Ben Simmons: Are you brave enough to publish your salary?

CommonSpace columnist Ben Simmons says there are things men can do to play their role in closing the gender pay gap

#GENDERPAYGAP is trending today on Twitter so let’s talk salaries. Why is it so awkward to tell people what we earn? 

As a straight white male I can be reasonably certain that if there is inequality in the workplace it is in my favour, so I guess that for me there is always a fear that equality will mean that I take a pay cut. It creates an awkward mental hypocrisy where I either need to decide that I care less about equality than I like to think, or take the leap and be transparent about my salary and accept the consequences.

Alternatively, I may find out that I am paid less and it is because my colleagues are thought of more highly than me, and if I can’t leave and find better paid work, then that’s going to crush my morale. Maybe I am willing to risk being paid less just to avoid the risk of being embarrassed.

As a straight white male I can be reasonably certain that if there is inequality in the workplace it is in my favour, so I guess that for me there is always a fear that equality will mean that I take a pay cut.

A few events I have been to recently have overlapped with the Green Party, which is heavily focused on gender equality, but a few times when people are speaking about it I get frustrated because I feel like I’m just getting a bollocking. This is sometimes appropriate if you’re trying to convert people, but when you’re talking to a room of supporters, I come out of there irritated. Give guys something to do, don’t just tell us we are part of the problem.

So what can we do if we are looking down through the glass ceiling? I think the simplest thing is to publish our salaries - tell your colleagues what you earn and encourage them to do the same. Some companies already publish salaries, so I would encourage us to ask our employers why this isn’t their policy. 

In fact, I have previously argued that compulsory publication of salaries should be a prerequisite for any organisation taking on a public sector contract, a policy that would definitely set the cat among the multinational pigeons.

Would salary transparency mean pay equality? Well, yes and no. Unless you’re waged, or are fortunate to work for a value-driven organisation, you can be reasonably sure that your colleagues in the same role are on different salaries. The fact of the matter is that some people cost more to hire than others. Maybe you have had to hire them away from a competitor where they were on a higher salary already.

Perhaps someone has more experience and is more likely to be offered lucrative work elsewhere, and so therefore needs to be paid more to retain them. Perhaps your colleagues are less embarrassed to ask for a pay rise and have worked there longer, giving them more opportunities for a year-on-year rise.

It creates an awkward mental hypocrisy where I either need to decide that I care less about equality than I like to think, or take the leap and be transparent about my salary and accept the consequences.

These are not necessarily unfair, and you can argue that meritocracy should reward loyalty as well as your day-to-day activity.

The point is that salary discrepancy should be defensible. If you are paid less than a colleague you should be able to be given a good reason why. 

Of course these conversations are going to be awkward, but that is no reason to avoid them. In effect, avoiding these conversations is equivalent to paying an annual fee, potentially in the thousands, just to keep the peace. 

It’s not your responsibility to make excuses for your employer’s choices, the awkwardness, and the expense, belongs on the other side of the table.

The sad fact of the matter is that the higher up you go in an organisation, the more men outnumber women. As senior roles mean more money this inevitably results in a net pay gap between men and women. 

The reasons behind this are complex, unfair, and the target of many excellent initiatives designed to increase female representation. But for those of us not able to devote time to the broader campaign, talking about our salaries is the best first step.

Picture courtesy of Connor Einarsen

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