Why I’m Spreading the Word About Pay Transparency

Several years ago, I spoke at a conference for an advertising agency. I happened to be the only female speaker that day. At the end of the event, the (female) client pulled me aside.

“I have to tell you something,” she said. “You were the best speaker today and the cheapest by half. All of the male speakers charged us double what you did. Raise your speaking fees.”

Up to that point, I didn’t realize how much I was undervaluing myself. I thought I had done my research on industry norms, but I didn’t have pay transparency.

My home state of New York is taking steps to improve salary transparency in job postings, both at the state level and within New York City itself. And New York isn’t the first: Several other states have enacted pay transparency legislation. Many companies are working toward pay transparency even if it’s not a legal obligation — the number of job postings on LinkedIn that include salary ranges climbed 44% year over year.

This is great progress. But it’s not enough and pay inequities can be even harder to uncover for freelancers and self-employed people like me.

There’s no reason why pay information should be kept a secret. It’s certainly no secret that money is an essential reason why people work. 

When I was in my 20s, I applied for a job at a nonprofit. I asked what the salary range was, and the woman interviewing me said, “If you really cared about this job, you wouldn’t ask about the salary.” 

Um, I did care about the job, but I also cared about paying my rent, so yeah, it was important to me.

Employers have a responsibility to improve pay transparency and pay equity. That effort starts with greater honesty and a commitment to doing what’s right, steps that can shift workplace norms in the right direction. 

Improve Pay Equity — and the Hiring Process

Pay transparency will go a long way toward fostering pay equity for women and people from underrepresented groups. There’s power in knowledge, and people don’t know what their skills and abilities are worth in the labor market until they see the value placed on comparable skills and experience. 

Pay transparency is better for the hiring party, too. Going through the entire hiring process only for a candidate to refuse or renege on the offer because the salary range is too low isn’t a good use of anyone’s time. 

Speak Up for Others

If you’re in a position of privilege, one concrete way you can be an ally to early career professionals, women and people from underrepresented groups is to be candid and transparent about what you’re making and what you’re offering — and make sure that it’s equitable. Setting this example could influence others in powerful positions to speak up, share pay information and normalize transparency, which helps everyone.

I am always willing to have a candid conversation with a fellow speaker about fees, and I am grateful to all of the speakers who have done the same for me.

Stand Up for Yourself

Of course, we can’t expect others to move us in the right direction. Once you have a better sense of what your time, expertise and labor are worth, it’s up to you to always ask for what you’re worth. 

Many already are, especially among younger generations. In fact, a survey found 42% of Generation Z workers and 40% of millennial workers have shared salary information with a co-worker. By contrast, only 31% and 19% of Gen X and baby boomers, respectively, did the same.

What Happened Next

So what happened after the client advised me to raise my rates? I did raise them. And you know how my existing clients responded? They said, “It’s about time.” 

Find the people who value you and are willing to pay you what you’re worth.

To bring everything full circle, I recently had an experience I’d never had before that made me feel like progress is being made: An organization hired me to speak, and it was only me and a male speaker on the agenda. The woman who brought us in pulled me aside and said, “I want you to know I’m offering both speakers the exact same rate.”

What has been your experience with salary negotiation and pay transparency? Let’s talk about it!

Share this post

hi, i'm lindsey!

Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


Learn 25 Practical Ways to Manage Across Generations