WOMEN

Sorry, Kate Winslet, It May Be ‘Vulgar’ But We Do Need To Talk About Salary

Just like parents need to have that awkward sex talk with their kids, coworkers need to have that same awkward pay talk with each other.

Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence have been speaking up about the shameful gap between what women and men make in Hollywood. But all that money talk is making fellow celebrity and British actor Kate Winslet pretty uncomfortable, she said in an interview with the BBC earlier this week

"I'm having such a problem with these conversations," Winslet, who is starring in the new movie "Steve Jobs," told BBC’s Newsbeat. "I understand why they are coming up but maybe it's a British thing. I don't like talking about money; it's a bit vulgar isn't it?"

Winslet’s hardly alone in feeling uncomfortable talking about money. Most people would rather talk about their sex life than their salary, Elizabeth Weingarten recently pointed out at a conference about the gender pay gap held at the Harvard Club in New York. "Asking my mom how much my dad made was harder than asking her about sex," said Weingarten, a deputy director of the New America Foundation who wrote a lengthy piece on salary transparency published in this month’s More magazine.

And just like parents need to have that awkward sex talk with their kids, coworkers need to have that same awkward pay talk with each other. An open conversation about money -- the kind that makes Winslet squeamish -- is one of the more effective ways to combat pay discrimination and the gender pay gap.

When women are armed with real information about what others are making, that's when they can best advocate for their fair share.

“Salary transparency is the single best protection against gender bias, racial bias or orientation bias,” Dane Atkinson, the chief executive of analytics company SumAll, recently told the Society for Human Resource Management. At his company salary information is public to all employees, which makes hiring and negotiations fairly simple, he said.

Actor Kate Winslet told the BBC that all this pay talk is making her uncomfortable.
Actor Kate Winslet told the BBC that all this pay talk is making her uncomfortable.

When women are armed with real information about what others are making, that's when they can best advocate for their fair share.

“Salary transparency is the single best protection against gender bias, racial bias or orientation bias,” Dane Atkinson, the chief executive of analytics company SumAll, recently told the Society for Human Resource Management. At his company salary information is public to all employees, which makes hiring and negotiations fairly simple, he said.

It's getting easier to figure out how much people make, thanks to companies like SumAll that are taking the transparency tack -- Whole Foods also practices pay transparency -- and, especially due to websites like GlassDoor and Payscale, which publish self-reported salary information.

Women, across the board, still make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to federal data. Even when you control for other factors -- like experience and industry -- women still are paid less than men, from CEOs to cashiers. It’s even worse for black and Hispanic women.

Actor Jennifer Lawrence has been vocal about the gender pay gap.
Actor Jennifer Lawrence has been vocal about the gender pay gap.

In the public sector and in unionized jobs, where pay is publicly known, the pay gap is lower -- 89 cents and 91 cents respectively, Weingarten points out in her article.  

Lily Ledbetter, a manager in a Goodyear plant in Alabama, was paid less than the male managers who worked alongside her for decades -- until, finally, someone dropped her an anonymous note telling her what was going on. She sued and her case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Though she lost, her fight inspired a federal law that makes it easier for workers to sue their employers for pay discrimination.

Even though the issue had been litigated at the nation’s highest court and discussed by the president, the issue of gender pay discrimination didn’t really take off until extremely good-looking Hollywood actors took up the battle-cry.

Leaked documents in the Sony hack last spring revealed that Jennifer Lawrence was being paid less for her work in the movie "American Hustle" than her male co-stars, or “the lucky people with dicks,” is how she put it in a recent essay. The hack also revealed a pay gap between male and female Sony executives

Actor Charlize Theron used the information from the hack to negotiate a better payday for herself.

Arming yourself with information about pay makes you better able to negotiate a deal for yourself, Deborah Kolb, the author of Negotiating at Work: Turn Small Wins Into Big Gains, told The Huffington Post recently. “If you have good information when you ask for a raise ... that’s a good thing," said Kolb, who is a professor emerita at Simmons College and advises female executives on negotiations and pay.

Women do better at negotiating pay when they have actual salary information, according to a couple of studies.  

The information can be particularly useful when you're negotiating your pay at a new job. It’s trickier to ask your current employer for a raise after learning you're paid unfairly, but there’s a smart way to do it, Kolb said.

You want to frame the issue as a systemic problem. “I might say to my boss, ‘Can we look at the compensation in our group? I think that might be an issue.'” Frame it as a company problem, not a personal problem, Kolb advises. 

A former Google employee recently revealed that she had created a spreadsheet for workers at the tech giant, where a few of them shared their pay information. The document exposed some discrepancies, she said. And ultimately the company gave out raises

Knowledge may be power, but talking about how much you make isn't so easy. Explaining that she’s lucky and happy with her pay -- which is obviously legions above what most people make -- Winslet said, “it seems quite a strange thing to be discussing out in the open like that.”

But as J.Law showed, public figures like Winslet do the most good when they get over their embarrassment about their big paychecks and talk about pay fairness.

Weingarten said that when she asked the experts who were advocating for pay transparency how much they make, none of them would say.

And even though I'm writing about it, I admit I'm a little queasy at the thought of telling the guy next to me how much I make (sorry Ben!)

Still, telling your coworkers how much you make is not illegal. Salary talk between colleagues is protected by a depression-era labor law. So, if you feel like you're not getting paid what you're worth it's in your best interests to start asking around. 

Transparency alone, of course, won't solve the gender pay gap -- but it certainly doesn't hurt. 

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