Jill Abramson's firing from the New York Times reminded the general public that sexism in the workplace and the gender pay gap still exist. Like fireworks igniting on the Fourth of July, commentators immediately jumped in the fray to illustrate everything that's wrong with the status quo.
Nothing is new here. Every time a noteworthy incident occurs, bloggers, columnists, politicians, think tanks, reporters, etc. all jump into their standard roles. There might be some ground made here and there — maybe a bill introduced in Congress or banning a word or a special report or a grassroots campaign — but ultimately everything falls back into place once the headlines go away. The cycle will repeat itself when the next Jill Abramson gets fired.
Rather than going the Lean In route, that expects women to keep smiling and contort themselves into a male-dominated work world, we need to go back to a more basic, long-time demand: requiring all wage information to be made available to all employees — from the CEO to the security guard.
Requiring employers to make salary information available will: lessen stress, insecurity, and resentment; increase innovation and productivity; and, most importantly, cultivate trust between worker and boss. Even better, such transparency could reduce accusations of discrimination in the workplace.
Instead of arguing whether or not women are better salary negotiators than men, we can put that debate to rest by giving everyone equal access to employer-specific salary knowledge. When a high-profile woman gets fired, salary transparency will quell the debate on the gender pay gap and focus on qualifications and experience.
Just imagine how quickly public skepticism would either dissipate or become inflamed if the New York Times would release Abramson's and Bill Keller's salaries already.
If employers truly believe and are confident that all of their employees are paid fairly, then casting a spotlight on those salaries won't be a problem. But if it is a problem, then some executives should have to justify one employee gets paid more than someone else doing the identical job with a similar background.
Capitol Hill already has public salaries. That place has yet to revolt over it, although many women still experience the pay gap, myself included. But wage transparency gives a normally low wage workforce solid knowledge and a good starting point going into salary negotiation. Knowing what my counterparts and predecessors made and how those wages fluctuated made me feel more confident and realistic when I had to give a salary range. It also helped our staff assistant barely avoid applying for the food stamps she qualified for. LegiStorm also helped me make the decision to leave an employer who was brazenly dishonest about not giving out raises because of "budget cuts." (Maybe the bosses in charge didn't think I would check up on that?)
To be sure, requiring wage transparency is no silver bullet solution. Employers can still make up all sorts of mental gymnastics to justify why they pay what they pay and to whom. But at least when we're supposed to be leaning in, we'll know precisely what we're leaning in to get in the first place.
If nothing else, wage transparency would make employers think twice before giving a man a higher salary just because he asked for it.