Do you know how much your co-workers make? If yours is like most companies, the answer is no. But Jackie Luo, a software engineer at Square who has collected data on thousands of her colleagues salaries would like to change all that. She believes that employees sharing information about their salaries is the best and maybe the only way to close the persistent wage gap in which women are paid less than men and people of color are paid less than white people.

Luo's logic is simple and compelling as she lays it out in a  post on Medium. As she points out, the wage gap in her industry is very real: A woman gets offered a lower salary than a man for the same job at the same company 63 percent of the time. A lot of the time they don't have this information and thus can't use it during salary negotiations.

We've all gotten the same advice about salary negotiations, she says: Know what you're worth. "But how?" she writes. "Compensation is locked in a black box for most employees, while the people on the highest rungs of the ladder hold all the information." 

Many employers, especially large ones, can get detailed information about what the market is paying by submitting their own data to research companies and gaining access to the aggregated data for their own industries and regions, she notes. Employees and job candidates can attempt to collect the same information from sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and such sites as Glassdoor, but often different sources will contradict each other and the data may be unreliable or not that useful.

Besides, when it comes to salary negotiations the most important question is this one: What are other people with the same or similar jobs making from this employer in this location? Typically, the hiring manager has (or can get) all the information there is about this. He or she very likely knows how much every single person in a similar job at the company makes, as well as what the budget contains.

Typically, if you're the employee or job candidate you have virtually none of this information. With luck, you may have learned what a few colleagues earn, but not much more. Given this huge imbalance in information, it's impossible to have anything like a fair negotiation, even setting aside the fact that your livelihood is at stake. Without little or no information about what this same employer pays others, you also can't know if you're the victim (or beneficiary) of racial or gender bias. It's like playing poker with someone who can see every card in the deck while you can only see what's in your hand.

How much do you make?

Luo set out to try and right this imbalance with a simple approach. For International Women's Day, she tweeted an invitation to men in the tech world to direct message her their salary information anonymously to help their female colleagues. The tweet got passed around, and thousands of people of all genders shared their compensation information with Luo, although some requested that she not only hide their name and company, but also their job title and the city they worked in just to make extra-sure they wouldn't be recognized. Some worried that they'd be fired for sharing salary information even though for an employer to do that--or even create a policy against employees discussing their salaries--is against federal law.

Luo included some of the salary information she gathered in her Medium post, confirming that software engineers are well paid and that stock options are the real key to wealth in the tech world. She also took the brave step of publicly sharing her own salary info. As a software engineer with three years' experience working at Square in San Francisco, she writes that she makes $130,000 a year in base salary, plus $47,500 in stock, for a total of $177,500. She adds:

Writing all of that terrifies me. Strangers and peers may see what I earn and think I'm vastly overpaid. ("Are you kidding? What does she even do that could justify that kind of money?") Or they may decide I'm underpaid. ("She must not be good at her job if she's getting paid that little.")

On top of that, it will affect her future prospects, she writes, because any subsequent employer will peg her compensation to that figure, and some may not consider her because they think they can't afford her.

So why share this information in public? "Because we need to talk much more about how much we get paid," she writes. "Fair compensation starts with greater transparency."

She's right about that. So how about it? Would you be willing to exchange salary information with your colleagues so that all of you could negotiate better? It's frightening for sure. But it's also the right thing to do.