Hi everyone, quick reminder, if you’re free next Monday 9/21 at 11am PT, join me on this webinar to discuss wealth hoarding and tax avoidance. We’ll be focused on these questions: “What are the current rules governing philanthropy, especially foundations and donor-advised funds? How do these operate in practice? Are wealthy people using these vehicles to game the system?”
Five years ago, I wrote “When you don’t disclose salary range on a job posting, a unicorn loses its wings.” This has contributed to some contentious arguments in our sector, namely about whether unicorns have wings. Since then, however, I’ve been glad to see so much progress being made. Many states now have laws requiring the disclosure of salary information, as well as to make it illegal to ask for candidates’ salary history. An increasing number of organizations in our sector, such as Momentum Nonprofit Partners and NTEN, have started requiring salary to be disclosed on their job boards. Meanwhile, across the pond, Show The Salary and other colleagues are publicly calling out organizations who still engage in salary cloaking, and to their credit, many organizations are listening to feedback and changing their practices.
This is awesome, because there is so much research now showing that not disclosing salary information increases the gender and racial wage gaps as well as wastes everyone’s time. If organizations want to walk the talk on equity, diversity, and inclusion, then disclosing salary is a quick, tangible, and relatively easy action to take.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of resistance, sometimes from organizations and leaders I like and respect and invite to my annual vegan barbecue (which I hope one day someone will accept). So, let’s dispel some myths people give for not listing the salary.
No, it does not limit your ability to offer a higher salary for the right candidate: The argument is that, let’s say, you post a range from 70K to 80K, but you find an amazing person and they need 90K, then you might be willing to pay them 90K. Look, let’s all just stop playing games, y’all. Be transparent. You can say something like “salary 70K to 80K, with potential for higher.” The point is to give some idea for job candidates so they know the minimum and don’t waste their time. Though, if you can afford 90K, why not just say so, so that those candidates who qualify at the higher rates would apply too?
No, candidates will not get offended if you list the range and don’t offer at the high end: No one will get offended if you offer somewhere within the range and have valid justification and don’t do crappy stuff like have a pattern of offering women, BIPOC, disabled, older, etc. candidates salaries at the lower end of your range. People can still negotiate if they think your offer is too low. Not disclosing the salary is what’s offensive. It’s weird to have a rationale of “we will do something that has a 100% chance of offending people and contributing to inequity to avoid the 2% chance that someone might get their feelings hurt.”
No, it won’t preemptively set limitations on generative conversations with job candidates: Someone told me they don’t disclose the salary for CEO/ED positions because depending on what the candidates and organization mutually agree on in terms of strategy and leadership structure and such, it would shift the salary range greatly. This is not a horrible argument, but it is steeped in privilege. Candidates, especially those from marginalized communities, can’t afford to waste days or weeks discussing visions and strategies with you when they don’t even know the minimum that you’re offering and whether they can afford to take the job.
No, you won’t just attract candidates who only care about money, not the mission: This is a weird and insulting line of thinking. Of course people care about money! And if you care about people, then you need to remind yourself that people need money to support themselves and their families. There is nothing wrong with people wanting to be paid fairly for their work. If you’re worried about attracting candidates who are under-qualified and who only apply because of your listed salary, then have a clearly spelled out hiring process to determine whether they should join your team. But don’t romanticize the notion that your mission is so awesome that money should not matter to people.
I’ve heard many arguments for salary cloaking, and none of them hold water. But there are deeper reasons, some unconscious, why so many folks are reluctant to disclose salary. Let’s untangle them:
Fear of causing tension among existing and new staff: If the new team member is making a decent salary, and existing staff are not, the current staff may resent the new person as well as the leadership for allowing this to happen. This is a valid fear. However, it is not a valid excuse for not disclosing salary. If you have pay differentials significant enough to cause resentment, then hiding the fact just increases the resentment and delays the inevitable. Create a plan for paying people fairly, have open discussions with your team on this and related topics, and disclose the salary. The short-term tensions stemming from these actions will lead to a stronger team in the long run.
Embarrassment that we’re paying too little: I think a lot of times, folks don’t want to disclose the salary range because they know it is too low. This is unfortunately a reality in our sector, made worse by this pandemic. But, we need to get over it. Not just because “being embarrassed” is a poor excuse for perpetuating racial and gender pay gaps, but also because we need to shine a bright light on how prevalent the problem of underpay is. Many nonprofits suck at paying people when they can afford to pay more, sure, but most organizations have to depend on a crappy funding system. Everyone, especially funders, need to see how terrible funding philosophies and practices are furthering inequity. The more we hide the salary, the more funders can ignore the fact that their stinginess in payouts and in giving multi-year funds means that people and their families are being screwed.
Guilt among foundations for paying their team more: Speaking of foundations, I’ve noticed that they tend to be even more reticent to show the salary on job postings. This is probably because foundation staff tend to get paid significantly more than most nonprofit positions, and have way better benefits too. Everybody knows this foundation-nonprofit pay gap exists, but we don’t want to acknowledge it. Get over it, because, again, you’re furthering inequity by not disclosing salary information. If you’re feeling guilty that you and your team are making more than most nonprofit staff, then use your privilege to advocate for more funding to go out to nonprofits so they can increase their pay and benefits.
Nervousness about giving job candidates too much leverage: There is a basic negotiation principle that whoever proposes a number first loses leverage. Hiding information is a good way for employers to hold on to their power in the hiring process. But this continues the unhealthy relationship between organizations and staff, where one (the org) is perceived to being doing the other (the candidate) a favor by even considering them for a job. This sort of philosophy is what fuels the pervasive crappy ways we treat job candidates and staff. Orgs and staff should be partners in the work. We should be reducing power dynamics, not maintaining them.
Fear of public perception that we’re getting paid too much: I know people outside the sector think that we nonprofit professionals are feasting on unicorn steaks (or scrumptious “chickpea-seitan unicorn steaks” for certain vegan barbecues), so the lucky few who can pay people decent salaries are careful to not further the perception that we’re paying people too much. If the public doesn’t know what we pay, then they can’t criticize us, the thinking goes. But this is counterproductive. When people don’t know stuff, they generate stuff in their heads that are usually worse, and it affects the entire sector. And also, so what if people know we’re paying team members decently? We should be transparent about salaries and not apologetic about paying decently; that is what will positively change public perceptions.
I’m sure there are other arguments. Whatever the reason, there is no excuse for refusing to disclose salary on job postings. Not disclosing salaries on job postings is archaic, like wearing powdered wigs, or using asbestos roofing shingles, or engaging in the weird Victorian hobby of taking portraits where people look headless.
Worse, it’s inequitable. There is nothing to debate, because as I mentioned two weeks ago, there is so much research on this topic now that we should not be wasting any more time discussing this. It’s like the fact that humans affect climate change or that IPAs taste terrible; the evidence is overwhelming.
We need to be on the same page so we can help folks who still don’t understand that this is an equity issue. Let’s help them change their behavior and #ShowTheSalary and move into the future. This should be a default practice. Job boards should all require salary information. And all of us should refuse to help spread the word on job listings that doesn’t have it, and give feedback privately as well as call it out publicly. We need to move on to other problems. Disclosing salary is one quick and simple action we can take to make our sector more equitable and inclusive.
Then, and only then, will unicorns regain their wings.
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