Why my women friends and I talk money

My closest women friends know exactly how much I earn per day, and I know how much they earn.

When any of us get a job offer, we meet. And we talk money. It’s not because we’re nosy, or gossipy. Or even because we’re from different cultures, some of which are less fussy than others about salary being a private matter.

It’s a political thing. We share information to help each other negotiate our salaries.

For people who don’t know us well, it might seem a surprise that we’d need this sort of help. We’re all big personalities in our own ways — I love that we’re the kinds of women who are public about our feminism and who take pride in being good at our work.

But we’re also all bad at asking for enough money for that work. There are lots of structural, identity-and-society reasons for this. We can’t fix all of that. What we can fix is what we do about it.

That’s why we’re radically transparent with each other about our day rates.

In some organisations, including several of my past employers, discussing your day rate or your salary with your colleagues is deemed “illegal” or simply uncouth. I’m not telling anyone to break the law, but it’s worth asking who those laws protect. Underrepresented minorities, or existing, self-perpetuating power structures associated with gender, race and class? Proceed accordingly.

Like me, many of my women friends are freelancers who work in tech and creative industries. It’s relevant that these are broad remits with porous boundaries, because there’s no clear baseline for what someone like me “should” earn.

I talk to my women friends about my day rate because I know they’ll tell me if I’m overreaching.

That’s not what they end up doing.

They tell me to fight for the extra 30–40% that’s freely given to men with my level of experience. To not listen to the echo of my own fears of inadequacy in suggestions from employers that I lower my day rate.

We share stories of places that pay and promote “people like us” (depending on our various identity markers) fairly, at all levels, rather than use diversity as a form of window dressing. (On the topic of diversity work as window dressing, I recommend Sara Ahmed’s On Being Included which Rebecca Kemp lent me a long time ago and which I think I’ve returned.)

We’ve all learned the hard way that how much you earn is one of the ways you earn respect in flat structures. Getting the requisite respect to do your job is hard enough when you have both the skills necessary and the implicit endorsement of a competitive day rate. Without money or title, you’re going to struggle unduly.

By being radically transparent about our salaries with each other, my women friends and I have a chance to be paid as much as our male colleagues. Sometimes, we end up getting paid more than the men.

(If that last sentence strikes you as shocking, or as something you feel the need to discuss or challenge, I encourage you to ask yourself why you think the status quo, which suggests that it’s currently the reverse, is OK.)

It’s self-interest, rooted in social justice. We have nothing to lose but the wage gap.

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