Let’s talk money — how much do you make?

Let’s talk money — how much do you make?

It seems my last post struck a chord with some people, and would you know, I re-read it after publishing and it struck a chord with me too. It dredged up a dormant frustration of mine: why is it taboo for us to discuss how much money we make at our jobs?

Of course, the gut instinct response to that is “I don’t want anybody knowing my business; that’s private.” Perhaps some of us are scared that the truth will rip back the shower curtain mid-shave and expose just how far beyond our means we’re living. Or maybe it’ll unveil our crown and we’ll lose the camaraderie of being ‘one of the guys’. The more I ponder it, there’s something seriously jarring about how intertwined our salaries are with our identity, but psychology is not my concern today.

I care about the issue at hand. And I know it’s a real one because the academics even gave it a fancy term and everything: pay transparency. This was a major grievance for me from my very first interview when they asked the dreaded ‘how much money do you expect to make in this job?’ question. Little did they know, I’d already gotten my mother to do some super sleuthing and ask every friend-of-a-friend employed at that organization how much the role typically paid. But even as the words “four thousand” rolled off my tongue, I felt cheated. And angry. What I really wanted to say was “why you playing games, Angela?* You already know much you plan to pay me.

…and that’s how the fight started. Well, more of an internal struggle than an outright battle, but you get my point. Curious, I tried casually and indirectly asking some of my friends how much they made, just to see if they’d tell me. They didn’t. Instead, I heard every possible octave of nervous laughter. No one felt comfortable enough to candidly have that conversation with me.

But the honest question for me has always been, who are we protecting?

Could you imagine the look on Angela’s* face if I’d been able to walk into that interview armed with salary data on not only her subordinates, but every employee in the same role from different organizations across the country? Of course not, and whose fault is that? It may be cliché but knowledge really is power, and these companies hold all of it unless we decide to pool our experiences and learn from each other.

This topic weighed so heavily on my mind that I reached out to a friend, Brittany Brathwaite, who’s Director of HR at Bitt and has her own consultancy: The Source. I wanted to get a more ‘insider’ perspective, and she pointed out that a lack of pay transparency is symptomatic of an even greater breakdown in the workforce — turns out, compensation gets convoluted when there aren’t any definitive pillars to tie it to. When I asked her about government salaries versus private sector salaries and whether or not they run on par, this is what she said:

“…the private sector really is broken into many industries and sub-industries and compensation differs. I can say that in my experience, private sector organizations are better able to establish direct alignment between individual roles and the strategic objectives of the organization; so where they may be lower or higher than government salaries, there is more often a justification in relation to the value the role offers.”

It was at that point that I conceded that this issue of pay transparency is a lot bigger than my little grievance. This is a business culture issue, a productivity issue, and a topic for another post.

So back to our concerns, Brittany confirmed that regarding pay transparency, no resources exist publicly outside of the government schedules which I’ll post below. Yes, this may be a major obstacle for job-hopping millennials, but don’t let it deter you. In fact, just for encouragement, I’ll leave you with some valuable nuggets she shared:

  1. Network. It’s how you’ll learn from others, especially in your industry. (And if you’re really serious, business member organizations or HR & IR consultancy firms are able to conduct comparative studies as they usually have a network of professionals across the private sector.)
  2. Don’t be impulsive. Even if you do get your hands on market comparisons, consider context like the nature of your work or the maturity of your organization. For example, startups usually pay less, but may offer additional alternative remuneration like stock options.
  3. There is no wrong or right answer to the salary question. It boils down to the company’s value of the role versus your expectation of what the duties deserve, and vice versa. Ultimately, you can try to negotiate, or walk away if you’re not happy.

Government of Barbados Personal Emoluments 2018/19: https://www.barbadosparliament.com/uploads/document/4d2370dcf3137daaa8ca7d71ea2981ce.pdf

Barbados Union of Teachers Salary Scale 2008–2010:

*The situations are real; the names are not. So please don’t sue me, I’m already in debt.

career life