Episode 8: Pay Transparency
It’s hard to demand fair pay when you don’t actually know you’re being underpaid. Data engineer Megan shares her eye-opening and humbling experience with the practice of pay transparency on the job and explains how it ultimately empowered her at the negotiation table. Newly elected New York Guild President Susan DeCarava speaks on the importance of taking collective action against pay discrimination, and how pay transparency benefits everyone in the workplace, especially Black women.
Due to the pandemic, this interview was recorded by Zoom and/or phone. A transcript is available below. In The Gap was created with the support of the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and In These Times magazine. Contact the show at email@example.com.
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CHANDRA THOMAS WHITFIELD, HOST: Welcome to In The Gap, a podcast about how and why Black women aren’t getting their green. I’m your host, journalist Chandra Thomas Whitfield.
It’s hard to demand fair pay when you don’t actually know that you’re being underpaid. Most employers leave you in the dark about what others around you at the job are making. In many ways, it’s by design.
[FROM RECORDING] MEGAN: It’s almost like this social contract that we don’t ask people about their pay, but how do we know if we’re being paid fairly if we don’t talk about it?
WHITFIELD: That’s a peek into some of what we’ll hear on our episode today from our first guest, data engineer Megan, as she shares her eye-opening and humbling experience with the little known practice of pay transparency. She’ll join us in a minute to share her story and also tell us how it ultimately made a difference at the negotiating table, so you got to stick around for that.
Then, we’ll hear from labor union leader Susan DeCarava—her thoughts about how pay transparency just might be the thing that helps begin leveling the paying field for Black women.
[FROM RECORDING] DECARAVA: The idea that people can solve these systemic and structural problems on an individual basis is just a myth that we’ve got to stop agreeing to believe in because it’s just simply not true.
WHITFIELD: But first let’s start with Megan’s story, and I’m only using her first name to protect her from any potential retaliation from current or future employers. So, welcome to In The Gap, Megan.
So gender pay gap—it’s not quite a catchphrase, like some other things. When you hear that, what comes to mind for you?
MEGAN: I think about how men, typically white men, make quite a bit more than women and more so women of color for the same work.
WHITFIELD: Tell me, what do you do? And kind of walk me through, what is your professional career?
MEGAN: I work in data engineering and data science. I’ve worked in a few different industries—analytics, pay cards, or credit cards, and oil and gas.
WHITFIELD: Can you explain that for the lay person who doesn’t quite know what that entails?
MEGAN: Sure. So I write SQL statements and code to make data go in different tables within a database, build databases, make sure it flows to downstream applications and it’s available for users.
WHITFIELD: So you’re a really smart girl. [Laughs] For those of us who are like, “Uh, you may have been speaking German,” but we get it. You’re very smart. You are a detail person.You have to solve problems, and you make things run efficiently for business.
WHITFIELD: OK. Tell me a little bit about your educational background—like what you had to do to be able to do this.
MEGAN: I originally started with an undergrad in business and then I went back and got a masters in information technology, working on another master’s in computer science, and then in between that I’ve taken a lot of boot camps and courses, certificates to learn how to do this. It’s not something you typically pick up overnight with the gap in pay. The code is the same, whether I write it or whether somebody else writes it, but the computer system doesn’t know.
WHITFIELD: Amen. [Laughs]
MEGAN: That there could be a difference in pay when the outcome is going to be the same is pretty frustrating.
WHITFIELD: And one thing you did not mention is you are also a mother and a wife.
MEGAN: Correct. I have many children. [Laughs]
WHITFIELD: She has many children. It’s like “The Brady Bunch” on steroids, right? [Laughs] So you’re not just doing that. You’re also managing the many challenges of parenting.
MEGAN: Yes. Parenting, keeping a relationship, working, teaching, all those things.
WHITFIELD: Wow. How does that make you feel when you think about the fact that someone, the research shows, will make more money than you because he happens to be white and male?
MEGAN: It’s just very disheartening. I’ve seen it firsthand at a previous employer. At one point they decided they wanted pay transparency and that they would publish rates of pay for each department.
WHITFIELD: Hm, groundbreaking.
MEGAN: Yeah. I mean, it’s pretty forward-thinking of a company to even do that, but the fact that they did it was great, but still eye-opening.
So for the department, there was a range of salaries. About 15 people in the department, and the salaries ranged from like 90,000 to about 150,000. So big range. And I looked at it, and I was like, “Who makes— that’s my salary.” [Laughs]
WHITFIELD: So they didn’t have names on it—it was just more like positions?
MEGAN: Yeah. It was like groups of positions within the team, and then it just had markers. So you didn’t know who was making what, but when you see your salary, you can recognize it. And when I saw that I was at the bottom, it was very black and white that I was the least-paid person on the team.
WHITFIELD: What was the feeling at that moment? Walk us through what was going through your head. I mean, was it anger? Was it sadness? Were you frustrated?
MEGAN: I would say a range of emotions. So first I looked at it and it was kind of like my heart dropped. I was like, wow. Like, I know I work longer hours than a lot of people here, and I get good performance reviews, so it’s not a performance thing. So kind of just sad, and then kind of doubting myself. I thought, well, maybe my code’s not as good, so they’re paying me less. Or maybe, you know, I’m just not qualified. So I really started to doubt myself when I saw it. Those were kind of the first things I thought about. And then I got a little mad.
WHITFIELD: Rightfully so, I would say. You seem, as they say, degreed up and trained up. And you’re also doing this as a parent, which, I in recent years have discovered is the hardest job ever because kids don’t really care about your schedule. They just want what they want and they need what they need, and you have to provide it or you kind of go to prison. [Laughs]
MEGAN: Yeah, it’s frowned upon.
WHITFIELD: Yeah, it’s kind of frowned upon to neglect children. But you know, of course in all seriousness, it is a challenging thing. I mean, it’s a challenging thing because there is no time restriction on it. It’s like when it happens, I call it parenting in real time.
So you got that information, and didn’t you also say that you noticed some other, another person?
MEGAN: Yeah, so I had, I guess, a friend on the team. So there’s three women on the team. One of them was a Hispanic woman who had been there a few years, and the other woman on the team was this older white woman who had been with the company like 20, 25 years plus.
WHITFIELD: Wow. So she was kind of in a different category?
MEGAN: Right, yeah. She worked there almost her whole career, so probably not on the same scale as us. So we kind of were—
WHITFIELD: And you said this Latina was also the lowest paid as well?
MEGAN: Yeah, so we weren’t sure if we were allowed to talk about it, so we were outside on a break and taking a walk and she’s like, “Did you see that?” And I was like, “Yeah.” She’s like, “What did you think?” I was like, “Well, flat out, I’m not going to even beat around the bush. I had the lowest salary on there.” And she was like, “Yeah so, I had the next lowest salary on there.” [Laughs] She was like, “I was wondering who had the lowest.” [Laughs] So I was like, “Yes, so it was me.”
So then there was probably another at least $20,000 before the next step up, so these weren’t gradual increases. It was me and her and then like $20,000, and then the next person started.
WHITFIELD: And a lot of people will say, I mean, it’s just uncomfortable to talk about money, pay. I mean, even the closest people you’re with. I mean, I know they always say that even relationships suffer because of finances. So in some ways some people feel like it’s the perfect crime because no one wants to talk about it. So that kind of benefits the situation because no one really knows what anybody’s really making.
MEGAN: Yeah. And it’s almost like this social contract that we don’t ask people about their pay, but how do we know if we’re being paid fairly if we don’t talk about it?
WHITFIELD: Another thing that comes up in the research is about salary history. Has that been an issue for you where you’ve had to say how much you made somewhere else? And if in this case you were the lowest paid, does that kind of follow you around?
MEGAN: So my strategy for that is I calculate my entire compensation package and I give that number.
WHITFIELD: Meaning like bonuses and things like that?
MEGAN: Yeah. Typically, they ask me what my minimum salary requirements are, but this is when a recruiter is contacting me about leaving my position and coming to work for them. They’ll say, ‘Hey, what would it take to get you to leave?’ But if it’s something where I’ve applied for a job and they want to know my current salary, then yes, I add everything up and just wrap it up in a nice package. They don’t need to know what’s salary, what’s bonus, what’s pension and what’s 401(k) matches. I just come up with a number that I think is my compensation package, and that is all their businesses.
WHITFIELD: [Laughs] OK. Well, there you go. If you’re listening, there’s a strategy to employ. I guess the issue is, I don’t know, do they check, do they call the company? Who knows, but you can always say, well, when I looked at my salary, I considered all of the things that I got. I know in cases I got parking paid, I had cell phones paid, so technically that was income to me. So it’s just something to think about.
So this is actually the conservative figure. According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, today’s wage gap, a woman just starting out will lose just over $406,000 over a 40-year career. Interestingly, they say with Black women, it’s actually closer to just over $946,000. So that’s a lot of money to never see, to never be able to experience, to utilize, to employ. Do you have conversations with other women in the tech industry to hear their stories? I mean, are they having similar complaints?
MEGAN: So I think the great thing about being a woman of color in tech or a woman in general in tech is that there’s a great support community. And so a lot of women rally around each other because there’s few of us. So there’s a lot of meetup groups, there’s a lot of clubs, a lot of places where you can get good information. It’s still kind of a little taboo to talk about salary, but I’ve never had anybody say like, “Oh my gosh, why are you asking me this?”
People, they get it. Yeah, they’re getting it. They understand. So there have been some allies and numbers to be able to talk about that. But I think from what I’ve heard, it’s mixed. Some women feel they’re incredibly underpaid, and some feel like tech is the greatest thing for women because they can close that gap where in other industries they may not see such huge advances in salary.
WHITFIELD: Interestingly, some research has shown that women don’t ask for a higher salary. They essentially get an offer, they take it. And I know that’s come up, but then I’ve also seen studies that said, no, women are asking and they’re just being told, no, we’re not going to pay that. So what has been your experience?
MEGAN: Probably both. So I think earlier in my career, I was very, I guess, shy and didn’t want to come off as so…
WHITFIELD: Difficult? Demanding?
MEGAN: Difficult, demanding, wanting to climb the corporate ladder too quick, ambitious. So I didn’t really negotiate. And I remember when at the company we talked about with my salary, my low end of the salary, it was still quite a bit more than I had been making, so when they offered it, I was like, ‘Yes, I will take that.’ Like, I can’t believe they’re giving me this much money. What are they? They’re the fools, right? [Laughs] Like, I am making out like a bandit. Little did I know, I probably could have negotiated quite a bit more.
WHITFIELD: Like 20, 30?
MEGAN: I would say 30, yeah. I mean, for somebody with a undergraduate degree in certificates and experience—I didn’t have my graduate degree yet—but I had a good amount of experience. I think when I’ve asked for raises, I’ve been told no. And I would say another thing I learned in my career is being a team player is great, but you still have to stick up for yourself. So a lot of times in performance reviews, I’d say, “Oh, we built this. We did that,” thinking I’m being a great team player when in reality, I wasn’t taking credit for my work, which impacted me getting a raise.
WHITFIELD: Great information.
MEGAN: So if I could say, “No, I built this, let me put this on my performance review and show my boss. This is what I did. I deserve a raise so I can continue doing this type of work.” I could have negotiated things better for myself when it came time for performance raises.
WHITFIELD: Yeah. And I can say, taking off my interviewer hat and putting myself into this, I have come to performance reviews with my own notes. Literally before, I’ve typed up a three-page report of what I say I did because there is this amnesia that happens, especially when money’s involved, and I would like to say it has worked, but then in some ways in the long run, it didn’t. I don’t know if it was perceived as negative or if it was still like, ‘Hey, I know you put that out there, but we’re not necessarily going to acknowledge it,’ but I still feel better, as you said, advocating for myself.
MEGAN: But then, on the other spectrum, a lot of companies are pushing for diversity. So then sometimes I’m like, do they actually want me to work there? Are they trying to hit some diversity quota?
WHITFIELD: Just to say that they interviewed you.
MEGAN: They’re like, look at our unicorn, she’s here. [Laughs] We have a Black woman on a tech team.
WHITFIELD: That should be the name of this episode: “The Black Unicorn and Tech.” [Laughs]
MEGAN: Yeah. And then I, again, have gone to a lot of women in tech meetups, and my old company had one specifically for their company. One of the executives was an Asian woman, and she was very good about holding these kinds of groups. And I remember I had to do a presentation and I was very nervous, and she said something that kind of made me pause. She was like, “Why are you nervous? You’re a beautiful Black woman. Like, people are intimidated by you.” And I was just like, “Huh?” [Laughs] You’re like, “Really? Me?”
I was like, if you know me, I’m not intimidating at all. Just the fact that maybe when Black women are coming into typical, traditionally male, white male-dominated fields that maybe they are intimidating people, and people are like, “Are they really going to be a cultural fit?” So I don’t know.
WHITFIELD: Wow. Well that sounds like something that’s an ism that is really hard to fight ‘cuz it’s kind of an invisible fight. You can’t control who’s intimidated by you per se. What would you tell your younger self about this? If you had known what you know now when you started out, what would you have done differently?
MEGAN: I definitely would have advocated for myself more. You know, we can wait for legislation. We can wait for initiatives from companies, but that could be a target that never happens. So I would just tell myself, you know what you’re talking about. You’re an expert in your field. You’re just as qualified as anybody else. You have just as much right to be here as anybody else.
Like, advocate. I would just advocate for myself. I would ask for as much as I thought I could get away with without being fearful that it would prevent me from getting a job. They’re not gonna not offer me the job because I was too ambitious. If they want me, they’re going to either negotiate or meet my requirements.
WHITFIELD: So it seems like, and I’ve gotten this from other people I’ve talked to about this, it really starts with you valuing yourself, your contribution and not really believing the narrative that’s being told.
MEGAN: I think so. I mean, there could be all the biases in the world, but we can just deal with it or try to advocate. The worst they can do is say no.
WHITFIELD: You make a very important point that it starts with you. But beyond that, when you think about solving this on a larger scale, what would be your ideas on how you think this could be addressed nationwide, really?
MEGAN: So even if a company is not going to have these initiatives and agree to work to pay the gap, more transparency is needed because just seeing that paper that I saw was very eye-opening, and that gives the choice to us. Like, I can stay here. I can ask for a raise. I can leave. But when there’s no transparency, there’s not a lot you can really do. You can’t prove there’s a gap if you don’t have that in front of you. So I think just talking to your coworkers, talking to people in your industry, researching, looking on all these websites that post salaries, so when you go into the negotiation room, table, whatever, you have numbers that you know are fair.
WHITFIELD: You’re armed, so to speak.
MEGAN: Yes, yes. Armed with knowledge.
WHITFIELD: Great, great, great information. Great. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I think it’s going to just get people thinking and that’s what this is about.
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WHITFIELD: Clearly, her company’s decision to practice pay transparency ultimately had a positive impact on Megan’s experience in the workplace. And I’m happy to report that since her interview, Megan has moved on to a new position with another company. She says this time around, she felt extremely empowered in the negotiating process and also received a sizable pay increase. So congratulations, Megan.
Pay transparency, however, is still not necessarily a widespread practice in most American workplaces. Our next guest knows that all too well. She has spent the bulk of her career as a union organizer fighting for workers’ rights, negotiating contracts, pushing for wage increases and addressing issues such as waste suppression, hostile work environments, and yes, pay inequity. In January 2020, Susan DeCarava stepped into her new role as president of the NewsGuild of New York, previously known as the Newspaper Guild. The workers union represents employees at some of the most well-known media outlets in the country, such as the New Yorker, Buzzfeed News, Pitchfork, NBC Digital and most recently, Wired magazine. She joins us now to share her perspective on this issue of pay transparency and other issues related to the gender pay gap and Black women.
Susan, thanks for joining us.
DECARAVA: Thank you so much for having me, Chandra. I’m delighted to be here.
WHITFIELD: Well, it’s an honor to have you, and of course I have to start by congratulating you because I still think that you are still the newly minted president and that’s a huge honor.
DECARAVA: It is indeed, and I thank you for that. I have to say it’s been a bit of trial by fire. Pretty much two months into our new term, Covid-19 really, I think, hit everybody very hard, and so we’re figuring it out as we go along, but the commitment is the same,
WHITFIELD: Yeah, that is exactly where I was going to go with that. I was like, interesting times to be a leader. [Laughs] I’m sure you’re like, “Wow, I really signed up for more than I expected.” So how has that been affecting what you’re doing?
DECARAVA: Well, I mean, it makes everything much more difficult, of course. People are struggling all over the place. At the same time, though, I think it’s also provided us in an odd way an opportunity to highlight why the work we do is so important. why unions are so important, why collective action is so important in terms of balancing the scales within the hierarchy of work and in terms of addressing issues of equity in our workplaces. When you think about what the pandemic has exposed, which is inequities that have always been there in our society, whether they’re racial, medical, economic, the idea that Black communities and Black people bear a disproportionate brunt of the impact of these things is not new. It’s kind of like the silent organizing force of American society.
WHITFIELD: So you are a Black woman, and you’re also a union leader. What comes to mind for you when you think about this issue of the gender pay gap, pay discrimination as it relates to Black women in the workplace?
DECARAVA: Well, [laughs] man, there are no easy questions here, or easy answers. They’re all multilayered. When it comes to Black women, we are often more highly educated, multiple degrees, and yet we’re still far, far behind, lag behind our counterparts. I think I was reading a statistic recently that said that the more degrees or the more education that Black women achieve, the higher the pay gap is for them. Women who have advanced degrees, there’s a 35 percent gap between men’s earnings and Black women’s earnings. You know, we were talking a little bit earlier off mic about the experiences, anecdotally, of some colleagues and people that we know who are incredibly credentialed—they have PhDs, they have master’s degrees, they have a tremendous amount of experience—and yet when it comes to issues of salary and compensation, still find themselves on the low end of the scale in their workplace.
WHITFIELD: Pretty disheartening to hear because there’s just this belief that if you better yourself or make yourself more prepared, that you’re going to somehow overcome those issues. But today we’re kind of honing in on this issue of pay transparency. Has pay transparency or the gender or racial gap been an issue driving any work or organizing in the Guild?
DECARAVA: Absolutely it has. And I think to pick up on the point that you just raised, the idea that people can solve these systemic and structural problems on an individual basis is just a myth that we’ve got to stop agreeing to believe in because it’s just simply not true, and whether or not employees have gathered themselves formally within a union and organized, or they’re simply seeking to arm themselves for individual negotiations over salary, the idea of sharing salary information and salary transparency I think is extraordinarily powerful in the hands of workers and in the hands of employees. I think it’s great. The more information there is out there, the better.
So it’s great when employers do share that information, but even still that’s a decision that the employer is making, and it has a completely different tone and intent when colleagues come together and voluntarily share with each other to inform their own negotiations over salary, but to also really kind of change the culture of their workplace by insisting upon equity, by pointing out the disparities, by discussing how they arrived at whatever salary they got. These are all things that happen I think along whispered networks that already exist in a lot of places.
And it’s really saying, that’s not OK—this information is for everyone. And so it’s quite powerful and transformative. And it’s really among the top things that we hear over and over again from journalists and media workers who want to organize. They feel that they are faced with inadequate pay, with inadequate job security and inadequate diversity. These are consistently the three things that we hear over and over again, and they’re all interrelated.
The issues of pay, which kind of hum along without anyone really challenging it, are set by what you were paid in your previous job, how seriously your experience is given credit compared to another colleague’s by the employer, what your other colleagues are even asking for. It’s impossible to negotiate within a vacuum, and that’s part of why salary transparency is so important. That information is really vital for companies to publish on the regular so that people understand what they’re walking into, but I think even when you are in a workplace, it’s important for employees amongst themselves to share that information. It really kind of pulls the rug out from the secrecy that pits people against each other and makes it a zero sum game, ‘cuz it’s really not. The employer has the funds. They’re paying it to someone—they’re just not paying it to Black women.
So it’s really about how do we identify the fact that this inequity exists in a very open way? And I think most people in a workplace when we’ve undergone these efforts and people have talked about their salaries openly and they have shared with each other, I’ve yet to run across a situation where someone says, you know, there’s no reason why my colleagues shouldn’t be getting the same thing I am. We do the same job. We have the same experience I’ve actually had situations where there was huge, like thousands of dollars of disparity in pay, where the person who’s paid more is literally puzzled. They actually thought that their colleagues were getting the same thing as they did because they knew that the other person maybe even had more experience than they did, or as you said, was more highly credentialed than in terms of degrees or that kind of thing. So it really is a situation where we’re all kind of bumbling around in the dark, and the only person or only entity that benefits is the company.
WHITFIELD: Exactly. It’s that the only person satisfied is the company in keeping everyone—
WHITFIELD: So Susan, do any Guild shops make pay information transparent among its members and what kind of effect have you seen if they do?
DECARAVA: Yeah, absolutely. It happens in a couple of different ways. When we have what’s called a collective bargaining agreement, which is basically like the union contract that governs terms and conditions in a workplace, among the things that’s in that contract is the pay scale of minimums. We don’t ever cap what people can earn or their earning capacity. We want people to get the most that they can, but we also want to be sure that there’s a floor under which no one will ever fall. And so those minimums and those pay schedules and how people get paid, the guarantees that they have for economic advancement for every year of the contract, whether they be across the board, COLA, or cost of living increases, if they are tied to merit, as well as kind of what we call the scale of minimums or these floors that we established for positions and some combination of all of that, it’s all published within the contract, which is available to all members.
So everyone at the very least has a general understanding. They can flip open at a contract. They can go to the digital version of it and say, OK, this is kind of the general range. This is the scale in which I should be in. And they also know, and it’s made public, that you can negotiate for more, either collectively or individually. And we certainly do that with our members all the time, and that they know that there is what we call “above-scale pay.” So just by virtue of having a contract, those terms and conditions regarding pay are very public within the unit. They’re very public amongst all of your colleagues, and that encourages people to talk more openly about wages and salaries and where people fall along the scale.
The other way in which it happens is in, if we’re talking about a newly organized unit where we don’t yet have a contract and we’re bargaining for one, there we really encourage people to engage in what we call “radical salary transparency.” We don’t wait for the company to decide for people what they’re going to do. We want people to decide what’s important to them, and the process of forming a union and working collectively with your colleagues to better your terms and conditions requires a lot of communication and a lot of conversation about what are your shared values. And oftentimes these issues of inadequate pay and inadequate diversity, which are intertwined, come up repeatedly over and over again.
And so we do have situations where we have had newly organized shops, have decided on their own that salary transparency is important for their workplace culture. It’s important to give everybody the information that they need in terms of where we want to go collectively, what are the minimums we want to set in our new contract and also gives people tips about what is the best way to approach this conversation with your manager. How do I go in and say to someone that previously told me there was no option for negotiating what I have? Well, listen, I know that three out of four of my colleagues are actually making quite a bit more than me, but I’ve been brought in to do X, so why is there a disparity?
And what happens, nine times out of 10, is that they get a raise. That’s the most immediate impact, but more importantly, well not more importantly, but I think just as important, is that there is a new level of trust among colleagues. And there is a sense of, this is not dependent upon someone pulling me aside and saying, “Hey, don’t tell anybody, but this is what I did.” Instead, we’re seeing it in a room openly, and we’re talking about how we arrived here and how we learned that information. And when I referenced before we were talking about how part of what makes it so radical is that it also reveals these whisper networks that often exist in newsrooms and actually a lot of workplaces without acknowledgement.
Sometimes people call, like, who’s your champion? Who’s your rabbi? Who does the shoulder tap to say I want you for this position? All of these ways that are unacknowledged, but very clearly exist and have a real profound impact on someone’s professional trajectory—when you start talking about that, it gets rid of the mystery in it, and it denudes it have the power to differentiate from people along the lines that that may or may not even be conscious, right? It doesn’t excuse the fact that these discriminatory structures are there and need to be dismantled, but when you’re confronted with how you’ve benefited, oftentimes at the expense of people that you work with, who you admire, who you respect, that has just a profound effect on your understanding of the dynamics in the workplace, as it does for the person who’s impacted by the inequity. And so it can really radicalize the idea of “I’m just this one person in this workplace or newsroom trying to get ahead,” and instead becomes, “There is a way here and a mechanism for us to all accomplish a lot more and a lot better for ourselves without carrying the burden of trying to address these big problems one-on-one.”
What you talked about, to be honest with you, almost every case that I’ve encountered where this information was discovered, it was the buddy in HR, it was something left on our printer. I just don’t really hear a lot of people telling that story of, “Oh, they came to me and we discussed my salary.” It’s always sort of like this “stumbled upon this document” kind of situation. And again, it seems like that’s what protects the company, and many people just do not know what other people are making.
Companies need to commit to this idea of a more transparent workplace in general. It goes counter to years and years and decades of the various specific anti-worker policies and concerns that really just were all about maximizing profits. And it’s impossible for any one person to dismantle that on their own. It’s just not going to happen. So that’s why, again, this idea of salary transparency and people coming together to assert the values that are important to them in their workplace, which forces an employer to reckon with that and re-examine, in the best possible scenario, their policies towards that, is so important.
WHITFIELD: I’ll tell you, this podcast has really made me concerned about my own career, like thinking, “Wow, I have no idea how much money I have left on the table just because I was unaware.” So what type of argument do you make to companies, to organizations, to management, to encourage them to do this?
DECARAVA: I think people want to work in an environment that feels fair and just. They want to work with colleagues where there isn’t this simmering distrust and resentment about how people are compensated and the company’s commitment to them as ambassadors and the way that they represent out in the world, and I think that’s really important. And I think the best employers understand that that’s how you really get the best out of people.
WHITFIELD: It really goes back to feeling valued, I would say, and that’s come up a lot in the interviews for this podcast, is just not feeling valued. One thing I’ve appreciated is several of the women, really unprompted, which was what I appreciated, is they shared how painful and hurtful it is. It’s like, yes, we’ve all heard the term “It’s not personal, it’s business,” but it’s really hard to separate that feeling that someone literally feels like you’re valued less. Has this been a part of your life? Have you had experiences with pay discrimination and pay inequity?
DECARAVA: Well, to tell you the truth, I really don’t know [laughs] because prior to doing this work, I did not work in places where people talked about their salaries. So given the statistics and given the reality of pay disparity in all industries across the country, I’m going to say yes, I assume so. I guess for me, I have not personally had a situation where I knew for sure that I was denied a promotion or didn’t get a raise specifically because I was a Black woman in an environment where there were no other Black women, which was a very common experience. I’m sure you’ve been there too many times.
For me, the way it’s played out is my understanding, at this point, that I didn’t have to quietly accept inequity to keep my job. But I could fight against it, and I could demand better for myself and for my colleagues and in doing so, regardless of the outcome, I won because I didn’t diminish myself in the process. And I think that’s so important because there were all of these quiet, unspoken cues to people to stay in your place. Don’t make waves. The most important thing is that you hang on to this thing that’s actually making you feel smaller and smaller in this organization. And again, that goes back to what we’re able to bring back to our professions, how we’re able to fulfill our roles. You were talking about the women that you’ve talked to who very viscerally felt the impact of not being valued and seen.
I don’t think we should have to trade that. I don’t think we should have to trade ourselves to hold on to our jobs. So for me, understanding that I didn’t have to accept that and that I could actually make a different choice, it just hadn’t been shown to me before, was and is a defining aspect of how I approach this work going forward. I want everybody, particularly Black women, but I want everybody to have that experience because it means that you were able to enter into the work that you love with your full self and everybody benefits from that. You do, your family does, your community does, the nation does. I believe in that very, very much.
WHITFIELD: Definitely. In closing, are there any downsides to pay transparency in your view?
DECARAVA: Well, not for employees! [Laughs]
I guess I would say, all jokes aside, it’s hard to find out that your employer isn’t as invested in you as you think they were, as they’ve led you to believe. And that’s why I think it’s important that efforts towards salary transparency come from employees because employers making the decision on their own is still kind of taking power away from you to decide about what’s important to you, and how to present it and what’s the value of it, right? I mean, I definitely would never say that it’s not good to have that information and I’m glad that there are employers that are starting to share this information, but I still think that as employees, it’s important for us to state, what do we do with this information and not just put it out there, but like, how does this lead to action to address those things?
And so I think what I’d say is that I don’t think there’s a downside, but it’s also difficult to assess because frankly we’re not in a position where it’s such a common practice that we can look at it and analyze all of the ripple effects of putting it into place.
WHITFIELD: Absolutely. Any other closing remarks, words of inspiration or anything you just want to leave our listeners with?
DECARAVA: There’s a quote—I think it’s from Toni Morrison—where she said, in essence, it was along the lines of, “If you have an advantage, if you have some power, if you are free, part of your job is to turn around and offer assistance to someone else.” And I think that remembering that, that is so much of what we do already in our personal lives. That’s why the pay gap for Black women is so devastating, because the toehold we have on economic security is pretty fragile already. And when you look at how the pay gap makes that toehold more fragile and more uncertain, and given how many other people we support, whether it’s family, community, friends, colleagues, economically, emotionally, spiritually, we know that this is how we have survived personally. This is how we’ve gotten through personally.
I don’t think we need to make those distinctions when it comes to our professional lives either. I think it’s very important that we come together and understand that we do have power, we do have authority and we have the ability to have agency in our professional lives through collective action, through communicating with each other, through not just not building our own networks, but saying to everyone, ‘These are the values that are important to us, and that means that they should be important to this workplace because we are part of it.” I’ve been consistently surprised at how often people who you think would not be receptive to that message are and how much it can galvanize people across a newsroom, across a workplace, to join in the effort to right these kinds of economic wrongs.
And so I would say sometimes, the fear of that kind of economic precarity prevents us from acting. And I would instead urge us to use it as a motivation instead of a blockage towards action. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process and our ability to understand that together we can make a difference. And I realize I just ended this on a very clichéd note, [laughs] but it’s true.
WHITFIELD: No, I love it, I love it. We all need to be reminded. I can tell you these issues are very, very close to my heart, so thank you so much, Susan, for joining me today. It’s been an honor just for you to take the time out and share your perspective and your experience, and keep at it. Keep at it.
DECARAVA: Thank you, Chandra, so much. And again, I thank you for starting this endeavor. I’m so excited to hear the final outcome and the future podcasts. I’m so grateful that this work has allowed me to meet so many people who are doing such good work like you are, so thank you for thinking of me.
WHITFIELD: Absolutely. Again, she is Susan DeCarava, the newly elected president of the NewsGuild of New York.
Well, that’s today’s show, which was hosted and produced by me, journalist Chandra Thomas Whitfield. This episode was edited by House of Pod. You’re listening to “Convoy Lines” by Blue Dot Sessions. The In The Gap podcast was created with the support of the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and In These Times magazine, which has been covering issues of equity and social justice since 1976. To learn more about the In The Gap and the pay gap for Black women, go to www.inthesetimes.com/inthegap.
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