Years ago, I took part in an online experiment called The BMI Project. Hosted by Kate Harding, she collected photos of real women and tried to show that the BMI is bullshit.
Kate and I were friends, and I shared my weight over dinner. I weighed 130 lbs, and she said, “I would have guessed less.”
You might think Kate was polite, but that’s not her style. We spent the rest of our meal discussing body dysmorphia and how people overestimate their size and underestimate how much other people weigh. You’re thinner than you think. Your friends are fatter than you know. Nobody has a clue.
So, after my experience with Kate, I told everybody my size. Over the past ten years, I’ve run marathons and took part in all kinds of crazy races. My lowest weight was 110 lbs., and my heaviest weight was 136 lbs.
(Right now, I weigh 127 lbs, and I’m about to hike up a skyscraper. Please donate here.)
Weight and Pay Transparency
The discussion about weight reminds me of the debate around pay transparency. There are a lot of good reasons why we should tell people how much we earn. For starters, a rising tide lifts all boats. Our collective knowledge is a source of strength. Workers can protect themselves against hegemonic corporate power run amuck.
Also, pay transparency ensures that the least educated among us doesn’t remain in the dark. If you have excellent skills but can’t negotiate — or prefer not to bargain — you can cut to the chase and still earn a fair wage for your work.
The arguments against pay transparency are dumb and go something like this: If you tell people how much you earn, wage inflation occurs because people are petty and want to make more than their colleagues. If you’re paid one dollar, I want two dollars. Ultimately, capitalism folds in on itself and businesses won’t be able to pay anybody.
The other argument is that pay transparency can be demotivating because there’s a cap on your earnings, and the limiting factor isn’t your talent, but, instead, the black woman or the disabled vet who doesn’t work as hard as you and is holding you back.
Both arguments are bullshit and rooted in classism, sexism and racism.
In reality, wage inflation happens at the executive level when leaders —with unchecked powers — pay company officers a lot of money for mediocre results. Preferential treatment, combined with monolithic corporate control, creates massive pay inequality in companies around the world.
And pay transparency is demotivating when you realize that you’re underpaid and will never pay off your student loans at your current salary.
Pay Transparency Starts With You
Pay transparency is a realistic goal for your company, and it can be achieved without putting names next to dollar amounts. There’s no reason why we can’t demystify the compensation process, motivate our workforce with competitive total rewards packages, and create enough flexibility in our budget to allow for incentives and merit-based increases.
All of that is possible.
Listen, I’m not asking you to rent a billboard and spill your personal secrets; however, if you’re sick and tired of guessing how much money other people earn and wondering if you’re paid your true value, it’s time to find a trusted colleague and ask. Then, whenever you feel it’s time, share how much you make.
Talking about salary reminds me of talking about weight. It’s taboo, but only because someone told us it’s taboo. If we don’t look out for one another, who will?