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‘How Much Do You Make?’

By not investigating our worth, we may leave $10,000, $25,000 or more on the table.

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Shannon Wright
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“How much do you make?”

You may cringe if someone asks you this question because it’s long been a taboo topic. But a sister we know really cringed when she learned that the male colleague who replaced her was offered $25,000 more than she’d made.

For years, salary secrecy has been a challenge for employees and job seekers. Websites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor have provided salary ranges for positions and companies across almost every industry, but even those contain discrepancies. Now that salary is slowly disappearing from the do-not-discuss list, Black women are talking more openly about money to break the glass ceiling for ourselves and others.

We may not know our coworkers’ salaries, but we do know Black women earn only 65 cents for every dollar a white man makes, and white women bring home 81 cents per dollar. The gap is so great, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was launched to mark how much longer a Black woman has to work into the new year to catch up to the same amount a white man made in the previous year. And ladies, we didn’t get caught up until August 22 this year.

Here are three reasons why you should consider sharing how much you make with your circle of close coworkers or girlfriends.

You address race and gender pay disparities.
Resist the urge to be tight-lipped around other women you trust or are in a position to help.

When you share your salary, you aren’t giving away a big secret. You’re helping other women fine-tune their perspectives on pay and prepare themselves to make requests for more or better compensation based on their knowledge and skills. If a counterpart shares their salary and you discover you’re being underpaid, your next step should be to schedule a meeting with management. Zina Scott-Payne, a North Carolina-based senior human resources manager, says having these conversations can be stressful, but they can also push Black women closer to the goal of closing the pay gap.

“It’s always important to push back respectfully with your boss during salary negotiations. Articulate your [positive performance track record] in your other employment roles and why they will set you up for success,” she says. “Whenever we are aggressive, it can be quickly misconstrued as being arrogant or disrespectful, but at the end of the day, we have to take care of us just like these organizations have goals to meet.”

You normalize conversations about money.
A recent Bankrate survey revealed that about 24 percent of Americans have shared their salary information with a coworker, but 32 percent of married or cohabitating adults have never shared their salaries with their partners.

“Obviously, we kill taboos by introducing the conversation,” Scott-Payne says. Although that may be difficult, start inside your personal circles to ease the uncomfortable feeling. That could include talking with a mentor or advisor. If you don’t have one, look within your company, join a peer or professional group, and cultivate solid relationships to continue your research.

And don’t forget your girlfriends. Get the conversation started by sharing the salary negotiation talks you’ve had with potential or current employers to gauge their perspectives on what’s fair pay in the marketplace. If you’re still shy about talking dollars and cents, ask them to share their nonmonetary benefits instead of cash compensation, or use anecdotes about the figures you’ve seen in your workplace or industry to get their feedback or advice. “That helps [your friends] go back and say, ‘Hey, I got this offer I don’t like, but I won’t get more unless I ask. What figure should I be looking for?’ ” Scott-Payne says.

Open discussions about pay should include direct compensation, such as salaries, bonuses or commissions, as well as indirect compensation or noncash benefits like insurance, childcare benefits or flexible hours that are part of an overall package.

Additionally, sharing your salary will dismantle the long-held misconception that status and self-worth are tied to our paychecks. “Most people don’t discuss it because they use it as a measure of their individual and personal worth. It can’t be strictly that. As long as we continue to have these attitudes, we won’t drive this conversation any further,” says Scott-Payne.

You force companies to be accountable and fair.
Salary transparency has only recently taken off, and many companies will have to play catch-up. In a recent LinkedIn survey, 51 percent of hiring managers said their companies did not share salaries with employees or potential candidates and were unlikely to start within the next five years. Only 27 percent of hiring managers said their companies do share salaries.

Review your company’s employee manuals, Scott-Payne says, because although it may be silently discouraged, there’s likely no policy that prohibits you from discussing or inquiring about pay. “I think management likes to avoid it because it creates an uncomfortable atmosphere where they have to answer more questions about who they’re awarding which levels of compensation.”

Just five years ago, as an extension of the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, President Obama signed an executive order to prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees for discussing pay with other employees or applicants. Presidential candidate Kamala Harris has also included an aggressive equal pay plan for American women in her 2020 election platform.

“If anything, open dialogue forces HR and senior leadership to be more intentional about what type of compensation they’re awarding people,” says Scott-Payne.