Like a lot of people, I was raised not to talk about certain things. It was so uncouth to talk about salaries that I still don’t know what most of my closest family members earn. Some families have other ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policies – about sexual orientation, someone losing their job, mental illness, eating disorders, and the like. President Obama not too long ago said, unfortunately, proven to be a bit more prose than practice, that, “transparency is the best disinfectant.” But as I chide President Obama a bit, I have to admit that, none of us is too transparent, and I think we are collectively worse off for it.
A few months ago the White House web site published the salaries of most employees. You bet I looked up my friends and former colleagues. I did what many of my friends have told me they did to me over the years. Working for unions and in politics, I have gotten used to my salary being published. And with opponents trying to make the point that greedy union staff are paid too much and/or somewhat biased journalists making a point, my salary has been actively publicized (yes, you can google it now, but please wait until after you finish my brilliant blog, thank you.) It was a little freaky to know that at first. As I mentioned, salary is just not a thing you talk about, and here mine was published. But recently, when I was perusing the White House web site, I was thinking it would be really great if we all published our salaries.
I have discussed in this blog before pay equity for women. I’ve been in the situation myself. I found out men with less work experience and less higher education than me, who I had to orient, were making $10,000 more per year. When I brought it to the attention of HR, they balked. Finally, they said I was right. We were minimally doing the same work (I would have argued I was doing a bit more since I had oriented them) and somehow they were ‘accidentally’ paid more – even after three departments, including HR, reviewed and approved their employment. Their remedy was to admit they had made a mistake. They told me it would have been unfair to reduce these men’s pay. I agreed, I wasn’t advocating for that solution. I advocated for me to be paid more. “Hmm, no, we aren’t going to do that either.” HR felt comfortable with the situation because the men in question were temporary. In fact, both men in question had their contracts extended. I left the organization.
This is the point when my mother who is reading this blog will be shaking her head and getting concerned that I am revealing too much. “Someone is going to figure out the organization you are talking about, Eileen,” I can hear her say. And she’s right. It’s exactly the reason why I haven’t written this story before. But with out transparency, how will anything change? How do we achieve transparency if we don’t tell our stories? And let’s be frank, I am still holding back some of the disinfectant.
I wonder if women’s salaries would remain lower if everyone knew everyone else’s salaries. Would the organization I worked for be so ready to make their mistake? Would they feel so comfortable to continue the mistake after it was pointed out?
I also think about the health insurance crisis we are facing. We know there are over fifty million – let’s write that number out because it looks even more significant – 50,000,000 people uninsured. Many of them children. There are another 45,000,000 under-insured. I know we hear some of the stories. But, hell, this is a group of 100,000,000 people. That is 1/3 of the United States! A third of Americans are in a daily state of crisis, the other two-thirds, whether they realize it or not, are being affected by that crisis, and we are all of a sudden unsure of health care reform? I will continue to be an advocate for health care reform, but we may be a lot more successful if we were led by 100,000,000 strong. They need t tell their stories. Reveal the truth. Let’s benefit from disinfectant.