A few years ago, Hollywood produced a movie that I didn’t see and still haven’t seen, entitled The Fault in Our Stars. I assume this movie’s title riffs on a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. And it is that quote to which I refer as a segue to talking about salary transparency.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
I read Julius Caesar in high school, but if I dust off my literary dilettante credentials, I kind of remember what this meant. Cassius, the speaker, was telling Brutus, his eventual co-conspirator that fate/the divine wasn’t installing Caesar as a monarch. Instead, they were, by acting as underlings. Cassius was saying, “God isn’t doing this — we are, with our inaction.”
And, naturally, this relates to the idea of salary transparency.
Salary Transparency as a Radical Workplace Idea
If you’ve never heard of salary transparency, that’s understandable, particularly if you live in the US. Ever gone out to dinner with friends and asked to compare salaries when arguing over the check? No, of course not. Telling other people what you earn is considered gauche.
If this is true in social situations, it’s doubly true in the workplace. You don’t wander over to Doris’s cube plop yourself down and say, “so, whaddya make per year?” This is really gauche, and you could get in trouble. As I describe at length in my book, Developer Hegemony, pyramid-shaped companies have a natural and rational incentive to hide this information. In fact, so strong is this policy that they’ll create company policy of questionable legality.
The reasoning here is simple enough. When negotiating, the less information your opponent has, the better. If, at salary negotiation time, you know that everyone else in your role earns at least $90K per year, you’re going to hold pretty firm at $90K. If you have no idea, you might lose your nerve and accept a job for $80K instead.
Now, you might object to me categorizing your employer as your opponent. But you shouldn’t. Salary negotiation is, ipso facto, a zero sum game.
But what if your employer didn’t hide this information? What if your employer made all salary information publicly available the way sports teams and non-profits do?