Make It

Here’s why every employee should know every other employee’s salary

Equal Pay
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How much do you make?

In a culture that has become rife with oversharers — often in real time, over social media, and accompanied by a selfie — that's one question that's still taboo in polite company. But it shouldn't be — especially if we're ever going to tackle the stubborn gender wage gap that currently has women earning on average about 82 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an abysmal rate that drops even lower for black and Hispanic women.

There's certainly an argument that can be made for not divulging your salary in a status update on Facebook, but it doesn't make sense for companies who are doing right by workers to be so secretive about employee compensation. If the thought of divulging salary details internally makes upper management uncomfortable, then it's likely a sign that some changes should be made.

April 4 is Equal Pay Day, an annual occasion of collective hand wringing dating back to 1996. It's well intentioned, but all this talk isn't solving the problem.

In fact, last month the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that at the rate we're going, the gap won't close until the 23rd century.

In discussing the wage gap, we often hear a lot of rationalizing about why sexism isn't to blame, and how factors like women taking time off to have children, or working part time, are the real cause.

"If you see the guy down the hall from you with the same title making $10,000 more, you can talk to management about it, and negotiate knowing exactly what your job is worth to them, or what it will take to get there."

Studies do show that women, as well as minorities, often don't ask for more money, instead waiting until they feel that they are worth it to ask for more. Men, bless their hearts, typically don't suffer from those self-esteem issues, and end up taking home more money.

It's tough because many employers can then justify to themselves that it's ok to underpay employees who low-balled themselves or who lack negotiation skills.

Ensuring women are paid fairly is a core issue for me.

I am currently running a venture-capital fund with an aim of supporting women-owned tech companies, which are historically underfunded compared to male-led companies. My fund is called 1843 Capital, named after the year Ida Byron Lovelace, a 19th century female mathematician, created what's believed to be the very first computer code.

I have two employees right now, and they know how much I make, as well as the salaries of their co-worker. When the fund gets bigger — ideally I'd employ another five people — everyone will know one another's salaries.

Do I expect some awkward conversations? Yes, probably. But to me it's worth it because an open salary policy will also fuel productive conversations that will help my workers know exactly what is expected of them.

Will it be harder for larger companies to enact similar policies? I don't doubt it. But it is certainly not impossible, and likely very worth the effort.

Whole Foods is a good example. That company has been revealing employee salaries internally since the 1980s. CEO John Mackey said the disclosures are a key part of its company-wide communal ethos.

"If you're trying to create a high-trust organization, an organization where people are all-for-one and one-for-all, you can't have secrets," Mackey said in the book, "The Decoded Company: Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers."

Mackey has found some salary envy among employees, but as a manager confident in his choices, he has no problem explaining the discrepancies.

"I have to say, 'because that person is more valuable. If you accomplish what this person has accomplished, I'll pay you that, too,'" he said in the book.

Nobody wants to be told that others are doing better, but finding that out can help you improve.

If an employer genuinely believes that in the 10 years you took off to raise kids, your computer skills lagged, or your contacts are out of date, you can address those concerns.

Your employer can and should invest in you so you can learn the skills, or give you the time to network.

That's only fair.

If your boss can't justify the wage gap, then you deserve a raise. It's that simple.

Women don't need special treatment and higher wages because they're women and have been historically oppressed. What they need is a level playing field, where everyone knows the score and is being judged by the same set of rules — and that's exactly what an open pay policy can bring.

Tracy Chadwell has worked in finance for 15 years and is the founder of 1843 Capital, a venture-capital firm that seeks to fund women-owned tech companies. She was partner of a growth-capital fund, Baker Capital, which had more than $1 billion under management. As a frequent speaker and start-up competition judge, Tracy has developed a broad network in the female founder community. She speaks conversational Japanese and restaurant French. Follow her on Twitter @TChadwell.

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