Transparency on salaries: A taboo is slowly waning, starting in Silicon Valley.
Talking openly about salaries is still viewed as taboo for many people and many companies, even if it’s perfectly legal. But that didn’t stop former Google engineer Erica Baker.
In a series of 34 tweets, Baker— who now works for the office messaging app Slack — outlined how she and former co-workers created a spreadsheet in which they shared their salaries. She reposted it on an internal social network account while still at Google, and it spread “like wildfire,” she wrote, with others adding “spreadsheet magic that highlighted not great things” regarding pay.
Managers weren’t happy about it, Baker tweeted, and they called her in to ask why she did it and, she says, and ultimately rejected bonuses that her colleagues had given her. (Google lets employees award co-workers with $150 “peer bonuses” for good work.)
“Before I left, about 5% of former co. had shared their salary on that sheet. People asked for & got equitable pay based on data in the sheet,” Baker wrote in a tweet. In another, she wrote: “The world didn’t end. Everything didn’t go up in flames because salaries got shared. But [things] got better for some people.”
Baker has been called brave, bold, even a superhero— not only for creating the spreadsheet but also for going public on how she says Google responded.
A Google spokeswoman wrote: “Our policy is not to comment on individual or former employees, but we can confirm that we regularly run analysis of compensation, promotion and performance to ensure that they are equitable with no pay gap.”
Baker’s story comes amid a growing discussion, particularly in the tech industry, about the power of pay transparency, prompting some of the traditional wariness on the subject to fade.
In April, Google’s “people operations” head Laszlo Bock said: “We are not transparent with salaries and bonuses and stock with employees — although managers see it and managers of managers see it— because it doesn’t seem to make anyone happier.”
“Maybe somebody got a bonus because they launched a difficult product or they had a really big sale or they did a really cool thing,” Bock added. “And if all you do is look at the numbers, that context is missing, and it becomes immensely dissatisfying.”
A growing number of tech startups are radically transparent with their salary data. The social media tool Buffer publishes a salary formula on its Web site. Mobile gaming company Weeby.co says it is transparent about its pay and puts new hires on a fast-track plan to reach $250,000 a year.
The data analytics firm Sum All makes information on salaries open to all company insiders. Dane Atkinson, chief executive of the 36-person firm, says transparency reduces politics, helps with recruiting, avoids gender pay issues and keeps people focused on work that the company values.
Atkinson also says he’s seeing a change. “When we were first written about, four years ago, there were like 80,000 comments, and they all thought we were utterly insane. We’d talk to senior executives at big companies and it was almost laughable.”
Atkinson has had more substantive conversations with big firms about Sum All’s approach. “The tone has changed,” he said.