When engineers should talk openly about salary

One of the most valuable financial conversations I ever had in my career as a CFD Engineer was with another professional who employed engineers like me (data engineers, simulation engineers, software engineers, and mechanical engineers).


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://triplebyte.com/blog/when-engineers-should-talk-openly-about-salary

How open are you about discussing what you make with your engineering colleagues? Do you agree that we should all get past the taboo in the interest of busting pay gaps in the industry?

Please share you thoughts!

Thank you so much, Kattie Thorndyke for writing about this important subject with such honesty and sensitivity.
Your article made me think (again!) how this issue is felt in the country I live in.
Well, in Germany, disclosing publicly your salary is against the law.
But without transparency of salaries, how are we then supposed to fight this gender pay gap?
As usual, the worst enemy to minorities or not represented groups, anywhere, not only in the IT sector, is silence.

I am then moved by what you say in the last paragraph. It is all but too sad, having to quit a job we like, because of this…I cannot even find the right word to express this. How can we call THIS? Is it mobbing? Is it malpractice? Or just rude, entitled chauvinism masked as “cheerful comradeship”? As if real software developers can only be “brogrammers”?
I know also too well, unfortunately, how painful it is to play the part of the “transparent colleague”.
Whatever you say, you are just ignored, or worse, you get contradicted - every single time.
But, guess what? Again, there is too much silence and hypocrisy about this topic and when we raise our voices…well, we are labeled as “negative” and “complaining”.
Yes, we complain. We need to. We must to.

Hugs from Berlin

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As a white male, I don’t want to be paid for being either of those. Nor do I want someone’s salary to reflect that they are not a white male. Salary should be based on contribution and value to the company and not anything else.

In addition, I have agreed to work a full time - 40 hours per week job - for a company helping them produce a product. I agreed to some amount of compensation when I accepted that position. No one forced me to accept. I’m sure there are people doing the same work for less money and some doing the same work for more money. I can’t really help that.

The ones that need to be open and host are the employers not the employees. That too is difficult.

I know a co-worker who lied about what he made per year. He told others he earned several thousand more per year than he actually did. This caused resentment - not toward the employee, but toward management. That isn’t a good position to be in either.

When I was much younger and newer to the job marked I know I left a substantial amount of money on the table during my first negotiation. Hindsight is good and clear. But I couldn’t dwell on that fact. I had agreed to work for a certain pay and had to continue working hard to improve. I’m still not a good negotiator, but I’ve improved some over the years. Again, the recruiter knew the budget and could have suggested I ask for more. (Yes, that has happened too).

I do feel that referring to the team as a whole as “Gents”, “men”, or “guys” is problematic and stereotypical. I believe in a lot of cases the intention isn’t to make women the outcast, it is just that there isn’t a good substitution. On a team of 4 men and 1 lady it is hard to say “ladies and gents” and even more off-putting to single out the lady with “lady and gents”. “Team” could of course work.

I’m around soccer a lot and even female soccer players should “man on” when a defender is pressing. My guess is it just simpler to say and fewer syllables to get out quickly when time is of the essence.

There are times where non-white, not-males are discriminated against. That is horrible and should be stopped. There are also times - probably fewer - when we look for a slight instead of overlooking a perceived slight. Improvements can be made all around.

It is also really hard for me to compare my current salary with someone without my experience. Since I have 20ish years of experience it is also difficult to compare a new developer’s salary today with what I started out making 20 years ago.

Companies, recruiters, and management are the bests ones to be in a place to make things more equitable not peer team members.

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One of the best resources I’ve found to understand salary ranges across levels and companies is

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I think we should put that burden on the hiring side. We should take more efforts to make pay-scales well articulated and well understood.

I agree that visibility would help battle inequity. But, I also support California legislation that bans inquiring about salary history as a means of leveling the playing field. In the short term, employees disclosing compensation may have the opposite of the intended effect - increasing downward pressure on people who should be better compensated.

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Great post, Kattie. I could not agree more.

During my first job interview I remember feeling like an idiot for not knowing what to ask for because no one talks about salary. This was the start of my curiosity about the salary taboo.

Recently, this curiosity has grown into a passion as I’ve worked on app called PeerWyse that promotes salary transparency without requiring you to enter how much you earn. The idea is to make it easier for individuals to know what salaries are reasonable by showing them salary estimates for people in their LinkedIn network.

As you mention in the post, the mutual trust required to have conversations about salary is immense. Recently, I shared my salary with a colleague who was interested in my role. This revelation radically changed his view of salaries at the company and undoubtedly influenced his decision to apply. The goal of PeerWyse is to remove the trust barrier and give individuals the data and confidence they need to make informed career decisions – and not sell themselves short!

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Hello Annamaria,

It is no longer illegal to disclose your salary in Germany.

The clause that is still in some contracts is invalid ever since it was struck down in 2009 because it would prevent employees from asserting violations of the Principle of Equal Treatment (Gleichbehandlungsgrundsatz)(https://www.lto.de/recht/job-karriere/j/gehalt-klausel-datenschutz-auskunft/). It apparently is also illegal because it violates the right to free speech (freie Meinungsäußerung)(https://www.lto.de/recht/job-karriere/j/gehalt-klausel-datenschutz-auskunft/).

Since 2017, there is the Salary Transparency Law (Entgelttransparenzgesetz) that makes it easier for employees to know if they are being paid according to the law. Additionally, for companies with more than 200 employees, there are even more regulations that make it easier for you, with or without a union (Gewerkschaft) or Works Council (Betriebsrat). The links above refer to these issues as well, and once you start looking, you will find plenty more information. (Start with googling “darf ich mein Gehalt sagen”)

I hope this helps you to make sovereign decisions regarding your choices.

Greetings from Karlsruhe

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FWIW, I felt the same way at my first interviews. Since then there are a lot more resources available to people starting their careers, as well as for seasoned engineers. Your app adds to the resource landscape and looks interesting. Thanks for the link.

Regards