It’s awkward to talk salary at work—but here’s how to start

February 28, 2020, 11:09 PM UTC
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Broadside writer Kristine Gill offers advice from HR professionals and finance experts about whether sharing your salary with coworkers is a good or bad idea. Then, scroll on for job opportunities from Opendoor, Lucasfilm, Nestle, and more.


I earned $40,000 a year during my first full-time job out of college. This was in 2011 when the journalism market was at a low point, so I thought I was absolutely rolling in it.

When I mentioned my pay to a friend at the same newspaper, she went slack-jawed at the number. She was making far less than me and our male colleagues, it turned out, even though she had a master’s degree and we didn’t. She and I both felt empowered when she demanded and received a raise from the higher ups. I like to think we were ahead of our time considering that reporters are now sharing what they earn in widely circulated spreadsheets.

I’ve always believed that, as women, sharing what we earn can help level the playing field for everyone. But sharing what you earn isn’t as easy as spitting out a number to random coworkers at the water cooler. I spoke to HR professionals, who say there’s a time and a place, and that doing so is not without its pitfalls.

Before you spill the beans on your paycheck, consider the following tips.

“This is awkward, but…” ☕

If you’re nervous about discussing a suspected pay discrepancy with a coworker, Ashley Feinstein Gerstley suggests naming that awkwardness. Feinstein Gerstley is CEO and founder of The Fiscal Femme, which helps women manage their finances and navigate careers.

“We can bring it up by saying, you know, this is awkward but I think it’s important that we discuss it,” she says.

And if you’re worried about discussing pay with current employees, Feinstein Gerstley suggests reaching out to someone who used to work for the company, since it may be easier to speak with someone who has less of a personal investment.

“It’s funny how engrained this idea of not being able to share our salary is,” she adds. “But it’s completely legal, and the more we do it the less taboo it will become.”

Chatting over coffee or outside of work can help make the conversation less awkward too.

Apples to oranges 🍎🍊

Let’s say you learn pretty quickly that some of your colleagues are earning more than you. Before you do anything else, first consider that compensation is based on a variety of factors.

Some employees, for example, make less money in exchange for other benefits, such as work-from-home flexibility and extra paid time off, says Rhiannon Staples, CMO of Hibob, an online HR platform.

Compensation is a reflection of a bunch of things: your work history, your education level, circumstances at the time of your hiring—say, if you were offered more to counter a competing job offer. If you want a fuller picture of what you could be earning, try using Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth tool. Its data covers base pay estimates for about 77 percent of the workforce in the U.S., according to Glassdoor career trends expert Alison Sullivan. And ask HR, of course.

In some states, employers can’t ask you about your salary history. Those laws could affect your offer.

The good news is those laws are intended to force the employers to be more forthcoming, Michelle Armer, chief people officer at, says. “Basing salary off of compensation history has created a bias against women and other diverse groups.”

Don’t hesitate, negotiate ⚖️

If a male colleague in your same position is making more than you, it could be that he simply asked for more money when he was hired.

“It’s important that women feel comfortable doing that right out of the gate,” Armer says, “because if you start your compensation history a little under someone that can be magnified over your career.”

A lot of women do negotiate from the start. In fact, according to one Harvard study, women negotiate for raises just as much as men do, but they’re denied these raises more often than men, perhaps because they can be less confident about negotiating than men who might have better access to negotiation training. That, or they’re simply treated differently in the negotiation process.

Want to improve your own negotiation techniques? My Fortune colleagues have you covered. Check out this, this, and this for practical advice.

Know your rights 📜

Of course, learning what your coworker makes, or revealing your own pay, can sometimes feel bitter.

“It can also foster a sense of unnecessary and nasty competition between co-workers that may result in resentment against one another and disrupt company culture and morale, even if the pay differences are valid,” Staples says.

While some workplaces might discourage salary sharing for these reasons, there are laws preserving your right to do so, Armer says. And more often than not, pay transparency benefits everyone by closing the wage gap and actually creating an atmosphere of trust.

The National Labor and Relations Act says your employer can’t ban the discussion of salaries. Paycheck Fairness Act is also again making its way through government. First introduced in 1997, the law would make it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for sharing their wages or asking coworkers about theirs. Supporters call it a critical step toward narrowing the gender pay gap.

Talk data to me 📈

“Don’t be afraid to have honest conversations with your manager and getting all of the information you need to understand it,” Armer says, if you’re not being paid fairly.

Staples says that once you have a meeting set up, you can advocate for yourself by preparing a pitch as to why you deserve that raise. She suggests jotting down your accomplishments and any ongoing projects that speak to your value and responsibilities at the company.

“Also, make sure you come with data and specifics by compiling market research that backs your expectations and bolsters your claims for a raise,” she says. Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth tool is helpful. You can also try LinkedIn Salary: By inputting your location, current pay, and years of experience, you can see what others in your field and situation are making.

Then, if the conversation isn’t productive at that level, take it to HR.

— Kristine Gill

Making money moves

Bath & Body Works is hiring a Senior Financial Analyst based in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

Chewy is hiring a Senior Product Designer based in Boston, Mass.

Lucasfilm is hiring an Animation Production Coordinator based in San Francisco, Calif.

Nestle is hiring a Director of Data & Analytics Technology based in Stamford, Conn.

Opendoor is hiring a Head of Operations for Customer Experience based in San Francisco, Calif.

Radiotopia is hiring a Network Operations Manager based in Boston, Mass.

Ripple is hiring a VP of Business Development based in San Francisco, Calif.

Sonoco is hiring a Business Development Manager based in Chicago.

The Patron Spirits Company is hiring a Southeast Regional Director based in Miami, Florida.

Yeti is hiring a Manager of E-commerce Testing and Optimization based in Austin, Texas.

Events and other opportunities

March 5: The Women Impact Tech event will be held in San Francisco.

March 5-8: The Women of Power Summit for executive women of color will be held in Las Vegas.

March 9: Nasdaq, Houzz, and WEACT will hold an International Women's Day Event in New York. 

March 24: The Fortune Most Powerful Women International Summit will be held in Singapore.

April 20-23: TedFEST 2020 will be held in New York City.

April 21-22: Fortune will hold its Brainstorm Health event in Marina Del Rey.

May 4-5: The Women of Silicon Valley Tech Event Series will take place in Santa Clara, Calif.

May 13: The annual Women in Negotiation Summit will be held in New York City. The day long event empowers women through negotiation skills building.

June 1: Gallup’s conference called How Millennials Want to Work and Live will be held in Omaha.

June 26: The Ellevate Network is hosting its annual Mobilize Women Summit in NYC. This year’s event will provide a space for leaders with diverse perspectives to share their take on how to build more equity in business.

Want to share a hiring or networking opportunity from your organization or elsewhere, or just have feedback about The Broadside? Email Kristine Gill.

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