How much transparency is too much? |

How much transparency is too much?

Salary transparency
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Would you post your salary?

19 votes tallied
Only internally
4 votes
Completely public
7 votes
No way
8 votes

Years ago when I interned at Red Hat, the company had an intranet traffic competition. Employees were encouraged to create or improve their page on the intranet, then post a link that told why you should visit. The person with the most traffic at the end of the week would win a prize.

I don't remember who won—maybe the guy whose link advertised “naked chicks”? But I do remember one entry: a certain software engineer posted his current salary “in the interest of transparency.” It was a surefire way to draw traffic—and spark conversation.

The internal email “chatter” list went crazy. Responses ranged from the rule followers--and a few sore losers--who cried, “Isn't this a violation of your employment contract?” to the hard core open source crowd who said, “Hey, Red Hat should publish everyone's salary.” But there was one passing statement that intrigued me: an employee from Norway mentioned that he didn't see what all the fuss was about; his country made everyone's salary public information.

I wondered about the social implications of making that kind of information public. Like most Americans, I grew up being told it was crass to ask someone about their salary. That was something only nosy mother-in-laws had the audacity to do. And Americans aren't alone--my British friends tell me that we're actually quite forthcoming with those questions, compared to folks in the UK.

So what happened in Norway? A quick Google search verified the country began to make this information “readily available” in 2002.

As you might imagine, the wage gap between men and women declined markedly in the following years. Transparency in action? Looks pretty good to a working girl on this side of the pond.

But what are the other ramifications of moving toward “transparent salaries”? Would it benefit business leaders--or just employees? The organizational culture changes would seem to be enormous: from those overtaken by bitterness and envy to those who feel liberated by the knowledge.

What kind of work environment would exist within a company that only hired employees who were willing to have their salary information made available to their coworkers?

I don't pretend to know the answer to these questions. But I'd love to hear your thoughts.

(And if that brave software engineer is reading this... I thought you were significantly underpaid.)


About the author

Rebecca Fernandez - Rebecca Fernandez is a Principal Program Manager at Red Hat, leading projects to help the company scale its open culture. She's an Open Organization Ambassador, contributed to The Open Organization book, and maintains the Open Decision Framework. She is interested in the intersection of open source principles and practices, and how they can transform organizations for the better.