Were you raised to believe that it isn’t polite to discuss money – more specifically, how much you paid for something, or how much you earned at work? I sure was.
Imagine: you go to your friend’s housewarming party, and as you cross the threshold and hand over the bottle of wine you got her, you say, “Hey, Barbara, nice digs! You must’ve paid a fortune for this! Seriously, how much was it?”
Unlikely. At least, not if you ever want to be invited to Barbara’s again.
But then along came Zillow in 2006, and suddenly this entire social convention – at least for houses – is passé. Want to know how much your own house is worth? Look it up on Zillow. Want to price houses in the new city you’re thinking of moving to? Zillow makes it easy. And want to be a little sneaky, a little creepy, and see how much Barbara paid for her beautiful new home without that awkward conversation? Zillow again (you creep).
If there’s one thing the Digital Age has proven itself good for, it’s delivering on the eons-old human desire for transparency. Good or bad, the truth keeps finding its way out into the open; secrets no longer stay secret for very long.
The year after launching Zillow, one of its co-founders, Rich Barton, collaborated on another site for unearthing secrets and setting the truth free: Glassdoor. Its promise is to shed light on what it’s really like to work at any given company, including what the pay is like there by position.
Unlike Zillow, Glassdoor falls a little short of its own founding vision. It has been criticized (including by me in my latest book) as being easily manipulated by a company’s PR staff or recruiters.
Still, the promise is there – if not for Glassdoor, then certainly for other ways for all of us to access the same underlying information: What is it really like to work at this or that company? How good is the leadership, truly? And most notably for this post, how much is everybody making?
I’m convinced that the world of the very near future will involve universal pay transparency. Whether we like it or not, people will soon know how much we make.
Cue professor David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity, on why that’s going to be a very good thing for all concerned. In his recent TEDx Talk at the University of Nevada, David asks, “Why Do We Keep Our Salaries Secret?“
“The talk questions our cultural assumptions around keeping pay secret and reveals that sharing salary information may be better for employees, organizations, and society. While sharing salaries might raise privacy concerns, some leaders have found that keeping them secret might be hurting employees, causing dissatisfaction and hiding discrimination…it may even be the reason the gender wage gap is so hard to close.” (Italics added. See the illustration at the top of this post. Notice anything… off… about the wages on the women compared to the men? This pay discrepancy is a blight on society we need to fight harder to eliminate.)
If you’re half as obsessed about the future of work as I am, you can’t afford to miss this 7-minute TED talk!
And if you’re a podcast fiend, as I am (long commute anyone? Treadmill?), you’ll also enjoy NPR’s Planet Money episode, When Salaries Aren’t Secret.
I think universal pay transparency is coming, and I think that’s good for all (honest) parties concerned. Heck, companies like Buffer are already doing it.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!