Can pay transparency be a route toward equal pay?

Pay transparency can be a route toward equal, fair pay for all, helping to bridge the serious gender gap that still exists in the creative industries

Illustration by Peepshow

The war for talent is at an all-time high. Job applicants can afford to be choosy and are casting a critical eye on employers’ Glassdoor rating and company websites, as well as sussing out rumours about culture. Candidates want to know: what do you stand for? Will you support their growth? Are you committed to respect, fairness, diversity, and inclusion?

Oh, and how much do you pay?

Pay shouldn’t be the only motivator, of course. But the reality is that pay is inherently tied to fairness, diversity, and inclusion, especially in regards to gender. Everyone’s heard that women only make 77.9 cents1 for every dollar men earn, leaving women to constantly wonder if they’re being paid fairly. And suspicion around pay equality can be insidious, leading to resentment between team members. Meanwhile, organisations are naturally concerned about the effect on their bottom line, as well as its impact on employee engagement.

Of course, people in the creative industries face their own challenges. Just entering the field often means taking on an unpaid internship, or providing free work in an effort to win a bid. Even when firmly established, competition and the unpredictable nature of work creates insecurity, leading some to underbid for fear of losing the job entirely.

In an effort to signal a commitment to equal, fair pay, companies are increasingly considering pay transparency. People often assume this means making salary information open and public – catering startup Chewse, for instance, emailed a spreadsheet to their team listing every employee’s salary2. It’s the most extreme version of pay transparency, and it can make people understandably squeamish. Your salary is, in a very literal sense, what you’re worth, and having it out in the open can lead to feelings of envy or injustice. (At Chewse, fortunately, employees responded to it positively.) Others have taken a more conservative approach by creating anonymous databases, such as Contently’s Rates Database for writers, or Buffer’s Salary Calculator, which allows anyone to estimate what they would earn working for the company.


Milton Keynes