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Manoj Rao

Your Average Common Man

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Over the last couple of days a movement was started in a tweet to address the pay inequality in tech, especially for underrepresented groups like women and minorities. It proposes that everyone tweet out their pay to help achieve equal pay in tech.

I absolutely support the idea that for a given role/responsibility if there’s any version of pay disparity between two people because of their gender or social/cultural background it must be addressed immediately by the employer and the industry. If you are deciding not to pay people solely based on their output / work produced but by their physical, social, cultural, or ethnic attributes it is objectively wrong, if it is not already illegal. If you are this employer, Shame On You!

However, I’m not sure about the methods adopted to address this problem here. I don’t know what sort of risks the people who are publicly tweeting their annual salaries are taking up. Most of tech industry tends to enjoy a healthier pay standard compared to other hardworking industries. It’s one thing if you are making anywhere in the “average” ballpark. But there are some truly eye-popping numbers that people are putting out there right next to their mugshots. I might sound cynical here but I’m not entirely certain this is a smart move.

Let me be clear, I don’t have a solution to the problem of pay inequality. What I also lack is the belief that putting out a number without any context other than YOE, employer name, and position is helpful. “Software Developer” can be used to describe a Regular Joe Programmer and people like Fabrice Bellard, GKH, Steve Rostedt etc.

At best, this move reiterates the numbers seen on anonymized forums like http://www.teamblind.com or Glassdoor, because a profile pic isn’t helping in any way here. In most cases, this is pandering to the Reality TV Soap Opera audience of the tech world. At worst, it rubs salt in the wounds of people who are already trying to find ways to make equal pay as their lateral peers. I have a sneaky suspicion that it also puts the tweeter at some sort of risk. I have not figured out how just yet , but I got this feeling and can’t let go! In reality, there may not be an easy and scalable way for people to digest all the context from various people even if it was some how put out.

Let’s take an extreme example, If Jeff Dean tweeted about what’s surely bound to be handsome and a well-deserved pay package, I don’t see how an underpaid woman / a person of color can draw meaningful utility from such numbers. An uninformed reader might simply see a stereotype. If anything, this will reaffirm their confirmation bias, thus making this whole movement counter-productive. In Jeff’s case, it is unlikely that a tweet that can do justice to the impact he has had on his employer’s bottom line.

Instead of (or at least, in addition to!) putting your numbers out, I think the well meaning people should give out useful tips that they have applied in real life. Maybe, each person who is ready to share their Total Comp could share a salary negotiation tactic that has worked for them in the past or maybe share an easy skill that super-charged their career. Share your secrets, tricks, hacks that have gotten you to the fortunate position you are in, than simply brandishing the fruits of those works, albeit with good intentions.

Salary Negotiation Tip:

In many states in the US, it is illegal for a prospective employer to ask any version of, “how much do you currently make?” During that “Congratulations! Great News!” phone call with the recruiter, anticipate this question. Politely decline to respond. If anything, preempt the recruiter by asking for salary range for the position in the very first call. It doesn’t make you look “greedy” and if a recruiter tries to make you feel guilty you could respond with some version of “I’m certain employer XYZ wants to do everything they can to make sure their prospective employees are treated fairly in all respects”.


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