Welcome back to Productivity, Without Privilege.
I’m Alan, I'll be your captain today, and once we have all luggage properly stowed and passengers seated with their seat belts on, we’ll get ready for departure. We’re expecting clear skies today and a smooth ride to your destination, but just in case of turbulence, you may want to remain seated for the duration of the flight.
Now then, let’s begin.
This week I want to chat a little about a topic that I touch on a bit in the book (what do you mean "what book?" I'm talking about, Seen, Heard, and Paid: The New Work Rules for the Marginalized, coming out June, 2022. Yes, that book!) and is actually the bedrock for a much bigger research project I’m working on behind the scenes. Namely, how the salary transparency discourse often leaves marginalized people behind.
Don’t get it twisted: salary transparency is critically important, and any organization worth its salt (and if they’re not, they deserve a union that will force their hand) should be transparent about who, at what level of seniority and tenure, makes what.
In fact, I don't think salary transparency is an issue that employees should have to push management on in the first place—it should be standard practice by corporate management and HR as a way to avoid internal conflict over pay disparities, not to mention keep their company and their job openings attractive to outside talent who would want to work there. It’s the responsibility of an employer to pay their employees fairly, and they can prove they’re doing so by being open with their employees.
Of course, we know that’s not the case at most companies, we know that most managers and HR departments don't mind when staff members are confused about who makes what and whether those salaries are even fair (because it gives them control,) and it’s workers, often marginalized people who already struggle to survive and thrive in their workplaces, who usually wind up uncovering pay disparities at their companies, and those same people who then lead the charge to fix those disparities.
More power to them, right? Luckily the law says that, ideally, you can't be fired just for discussing how much you make at work, although we all know that the combination of "at work" employment and managers looking for any excuse to dismiss troublemakers means those same people run the risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods for the sheer audacity of wanting to be paid fairly for their work. In fact, an employer could just terminate you illegally, and run the risk of whether or not you, a now unemployed person potentially on unemployment, would dare file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board about their action. They have HR and lawyers to defend against you, you...only have how deep your pockets and your mental health are until you need to give up and find another job.
So you can see the issue here. Because the onus of remedy is on the person being harmed, and the power differential is as severe as it is, the entire issue immediately puts the employee on the back foot just by virtue of speaking up.
Now. Add being marginalized or discriminated against at work to the equation.
Maybe you're the only disabled person in your office and you got wind that your boss is paying you less than your similarly qualified peer because of "all the time you take off for doctor's appointments." Maybe you found out that you're paid less than a more junior colleague because you were a "diversity hire" and not from a class or educational background management traditionally considers in high esteem.
When you’re a marginalized employee or you’re being discriminated against because of your gender, race, sexuality, ability level, or anything else, you already don’t have the safety to speak up. You may not have psychological safety, where you know you’ll be heard and respected, not revictimized or undermined for daring to ask for fair treatment. If you worry that trying to ask a colleague how much they make will result in them telling your manager you’re asking around, or them starting rumors about you, you already don’t feel safe. Now think about how many of your colleagues are probably in that position, and would hesitate to ask you what you make for those same reasons.
You also may not have professional safety, where you can trust there won’t be retribution because you spoke up, or you won’t be sidelined further because you did. If you worry that asking management to fix pay disparities in your workplace will result in being overlooked for future promotions, or being denied an annual raise because they “just gave you a raise” by fixing their own mistake, you don’t have that professional safety.
In both cases, the stakes are higher for marginalized workers, but the solution isn’t to just sit back and let companies exploit you. This is where it’s important for the people who have the privilege to act, to act. This is where the white male colleague should start the spreadsheet with everyone’s salaries in it. This is where they, not the company’s most vulnerable employees, should be on the union bargaining committees and in focus groups and task forces and those endless meetings.
So today's tip is really for those of you reading who do have the kind of privilege the rest of us work without, and for those of you wondering what you can do to actually help. Being on the leading edge of those changes is a great start.
Research: Women Leaders Took on Even More Invisible Work During the Pandemic, by Marianne Cooper: At a time when so-called racial and #metoo-style reckonings were supposed to be happening in workplaces around the country (and yes, I use "so-called" because I don't think they're substantively materialized) it turns out that women in most workplaces, and as always, disproportionately women of color, have been saddled with what we call "office housework," or the work that's required to keep teams running, keep morale high, and connect teams that are working remotely. Sound familiar? Of course, it's necessary work, but it's never the kind of work that will land you a promotion or an award. They don't give out Pulitzers for "best Zoom hang," although they probably should.
Efforts to Track Diversity in Journalism are Lagging, by David Bauder: I'm putting this here partially because journalism is my industry, but even for those of you who aren't involved with it, the point here stands: we have proof that there's no pipeline problem, and proof that the issue with diversity has less to do with who's being trained or who's getting degrees, and more to do with who's getting hired, retained, and promoted. And this is in an industry that's had to grapple with its own lack of diversity, in some cases very publicly. And yet, very little has changed.
I Used Facebook Without the Algorithm, and You Can Too, by Brian Barrett: This is a little cheeky because I edited this story and Brian, my boss and my friend, wrote it, but considering that I'm definitely one of the people who thinks that Facebook has caused real, actual, and difficult-to-repair harm, the reminder that there's a way to reconnect with the people and pages you follow without the guiding hand of Facebook's algo telling you what you do and don't want to see is refreshing. Give it a try—I will when I finish writing this and go tell my Facebook friends to buy my book. (See what I did there?)
I've been seeing (and commissioning) a number of pieces on climate change and climate anxiety, partially because I think managing climate anxiety will probably be one of the hallmark challenges for people in the coming decade or two, and I think that in a lot of ways, every journalist—especially service journalists—will also have to be a climate journalist at some point.
So to that point, if you're looking for solid climate journalism and stories from trustworthy voices about climate change that don't just rehash the same warmed-over "what about the coal miners" both-sides-ism and instead focus on the human costs and challenges of climate change, keep an eye on The Uproot Project and the journalists in it. It's a new project for climate journalists of color, of which I know more than a few, who are aiming to empower more climate journalists and help them tell stories that matter and can inspire real change. I know, it's nerve-wracking, but it's important, and no social issue will ever be fixed if we don't acknowledge it honestly first.
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