Why Salary Transparency Won't Solve The Wage Gap

by Jaime Lutz

I'm not the kind of person that thinks talking about money is rude, OK? Seriously, ask me my salary, my rent, my electricity bill — it's just money, and talking about it is necessary, especially to address fundamental inequalities. So of course I agree with this New York Times opinion piece by Conde Nast Portfolio editor Joanne Lipman, which suggests that companies disclose employees' salaries in order to address gender (and racial) wage gaps. I think it would help. Unfortunately, I don't think it would change as much as we'd hope.

Here's Lipman on how effective the plan has been in other companies:

PricewaterhouseCoopers’s analysis showed that most of its 15.1 percent pay disparity (compared with a Britain-wide gap of more than 19 percent) reflected a lack of women in senior jobs. So the firm focused on whether it was promoting fairly. In 2013, the grade just below partner was 30 percent female, yet only 16 percent of those promoted to partner were women. A year later, the percentage of women promoted to partner had more than doubled.

The firm’s executives were also stunned to find a bonus pattern that favored men. The analysis showed that men who were passed over for partnership were routinely offered retention bonuses to keep them from quitting. Women weren’t. Ms. Churchman believes that’s because men often threatened to leave, while women typically decided to work harder and try again next year.

According to Lipman, it was publishing this data — which, of course, had been available privately for executives who control the pay for years — that actually caused the company to take action. That is promising, but all PricewaterhouseCooper's efforts don't actually address the source of the problem to begin with: sexism in corporate culture.

I've been in many corporate situations where I've realized that I've been treated differently than my male coworkers — or, as a white person, that I've gotten more favorable treatment than a woman of color — and occasionally I've brought the issue up with my bosses. Unfortunately, though, I've never seen that actually change anything. More than anything, I've seen corporations get offended at my requests for change — as if because I'm a woman asking for change, I'm implying that they're sexist, bad people. Any professional suggestion automatically becomes a personal attack in their minds. See also: the offense many white people take to being called out on a racist remark or behavior. To put it in the most liberal artsy way imaginable, when people bring up systemic oppression, it's often the oppressors that get angry.

The problem remains a double standard. Women, minorities, and other disadvantaged people are told the pay gap exists because they don't ask for enough money; however, when they do ask for more money, they're shot down on the grounds of "rudeness." They are told they need to speak up more at work and be more assertive, but for all their efforts, all they get is a reputation as the office bitch.

Frankly, there needs to be more corporate training in how to deal with assertive women. For some reason, men don't seem to worry about speaking up at work. Women do. Without addressing that, I can imagine a world where the wage gap in your office is laid out, plain for everyone to see, and all the women employees see it and simply nod silently to themselves, looking, for all the world, like they're content with this bullshit.

Images: Giphy (2)