Asking about pay shouldn’t have to be an undercover operation

Talking openly about salaries is a subject that has been top of mind for me for most of my working life. I guess I’m just one of those people that when asked a question, answers honestly. I’ve never hesitated to tell someone what my salary is. That’s a rarity I know.

When I accepted my first full-time job as a reporter, I was so thrilled to be offered the job that I didn’t even think about asking for more money.

The funny thing is that when you’re in your 20s, talking about salaries isn’t as gauche as it is when you get older and move up the chain. It didn’t take too long on that first big job for me to discover, sadly, that my male colleagues were pulling in higher pay. It shocked me. Talk about naïveté.

I wasn’t about to make the mistake again. When it was time to move on from that employer, I had a plan. I subtly reached out to my male confreres at the publication where I was interviewing to get a sense of what they were making. Initially, I didn’t tell them I was a candidate for a position, only that I was curious about how reporters and writers were paid there.

Nervous young Asian job applicant wait for recFor the most part, talking about salary is off-limits. That’s partly a cultural thing, especially with women, who are often raised to believe that talking about money is somehow crass or impolite. ruiters question during interview in office, worried intern or trainee feel stressed applying for open position, meeting with hr managers. Hiring concept
(Photo: Getty Creative) (fizkes via Getty Images)

Remarkably, they told me what they were making. From then on, the only way I was able to significantly raise my salary up was to change jobs. I did it every five years, and each time, I schmoozed a male colleague to get him to cough up a salary figure. And then I negotiated hard to get that same offer. It worked for me. Who knows if that would fly today?


For the most part, talking about salary is off-limits. That’s partly a cultural thing, especially with women, who are often raised to believe that talking about money is somehow crass or impolite. And sometimes, it’s simply that companies have a policy that creates a cone of silence about employees sharing salary information.

Do you think you’re paid fairly? Lots of people don’t

Only 1 in 4 workers say their employer is transparent about salaries, according to report from The December 2021 pulse survey of 561 workers, ranging from executives to individual contributors, found that due to a lack of pay transparency, nearly half don’t think they’re paid fairly compared with people in the same role at other companies. Roughly 1 in 3 don’t even think they’re paid fairly compared to their co-workers.

Talk about a festering resentment that can put the kibosh on motivation.

Close-up Of A Businessperson's Hand Opening Envelope With Paycheck Over Wooden Desk

Not surprisingly, nearly half of the employees surveyed said they did not feel comfortable discussing their salary and only one-quarter have shared salary information with both friends and colleagues.

But change is afoot. As of December 2021, seven states have enacted laws requiring employers to disclose salary ranges to job applicants., while Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have similar pending legislation. In May, New York City employers with at least four employees must post a minimum and maximum salary for jobs they’re trying to fill in the city. (add link to transparency here).

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Knowing what a really job pays is a big boost when negotiating for a new position

It’s a start. Knowing what a job is likely to pay can help with negotiation and, in theory, narrow the gap between what men and women and people of color are paid for the same job.

Just ask one of my go-to workplace experts, who has focused her recent work on women’s empowerment, Fran Hauser, a startup investor and author of a new book “Embrace the Work, Love Your Career’ and “The Myth Of The Nice Girl” for her takeaway on this issue.

“Pay transparency can play an important role in closing the gender equity pay gap,” she told me. “There are proven differences in the way men and women negotiate or, rather, in whether we do it at all.”

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Kerry is a Senior Columnist and Senior Reporter at Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon

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