Trans­parency on salaries: A taboo is slowly wan­ing, start­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY JENA MCGRE­GOR jena.mcgre­gor@wash­post.com

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.

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