can certainly overplay their hand and alienate negotiating counterparts. However, in most published studies, the social cost of negotiating for pay is not significant for men, while it is significant for women.
Women are expected to present themselves as demure, appeasing and generous. According to Babcock,
Women who negotiate flout these mandates.
She found that this happened regardless of the way women went about negotiating, whether they took a simpler or more assertive tone. The mere negotiation process was what elicited backlash.
Babcock explains that when women negotiate,
Men and women are less likely to want to work with them.
Yes, you read that right, men and women. "Women who negotiated faced a penalty 5.5 times that faced by men," regardless of the individual they were negotiating with.
Who's really to blame?
Of course, lack of wage-related conversation and social conditioning are still just part of the puzzle. It's also possible to place accountability on the companies doing the hiring.
In 2014, a series of Silicon Valley tech companies famously suppressed or fixed salaries in order to minimize employee-poaching within the industry and to maximize profits.
It's difficult to hold these companies accountable for paying some individuals too little. They are, in some ways, "too rich to be punished."
Other companies, like Twitter, Facebook and Google, are dominated by white males, making it hard for women to even break in, and making negotiating a higher salary seem even more implausible.
Google, Twitter and Facebook have been documented as 30 percent female, a problem stretching beyond the wage gap issue and into hiring practices as a whole.
If a company is reluctant to hire women in the first place, could it be expected to respond positively to women's requests for higher pay?
The wage gap puzzle is a complex one. It's an ongoing discussion that the #talkpay campaign contributes to, along with conversation initiated by presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, efforts by small businesses to compensate for the gap and videos by comedians.
Now that people are talking about wage inequality, the ball needs to keep rolling. Unfortunately, the problem is much bigger than a lack of conversation.
Societal norms and perceptions need to be changed, more businesses need to improve hiring practices, and individuals need to educate themselves through thorough research about accurate salary expectations.
In other words, it's a long road ahead. But at least we're starting the journey, one hashtag at a time.
Citations: Lets Talk About Pay (Model View Culture), Pay Equity and Discrimination (Institute for Womens Policy Research), talkpay can Americas wage inequality be solved by sharing our salaries online (The Guardian), Hillary Clinton says US ranks only in world for gender pay equity (Tampa Bay Times), Why Women Dont Negotiate (Salary), Mika Brzezinskis Foolproof Tips For Getting A Raise Even If Youre A Pushover (Marie Clare), Why Women Dont Negotiate and What We Can Do About It (Forbes), New wage theft lawsuit filed against Hollywood giants as Techtopus scandal grows (Pando), If the Techtopus wage theft suit proves anything its that the philosophy that built the Vally is no more (Pando), Twitter diversity report As male and white as Facebook (Cnet), National Labor Relations Act (National Labor Relations Board), Social incentives for gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations Sometimes it does hurt to ask (Science Direct), Women Dont Negotiate Because Theyre Not Idiots (The Huffington Post), Amazon Prime For Women Parody Has The Perfect Solution To Wage Inequality (The Huffington Post), Pop Up Shop Will Charge Women Less to Reflect States Wage Gap (The Huffington Post)