May 1 is May Day, better known to most of the world as International Workers Day, a day when people in a variety of countries often protest for better working conditions. In a spirit of solidarity, Lauren Voswinkel, a computer programmer who lives in Pittsburgh, decided to launch a Twitter campaign called #talkpay, encouraging Americans to publicly publish their salary history and information. It’s aimed at closing the pay gaps that mean women make 78 percent of what men do, while women of color make even less.
The idea was a long time in the making and traces back to Voswinkel’s own experience trying to get raises. “My salary was completely stagnant for years,” she told ThinkProgress. She was stuck making around $55,000 for about five or six years before she decided to simply start lying about her salary history when talking to prospective employers to target the compensation she thought she deserved. “Once I did that and once I also just shot for the moon basically, I started seeing enormous leaps in my pay when I moved from job to job.” She leapt to $80,000 for a Portland, Oregon-based startup, then to $120,000 at her current job. “Knowing that other people were making that much money, and basically having the confidence to just push for it, was what I really needed to advance myself,” she said.
Then the issue came up again when she was a technology industry conference last year, when she had a conversation with a fellow attendee who was new to the field and didn’t know how much money to ask for or what salary to expect. “I had this realization that one of the big reasons for that was because of the taboo and control over discussions surrounding pay,” she said. Despite the fact that workers have a legally protected right to discuss pay, about half say that their employers tell them they can’t.
So Voswinkel gave a short “lightning” talk about the issue, in which she also revealed her own salary, years of experience, and location and asked the audience to do the same. “The response I got from that lightning talk was phenomenal,” she said. People came up after and shared stories of unfair pay, including one woman who worked as both a programmer and a manager and found out she made tens of thousands less than one of the people she had hired and was managing.
The idea for the hashtag campaign specifically is not just meant to share salary information, but to put a name and a face to it by having people talk about their own pay under their Twitter handles. “The problem with revealing pay anonymously is that women and other marginalized people can look at a range of salaries…and it’s very easy for them to be able to say, ‘Oh I don’t deserve the high end of that,’” she said. “When you actually have names attached to everything, and you’ve worked with people…or know them personally, it’s easier to say, ‘Wait, I’m just as good as that person and they’re making $30,000 or $40,000 more than me.”
“It can provide a concrete piece of information that is completely irrefutable for them,” she explained. “We can’t be afraid to talk about these things in order to push for higher wages for everybody.”
The hashtag is already generating many responses, from both men detailing their entire salary histories:
'02: $42k IT helpdesk/web dev
'05: $65k CRM/app dev
'10: 102k senior app dev
'15: 103k senior web dev
— Caleb Thompson (@calebthompson) May 1, 2015
First job after college: 2005, Palm Desert, CA $34K as GIS Technician. Now, $63K as GIS Coordinator in WA. Both jobs public sector. #talkpay
— nick peihl (@nickpeihl) May 1, 2015
#talkpay (base) 99-04 jr/reg dev TX, 40-50s
05-07 sr dev, TX 60s to 70s
07-10 sr dev, NYC 125-170 (ot)
10-13 mgr, MD 110s
14-15 mgr, TX 130
— Mike Jackson (@volkadav) May 1, 2015
Alright #talkpay, let's do this (white male 31yro).
2007 PDX: straight out of college, $58k
2011 PDX: $87k
2012 PDX: $82k + bonus
— Pete Keen (@zrail) May 1, 2015
2013-2014 (after graduation): Software Development Engineer: $100k
2014-present: Software Developer and Analyst: $110k #talkpay
— Tim 🌹 (@eps_tvaughan) May 1, 2015
To women doing the same:
Google salaries (all in Pittsburgh):
bonuses ~15% of salary
also got RSUs#talkpay
— OMG KITTEN (@juliepagano) May 1, 2015
And it’s having an impact. “There have been people due to this hashtag that realized…that they’re underpaid for what they do, they’re hoping to address that,” she said. And she says she has received mostly unanimously positive feedback.
So far, the conversation on Twitter has been mainly dominated by people who work in the technology field, likely due to Voswinkel’s own industry and the publication where she launched the campaign, Model View Culture, having a focus on tech. But she hopes people from other industries will also join in. “I want the hashtag to be open to everybody,” she said. A few people from outside of tech have chimed in:
Til next week, I'm an LIS grad student making $9/hour at one job (20hrs/week) and $10/hr at another (4hr/week)…I live on loans. #talkpay
— Siobhain Rivera (@SioTheLibrarian) May 1, 2015
— Courtney Seiter (@courtneyseiter) May 1, 2015
“The hope with this hashtag is that we get comfortable enough discussing pay and having these conversations around working conditions, around employment in general, that we realize that collective action actually has an effect,” Voswinkel said. “We can speak up, as a group, in order to affect change and have it number one work, and number two not have repercussions that would happen if we were to speak up individually.”