Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is on staff at InHerSight where she writes about data and women's rights.
A March 2019 survey conducted by InHerSight found that 62 percent of women say they would be somewhat uncomfortable or very uncomfortable asking a male colleague to share his salary information.
How comfortable would you be asking a male colleague to disclose his salary information to you?
The same survey also found that 36 percent of women say a male colleague has, in fact, shared his salary information with them.
Have you ever had a male colleague disclose his salary to you?
Pay transparency in context
Pay transparency, or knowledge of employee pay information across a company or organization or even publicly, is often cited as a solution to the gender pay gap, though the jury is still out on its exact effects on pay equity. But if employees don’t know what their coworkers are making, they cannot know whether they are underpaid or by how much.
Pay transparency does not come without controversy. Some employers feel that public salary information could be used by competitors to poach employees. Other dissenters believe pay information out of context could breed resentment and unhealthy competition among employees.
Read more: The 2019 Salary Satisfaction Report
Your rights when it comes to pay disclosure
Since the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935, private sector employers cannot prohibit private sector employees from talking about wages and compensation.
Pay disclosure in the public sector
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “In the public sector, most government agencies have formal grade and step systems that make general wage and salary information public (70 percent) and only 15 percent of workers are discouraged (9 percent) or prohibited (6 percent) from publicly discussing salary information at work.”
Transparency can be effective at fostering pay satisfaction: InHerSight’s data also shows that women who work for government agencies, whose employees are generally paid according to standardized pay scales, are significantly more satisfied with their compensation than are women in other industries.
Pay disclosure at work
In 2006, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Lilly Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., in which the plaintiff Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer for pay discrimination on the basis of sex. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the company. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot be sued over race or gender pay discrimination if the claims are based on decisions the employer made 180 days ago or more.
Ledbetter brought the case against Goodyear (2.5 stars) after finding an anonymous note that disclosed the pay of male counterparts who held the same position at Goodyear, but were making thousands more. In 2009, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law as an amendment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The amendment states that the 180-day statute of limitations resets with each paycheck.
In 2018, 11 judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court unanimously ruled that companies cannot rely on an employee’s previous salary to determine pay. The court held that doing so is in violation of the Equal Pay Act because it allows employers to continue to pay women less than men.
The case was brought by Aileen Rizo, a math consultant in California. Rizo learned that she was paid less than her male counterparts after salaries were disclosed over lunch. The case is currently on appeal.
Many states prohibit employers from inquiring about salary history. Oregon was the first state to pass such a law. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania, and Vermont also have pay history bans on the books.
Survey of more than 2,000 women in March 2019.
InHerSight’s company ratings snapshot, indicated in parenthesis, was taken on April 1, 2019.
This article is part of InHerSight’s month-long coverage of equal pay. Timed with Equal Pay Day, the series looks at how the pay gap affects women of all backgrounds and in all industries.