Tell Your Co-Workers How Much You Earn

Last Updated Jul 5, 2011 9:46 AM EDT

According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, the pay gap between men and women is about 23 percent. But in the public sector, the pay gap between men and women is only 11 percent. In a new paper, the Institute takes a look at both public and private sector jobs and comes up with an intriguing suggestion about how to eliminate much of the pay gap in the private sector: make salary information publicly available.

This may sound crazy, for the obvious reason that while even the most genteel among us may deign to talk about religion, sex, or politics, money remains the third rail. Indeed, the Institute found that in many workplaces, employees are contractually forbidden to discuss compensation with each other. When they queried workers in the private sector, here's what they found:
  • About six in ten workers are strongly discouraged from discussing their compensation. Some 23.1 percent said discussion of pay was prohibited, and 38.1 percent said discussion of pay was discouraged but not explicitly prohibited.
  • About 16 percent said pay could be discussed.
  • Compensation information is publicly available in a few workplaces. About 16 percent of workers said that described their workplace.
But in the public sector, the figures are much different, and so is the pay gap.
  • In the public sector, salary information is widely available. Almost two-thirds of public sector workers say that pay information about their workplace is publicly available.
  • Discussion of pay is prohibited or discouraged in only about 14 percent of public sector jobs.
Would you want people to know your salary?
Of course, this doesn't prove that merely making salary information available will close the pay gap. But Mika Brzezinski's widely-publicized experience as the co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe comes to mind.

In her book, Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You're Worth, Brzezinski writes about the moment she realized that she was being paid one-fourteenth the salary of her co-host, Joe Scarborough. Brzezinski had negotiated a bad deal for herself, and had done it mostly out of ignorance. Which is where the Institute's new research comes in. If Brzezinski had known what everyone else at the anchor table was making when she first signed on, would it have taken her five attempts to satisfactorily renegotiate her salary?

Would you be comfortable working somewhere where everyone knew how much you made? Would it make for a fairer workplace? Or just a lot of tension?

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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor, and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.

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