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To share or not to share: is knowing your co-workers' salary the key to closing the gender pay gap?

Mish.Guru, a social media content and analytics start-up, has become one of the latest companies in New Zealand to endorse transparent pay systems as a way to tackle gender pay disparity. But are these shared models really as effective as they seem, or are they just another trendy, token gesture? 

Founded in 2014, Mish.Guru is a content marketing software that helps business create and manage campaigns on Snapchat and Instagram. After scoring investments from AngelHQ, Sparkbox, ICE Angels and various others the company started to transition their main revenue stream from service to product, as well as expanding to offices in Berlin, Sydney and New York.

Despite solid success with clients like Paramount Pictures, Visa and McDonalds, Mish.Guru’s team knew that succeeding in the tech industry wasn’t easy, especially for the women in their team.

So the team decided to take a stand against blatant gender inequality, one transparent salary at a time. 

That’s right, taking cues from social media company Buffer, a leading advocate for equality through transparency, Mish.Guru decided to make all staff salaries public within the company. In a video and opinion piece published on International Equal Pay Day, VP of Operations Connor Archbold explained the transition wasn’t easy, but it had already fostered ‘meritocracy, trust and equality’ within the team.  
 

Clare Cheyne, the digital content and product manager at Mish.Guru’s New York office said it was a relief to see how her salary was calculated the same as her male coworkers. “This sounds really cheesy, but it’s kind of empowering,” she said.

While the move was an exciting one, Archbold didn’t mince words about the effort that goes into the transparency model. The VP of operations revealed that the company worked alongside Payscale, Glassdoor and Angel.co to create a fair salary formula they could share with employees. Cheyne added that they are the first to admit they still have progress to make. “It’s not a 50/50 split between men and women on the team, so we know in terms of equality we’re not a perfect example,” she said.

However increased trust, productivity and satisfaction aren’t the only by-products that Mish.Guru employees will be experiencing. Countless studies are proving that increased salary transparency is an effective springboard to bring about social change toward pay equity.

In 2015, Marlene Kim published a study in the Journal of Economy and Society that found the US states outlawing pay secrecy had both a smaller gender wage gap and higher average salary for women. While economist Olga Fetisova reached a similarly positive conclusion in a 2014 report discussing how the introduction of anti-secrecy salary laws resulted in women’s salaries increasing by three percent in relation to men. These, and countless studies with similar conclusions, proving the point that discussion makes a difference around closing the gender pay gap. A reason why countries such as Iceland, Germany and most recently Britain, are implementing policies that demand large companies to annually disclose the salaries of their employees to the government.

It’s no surprise the topic of pay is a contested one, as we work in a society where money is often the most easily comparable marker of value. While doing it right takes effort, going public about pay is undoubtedly a solid step towards resolving unjustified inequalities in the office. So how do companies make steps towards an equal workplace without the risk of employees playing the comparison game and feeling shortchanged?

The key, according to success stories like Buffer, and now Mish.Guru, lies in recognising that transitioning to transparent processes isn’t as simple as tacking a salary spreadsheet on the work water cooler. Managers instead need to take the time and resources to have a watertight salary formula in place, which can be used to explain how staff pay is determined.

Archbold said that by revealing staff pay, as well as the methods and factors they use to determine it, it has markedly improved how their staff approach money-related discussions.

He said it is important to recognise that salary transparency shouldn’t be treated like the silver bullet for unfair pay inequalities.

Instead, companies should see it as a solid foundation upon which they can begin to look at. So while companies like Mish.Guru’s pay transparency may not be the final solution, it’s a damn good place to start.

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