There is, theoretically, a New York Times senior editor who earns $195,000 a year plus a $40,000 bonus and another senior editor who earns $128,000 with a $10,000 bonus. I can't verify this ("Hi, New York Times, could you give me a list of salaries, or perhaps connect me with the editor who ears $195K?"), but it doesn't matter--it's what someone is reporting, and perception becomes a reality.

A group of media people started a spreadsheet where people could anonymously enter their salaries where you can send your time scrolling through and wondering if you should change your career. Ad agencies followed suit. And, as Google found out years ago, salaries are only confidential because of social norms. Once you break those norms, everyone can share.

Early this year, my Inc. Colleague, Alison Green, asked her readers to share their salaries and share they did. With over 30,000 responses, she created one of the most valuable salary negotiating tools out there.

Companies like Glassdoor and Salary.com have sought to do the same thing. Still, there's something so pleasant about a spreadsheet where you can sort quickly and see everyone with the same job title, across industries and companies quickly that makes these spreadsheets so appealing.

And, frankly, it's about time.

Salary secrecy only benefits businesses who offer unfair salaries. If you're paying everyone fairly, you wouldn't care if people knew how much their coworkers and competitors earned. At least, in theory.

Sometimes people will indeed have a lack of understanding about salary calculations, but there are a couple of ways to solve this. The first is to sit down and go over how the company came up with the original salary offer. This should be fair and based on market rates, not a 10 percent increase over their last job. If you cannot demonstrate this, then there's a good chance that the salary is not something you want to defend in court.

The second is to pull out a list of everyone's salaries and say, "See? You earn slightly more than John and slightly less than Stephanie. Everyone is in the same range, and the differences are due to performance ratings." The latter can allow you to pay your employees a non-market rate salary as long as they are all making non-market rates.

It's a lot harder to illegally discriminate when you don't keep salaries hidden. People want and expect fair pay. Your junior accountants don't expect $200k wages, but they do expect you to pay them fairly.

As I said above, the spreadsheets that circulate aren't verified. Nothing is stopping me from declaring that Inc. pays me $500,000 a year for my brilliant commentary, sending all my coworkers into a tizzy. (They don't, sadly, pay me that much.) So, you can only trust it with a grain of salt. But, it's more information than you had before. And companies would be wise to realize that not only does the law support salary transparency, but the cultural norms are also changing. And as a freelance writer, my annual salary varies wildly, but I'm on target for $55,000 for 2019. (Inc is only one of my clients.) Wouldn't mind seeing that jump up, of course.

Published on: Nov 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.