How many people have you shared your salary with? Why don’t you want people to know how much you earn? What are we afraid of?
I had been thinking about writing a longer response to the salary survey for a while now, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to say or how to say it.
I was at dinner this past weekend with some friends, and we started talking about our jobs. My friend Michael was talking about how much he loves his company (I know, right? So strange!), and after he had listed all the benefits, I asked him, “…and do they pay you well?”. He paused for a second, and then said “yeah I guess. It’s relative.”
That’s when my other friend interrupted. “Have you guys noticed that people don’t like talking about their salaries? Why is that?”
We all shared our reasons: is it that it’s considered rude or impolite? Is it too personal? Is it just none of your business?
Those are all valid reasons, and for a lot of people that might be all it is. But I think there’s something else going on. I think we hide our salaries because, yes, Ghanaians don’t like to talk about money. But also, we’re afraid of what we might find out about ourselves and about other people. Nobody wants to feel cheated, and nobody wants to feel judged or shamed.
If you make “too much money”, then it’s
She doesn’t do that much work–she doesn’t deserve it. She doesn’t even need that much money; her parents still support her. She’s only 25, what does she need all that money for?
If you make “too little money”, then it’s
Ah, how can he only earn that small amount every month? How does he buy fuel? Why couldn’t he negotiate more? Maybe he’s not competent.
Look, the truth of the matter is, people are probably judging you anyway. Whether you’re making more than them, or less than them, they’ll talk. But the real question you should be asking yourself is, are you satisfied with how much you’re making? Probably not! We don’t have to speculate; we’ve proven it. Our salary survey shows that 68% of people aren’t satisfied with their salaries, and 58% of people feel underpaid. And yet we still don’t want to talk about how much we’re making.
By encouraging salary secrecy, we aren’t able to fight for higher salaries because we simply don’t know what to can compare to. When it’s time to negotiate your salary, it’s hard to say “I’m paid 500 cedis less every month than my counterparts, so I want a raise” when you don’t have that data. Most guides for negotiating a raise or salary requirement will tell you to find out and request a salary that matches the industry average for your position. But in Ghana, that information is almost impossible to find. Websites like Glassdoor don’t really have data for the Ghanaian job market. Until we start talking openly and honestly about salaries, we’re the only ones who are going to suffer.
Nobody suffers more from this than women. Women are consistently underpaid compared to men, across all industries. And yet, we are often too afraid or intimidated to request higher salaries, because we’re afraid of being seen as greedy or pushy, as if we’re asking for something that they don’t deserve. In my last job interview, when I was asked what my salary requirement was, I froze. I mumbled something about being willing to accept what they could offer, and I didn’t negotiate the offer at all once I got my offer letter. My brother didn’t understand why I wouldn’t just say how much I really wanted, and why I accepted an offer that was less than what I expected. He made it clear that I was to blame for not getting the salary that I wanted; I should have just asked for it. To some extent, he was right. You can’t get what you don’t ask for. But that doesn’t mean my fear was unfounded. It’s not easy being a woman in the Ghanaian corporate world, and my fear of being seen as ungrateful and greedy prevented me from getting what I wanted and deserved.
If you think salary transparency is a totally idealistic dream that doesn’t make sense from an employer’s standpoint, you’re wrong. There’s a lot of research on the topic that shows that open discussion about salaries improves job performance and satisfaction. Sometimes, yes, disclosing salaries leads to more people demanding (well-deserved) raises. But most of the time, it means that people are able to quantify their values as employees and it removes a lot of the workplace jealousy that comes from speculation and prevents people who are fairly compensated from feeling underpaid and unmotivated. Being secretive about salaries does more harm to employees than it does to help them.
I challenge all of you, all of us, to start having open and honest discussions about our salaries. It’s not just about having enough money to chill at Soho every weekend. It’s about being fairly paid, about being happy, and feeling valued. Honestly, chances are you won’t love your job. It seems like most people don’t. But even if you hate it, I think you should be being paid enough to suffer through it.