Shining a Light on Pay Transparency

Author: Michelle Russell       

pay transparency

The annual Convene Salary Survey breaks down compensation by many categories, including number of staff supervised and events planned.

Many years ago, a work friend of mine asked me what I earned. We swapped our annual salary info — in confidence, or so I thought. She was angry to learn that, despite the fact that we had similar titles, she made less than me. There were a number of reasons for that, but she went to our boss anyway, demanding a raise by using my salary as justification.

That happened decades ago, but I have a clear memory of my boss calling me into her office and insinuating that I had violated company policy by sharing that info with a co-worker. Our employee manual didn’t spell out that policy, but I learned my lesson.

Pay transparency — allowing all employees to access the salary information of their bosses, their peers, and even their CEO — was unheard of in the private sector back then. It’s still quite rare today. According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), only around 17 percent of private companies practice pay transparency, while 41 percent discourage — and 25 percent explicitly prohibit — sharing salary information.

Because so few companies have adopted compensation transparency policies, there’s no comprehensive research to support the idea that they could help bridge gender pay inequity, according to a Time article. Findings from the IWPR report don’t support that link, either. At most U.S. government agencies — which are required to make pay information public — women make 81 percent of what men make, according to the report. That’s marginally better than in the private sector, where women earn only 79 percent of what their male peers make.

While it might seem that pay transparency policies will never catch on as an accepted business practice, at the same time, policies that prohibit workers from sharing their salary information with each other are becoming less acceptable. A number of states have passed laws banning employers from penalizing their employees for discussing their salary or asking about their colleagues’ compensation.

When it comes to the business events industry, pay transparency doesn’t seem to be widely practiced, although we know this only anecdotally. When we’ve asked respondents to past annual Convene Salary Surveys whether they think gender-based wage inequity is common in the meetings industry, the most common response might be characterized by a shrug. Many said they would have no way of knowing based on the fact that compensations aren’t disclosed in their workplaces.

We also know this anecdotally: Year after year, planners have told us that they rely on our annual results to benchmark their salaries. In the absence of pay transparency, data about what your peers earn, broken down by years of experience, number of staff supervised and meetings planned, geographic area — and gender — may be your best means to a raise.

Help us make the survey as robust as possible by participating in the 2019 questionnaire. Those who complete the survey by the March 5 deadline will receive an advance peek at the results before they are published in our June issue.