Happy International Workers' Day, now tell Twitter what you get paid. A programmer named Lauren Voswinkel first proposed the idea of publicly tweeting your job title, experience level, and salary under the hashtag #talkpay earlier this week. And the topic just started trending in San Francisco.
Public debate about pay inequality has only recently begun to progress beyond telling women to "lean in." That phrase, popularized by Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, suggests that if women assert themselves without seeming threatening, they can make as much as their male counterparts. But a couple weeks ago, The New Republic wrote about how the pay gap widens for women of color, pointing to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed Hispanic women earn 54 percent of what a white man makes, followed by black women at 64 percent. On Equal Pay Day last month, CNN explored how the pay gap impacts life outside the office, leaving women almost twice as likely to retire into poverty.
Around the same time, Ellen Pao, the interim CEO of Reddit, told The Wall Street Journal that she banned salary negotiations at Reddit because "men negotiate harder than women do and sometimes women get penalized when they do negotiate." Pao lost a $16 million lawsuit for gender discrimination against Kleiner Perkins, alleging that the prestigious Silicon Valley venture capital firm failed to promote women to senior partner, a title that came with up to five times the amount of income.
Voswinkel proposed #talkpay in Model View Culture, a magazine that highlights feminist and minority voices from the tech industry. She argues that the absence of information, as well as the tendency to hire from one's own network and apply pattern-matching to the hiring process all disproportionately benefit white males:
Exacerbating that problem, conceptions of what a "real" developer looks like impact people’s interactions with potential candidates, particularly more junior ones, causing them to be evaluated at lower skill levels which leads to lower rate of offers and lower initial salary offers.
The lack of knowledge regarding reasonable salaries and predatory behaviors in tech companies can be directly attributed to the social taboo surrounding people talking openly about their salaries.
Perhaps because of the origins of #talkpay, the bulk of participants on Twitter thus far seem to be from the tech sector. Silicon Valley corporations like Apple and Google paid a $415 million settlement in January for a class action lawsuit alleging that they colluded to suppress salaries and not poach each other's employees. But rising income inequality and the wage gap are systemic issues faced across industries, especially compared to rising average salaries for the right kind of knowledge worker in the Bay Area.
Ultimately, change may start outside the so-called cradle of innovation. The city of Boston, for example, just began collecting wage data from participating companies, tying in the worker's experience level to get a more holistic picture on salary discrepancies. Mayor Martin J. Walsh told company representatives, who were "almost all women" that it was "a culture that we have to change."
#talkpay Other takeaway: being on an H1-B is a massive power imbalance between you and your employer that will keep your salary low.— Laurie Voss (@seldo) May 1, 2015
At one point, the Series A crunch happened, and my salary got dropped to $30,000 a year, plus some more options. #talkpay— Paddy (@paddyforan) May 1, 2015
#talkpay 2009-current My salary went from $32,000 to $1XX,000 (sorry will not disclosing exact number) but technology is the key.— Kristy Tillman (@KristyT) May 1, 2015
#talkpay agency intern: 30k/yr (ouch). Promotion/negotiation: 45k. 70k freelance, 115k permalancing at small tech co. FT pay stagnated there— Ash Huang (@ashsmash) May 1, 2015
At Goog, as of last July when I left: senior SWE, Bay Area, 8 years experience, $156k salary, roughly $100k stock, $32k bonus. #talkpay— Kelly Ellis (@justkelly_ok) May 1, 2015
Looking at #talkpay and it's a bit depressing to see a lot of developers with similar a years of exp as me making $80k+ more than me— Sam Houston (@samhouston) May 1, 2015
That time when I told my classmate fr Central CA that Google interns make 25K in 12 wks. Annual per capita income of Fresno is 19K #talkpay— Fiona Tay (@MsFionaTay) May 1, 2015
"designer" 2009—40k, underpaid 10—35/hr, underpaid 11—65k, underpaid 12—45/hr, underpaid 13/14—80/hr 15: 100k BELIEVE IN YOURSELF #talkpay— cori (@iroc) May 1, 2015
And I'm writing a story about #talkpay for 50 cents/word.— Susie Cagle (@susie_c) May 1, 2015
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Microsoft was a defendant in the wage suppression case. We regret the error.