What would you do if you found out your colleagues were making significantly more than you for the exact same work?
Think back to all of those times you stayed late at the office. The skipped lunch breaks. Missed social opportunities. And especially all of those brilliant ideas of yours that helped your organization save money and work more efficiently. As a top-notch employee, you’d expect to be earning as much—or even a little more—than your peers.
Reality check: You might not be. But you’d never know it unless you talked about it.
There’s nothing like discussing salary to summon up corporate smoke and mirrors that deflect the conversation, or even prevent it from happening in the first place. It’s understandable—money is personal, and even emotional. Thinking of your value as a worker in terms of dollars and cents can feel dehumanizing and uncomfortable. Add to that the old-fashioned idea that discussing money just isn’t polite, and you’ve got radio silence when it comes to how much money you and your co-workers make.
Even worse, companies benefit hugely from propagating the myth that it’s illegal to discuss salaries. Whether it’s written into the contract that you sign upon hiring or gently discouraged by your HR manager, many corporations don’t want you discussing how much you make with fellow employees. After all, if you find out that they’re making more than you, you might ask them for more money.
Sound fishy to you? It is.
In a large majority of cases, it is absolutely legal to discuss your salary with your coworkers. You don’t need to be part of a union, and you don’t need to be a government employee. Though certain workers are exempt from this law (such as supervisors and independent contractors), roles are sometimes miscategorized and actually do receive legal protection for salary discussion.
Since 1935, the National Labor Relations Act has protected the right of employees to engage in discussions for mutual aid or protection—and that includes talking about salaries. The problem? Many consider the act to be weak in terms of holding companies accountable for violations. This is one reason President Obama has been working to strengthen workplace transparency and accountability, having recently signed two executive orders to do just that.
For tech and IT workers where salaries can have a very wide range, it’s crucial not to get stuck at a lower salary range than what you deserve. And for women and minorities in tech, the wage gap can spell out an average of 25 percent less earnings than non-minorities. We think that everybody deserves to be paid fairly for what they do. Don’t you?
So what can you do if you think you’re earning less than you should be?
Find out if you’re protected under the National Labor Relations Act.
Don’t assume that you aren’t! Try contacting the National Labor Relations Board if you’re unsure.
Learn the power of negotiation.
One of the major reasons for pay gaps is that some people are simply better negotiators than others. Leverage the power of a convincing argument to show what you’re worth and get a better offer.
Ask for a raise.
Are your co-workers asking for more money, but not you? Don’t hold your breath until your boss decides to give you more money. Ask for it, and you might just get it.
Don’t suffer in silence.
If you have the legal protection to do so, go ahead and talk openly about how much you’re earning and why you think it should change. It could make a major difference in your career advancement—and your bank account.
Report violations to the NLRB.
How much you earn should depend on your qualifications, not your gender, age, race, negotiating skills, or how much the boss likes you. Work against inequality and the illegal silencing of salary discussions by contacting the NLRB if necessary. You’ll not only help your own salary, but you’ll promote a more just and fair treatment for all qualified employees.