If you’re a rad feminist guy who loves the women in his life and wants to make life fairer for everyone, there’s one incredibly easy thing you can do—right now—to close the gender wage gap. Are you ready? Here it is…
Tell your female coworkers how much money you make.
And be specific and honest: no ranges, no euphemisms, the exact number that appears on your paycheck. And don’t skip the bonuses and raises either. This is a tremendous boon to yourself as well as them. Here’s why.
Why are salaries traditionally kept secret?
Perhaps you, like me, were educated from a young age to never, ever volunteer this information to anyone. (I believe my grandpa’s words were “never, ever, ever, ever”—which is exactly two more “evers” than he gave to driving drunk and voting Democrat.) But perhaps you, like me, were never exactly sure why.
The most common justification I’ve heard is that it protects employees from pay dissatisfaction and workplace jealousy—but studies show both increase in companies with secretive pay structures.
Which makes sense, right? It’s not salaries themselves that piss people off, but unfair salaries. It’s like telling Ariel to stay away from seashell necklaces. Nah, brah, that ain’t the problem, it’s the motherfucking sea witch that’s the real problem. She’s all about snatching the most valuable possessions of the most vulnerable and desperate people she can find in order to commodify them for her own selfish ends.
… Kind of like how employers ask people to trade years of their life in exchange for the ability to eat during said years. Ain’t it funny how that works out?
The truth is that salary secrecy does very little to benefit the employee, and quite a lot to benefit the executive class of old white jerks who have been setting American salaries for generations. Secrecy allows them to make arbitrary decisions without ever needing to defend them. There’s no punishment for offering substantially more to the guy who pledged to your fraternity—or substantially less to the newly single mother who reeks of desperation. Silence creates conditions where it is easy to reward the already-privileged and further disenfranchise the already-disenfranchised.
You, as a super cool male feminist, have already decided that this is not a system you want to participate in. If you’re serious about helping to dismantle it, breaking that silence is an easy and powerful way to start.
Story time: Pay scales are arbitrary soap operas of madness
Just to demonstrate the lunacy that goes into these decisions, let me tell you a true story that happened to a friend of mine. We’ll call her Grace.
Grace works in a gig-based workplace where her earnings are dependent on how many jobs the office schedules for her. One day her coworker Dean pulled her aside and let her know that even though they’d started at the same time, he’d been given a substantial raise, to the point that he now considerably out-earned her. This was surprising and upsetting to her, particularly because she’d come in with more experience and pursued more on-the-job training than Dean.
Grace took this information to her boss and asked to have the discrepancy explained. Her boss’s face turned red and the following story came out: the guy in charge of scheduling gigs, Patrick, had a crush on another coworker, Dana. Dana had recently started dating Dean, which infuriated Patrick, who felt he had “claimed” Dana. (Lol.) Patrick then started stiffing Dean for jobs in retaliation. (Lololol.) Dean’s earnings suffered, and eventually the mess was brought to their boss’s attention. The right thing to do would’ve been to let Patrick go and design a new, more transparent system for assigning work. But Patrick was the only one who knew how to work the scheduling software, and their boss didn’t want to deal with implementing a new system, so she offered Dean a large raise as an apology and swept Patrick’s bad behavior under the rug.
Salary sheets are full of this kind of woolly-headed soap opera nonsense. Raises and bonuses are frequently used as secret, out-of-court settlements for disputes and grievances that have nothing to do with business needs or quality of work and threaten to embarrass or inconvenience the decision-makers.
It might not seem at first like gender played much into this particular situation… but it’s worth noting that Patrick and Dean came out ahead, while Grace and Dana kinda got screwed. Patrick deserved to be fired, but wasn’t; Dean hadn’t earned a raise, but got one; Grace had to choose between making less money and awkwardly confronting her boss; Dana had to continue to work with a possessive, petty creep who felt entitled to her bewbs or whatever. The dark hand of the patriarchy in the workplace is not always as obvious as a slap on the fanny from Emperor Palpatine. Male feminists sometimes have to get creative when it comes to combating the subtler aspects of workplace sexism.
The anonymous male hero behind the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
Travel back in time with me to 1998. I was busy refining the MissingNo item duplication glitch; Lilly Ledbetter was busy getting bent over a pickle barrel by Goodyear Tire. She had been working for them as a district manager for the last twenty years—an overwhelmingly male position. She had been warned from day one to keep her earnings a secret, so she had.
One day, Ledbetter found an anonymous note in her mailbox. Her name and salary were written out on a torn scrap of notebook paper. It was correct, right down to the dollar. Underneath were three other names and salaries—all men, all earning about 40% more than she was.
This anonymous note triggered events that would culminate in the Lilly Leadbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows women who have been unknowingly cheated for years to pursue legal action against their discriminatory employers.
Its author was almost certainly male.
Now, I have no real evidence to back this up, other than women were exceedingly rare in that particular branch of that particular company and salary information was likely intentionally kept out of their hands. But I like to think that a man saw another person getting royally screwed and decided that she deserved to know what was going on. He probably had no way of knowing that his small act of decency and compassion would pave the way for legislation that would make it incrementally harder and more dangerous for American companies to underpay their female employees. But good deeds can snowball in unexpected ways, and fortune smiles on brave, badass male feminists.
And even if you hates wimmins (and god, who doesn’t?), you should still do it because women aren’t the only people left in the cold by the secret salary system. Anyone who smells desperate to a company—the very young, the very old, the recently unemployed, the sick, the disabled, the stuck—will absolutely be offered less money. And one day, you will fit into one or more of those categories. When that time comes, you’ll be grateful you took action to build a better, more merciful system.
Capitalism, on paper, is an extremely depraved system. It’s the people who live within that system who imbue it with much-needed humanity and compassion.
Your call to action: Breaking the salary silence
So you’re picking up what I’m putting down. You see the value in sharing salary information, and now you just need to know how to do it. Admittedly, this can be a sensitive area, so here is a script you can build off of.
Hey, name-of-coworker. (Make sure you say her name here. That is key. Otherwise she’ll think you’re a robot and your relationship may suffer.) I was reading an article about the gender wage gap, and it got me thinking. What you make isn’t my business, I don’t want to know—and I have no reason to suspect you’re being paid unfairly. But it seems that a lot of women just don’t know when they’re being underpaid, which seems incredibly unfair. So I wanted to make an open offer. If you ever want to know what I make, just ask and I will tell you. It seems like the least I can do to make sure I’m not taking part in a system I don’t agree with.
Then immediately stick out your arms, because that girl is going to faint! It’s a well-documented fact that all women respond to strong emotions by fainting. In this case, the emotion she’s feeling will be gratitude.
Here’s a few more ways you can address the evils of salary secrecy and pay inequality in your own career:
- What to Do When You’re Asked About Your Salary in a Job Interview
- Our Single Best Piece of Advice for Women (and Men) on International Women’s Day by
- One Reason Women Make Less Money? They’re Afraid of Being Raped and Killed.
- You Need to Ask for a Fucking Raise
Note: There seems to be a misconception among some that sharing salary information is grounds for termination. This is not true for any American worker. Your right to discuss your salary information with your coworkers is protected by the National Labor Relations Act. For that, you can thank President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, patron saint of unions, construction workers, the unemployed, the disabled, and hearthside radios.