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Let’s start with laying out a few facts, pulled in part from an article I wrote on this topic in August:
1. It is unlawful for private sector employers to prohibit employees from discussing wages and compensation, and it has been since the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935.
2. Open discussion of salaries among peers and co-workers, experts say, is a powerful tool to fight pay inequity.
3. Pay transparency can even protect companies by “minimizing the risk of disparate treatment claims and increasing job satisfaction for workers,” according to Angela Cornell, the director of the Labor Law Clinic at Cornell Law School.
And yet! Despite all the genuinely positive benefits that may come from people discussing salaries, we still shy away from talking about it. Why?
“Money is so tied up with really complex and difficult emotions, like shame, success, fear of failure, and how people view you,” Brianna McGurran, a money expert at the personal finance blog NerdWallet, told me in August.
“So when you’re talking about how much you earn, or how much you’re saving, a lot of people end up tying that to their self-worth,” she said.
Further still, there are both cultural and practical roadblocks that actively discourage us from discussing money in general, whether that’s salary talk or sharing how much we’ve saved in a retirement fund.
Kristin Wong, author of “Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford,” wrote that many of us “grow up learning that money is one of a few topics — like politics, sex and religion — that you should avoid in polite company. You don’t brag about your net worth. You don’t share your salary with colleagues. You try not to ask your friends about their rent, even if it helps put your budget in perspective.”
So, yes: The cards are stacked against us here. Compounding the problem is that some companies implicitly — and sometimes explicitly — discourage employees from openly discussing their salaries. Horror stories of employees facing punishment for sharing salaries aren’t difficult to dig up, and sharing can be even more difficult for new employees, employees who aren’t in a position of power, or women and minority employees.
Still, the tides are changing. In just the past few years, cultural norms and legislation have begun to unravel some of the forces that discourage open salary discussion, sometimes even tilting pay negotiations in favor of employees.
A handful of states, including California, Connecticut and Massachusetts, have banned employers from asking job candidates for a salary history, which shifts some leveraging power back to the candidates. In 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order “prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation.” And in some industries, including the news media, unionization has become a powerful force in fighting for worker wages.
Having these conversations is much easier said than done, but there are ways to gain confidence in discussing your salary.
Most important, Ms. McGurran said, is to be open and genuine, framing these conversations as beneficial for everyone involved. She suggests starting with people who are more senior than you, “maybe someone who has helped bring you on, or a previous manager, or someone who you really trust and wants to see you succeed.” This can give you a bigger-picture view of your company’s salaries.
From there, try to approach peers, co-workers or fellow alumni in off-campus, laid-back settings, all while keeping the focus on the salary and not the person.
“Try not to make it about your peer or colleague,” she said. “It’s not about trying to fish around for gossip,” Ms. McGurran said. She added that the websites LinkedIn, PayScale and Salary can be good resources to find a baseline. (For even more advice on salary negotiations, read this article.)
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This week I’ve invited friend of S.L. Marissa Miller to teach us when it’s time to stop following up on a work email.
We’ve all got the basics down when it comes to following up on a work email: Write an engaging subject line. Reiterate your request in the body. Don’t threaten to show up at their doorstep with a honeydew-laden fruit basket.
But you’re probably doing more harm than good if you don’t know when to stop following up.
“I have a theory that you should contact a person three times and then you strike out. If they don’t respond after the third email, give up,” said Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert and author of “Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals.” Unless they’ve requested something from you, they have no obligation to respond.
On your final try, include a deadline to respond, Ms. Whitmore said. Give them permission to decline your offer, easing their potential fear of confrontation. You’d rather a no than no response at all.
It sounds creepier in theory than it does in practice, but before following up, check your contact’s social media posts for hints of a company change, vacation and illness or the like. It may turn out that it’s them, not you.