One hashtag sparked a national conversation on Twitter last week, when people began sharing their salaries with #TalkPay. The idea was proposed by programmer Lauren Voswinkel in an effort to demonstrate salary imbalances based on race and gender in the technology industry, but it quickly caught on with people from other industries.
As Emily Dreyfuss described in Wired, disclosing how much you make is “the last great taboo.” Sharing financial data can make others look at you differently, cause frustration or jealousy among colleagues, or leave people feeling like they aren’t very good at acknowledging, and championing, their own worth.
While thousands of people shared their salaries publicly, others wanted to, but didn’t necessarily want their name attached to the figure. To broaden the conversation to include more people, some people on Twitter offered to relay salaries and job descriptions anonymously.
Happy to tweet anonymous #talkpay posts. (DM me if you want to contribute!)— Madelin Woods (@madw) May 3, 2015
One developer wanted to make sure anyone who wanted to participate in the conversation could—without worrying about the personal ramifications of publicly sharing their salaries. Myles Borins, head of labs and developer advocacy at Famo.us, created @talkpayBot, an account that receives direct messages from Twitter users and repackages them as anonymous tweets.
Graphic artist, St. Louis, newspapers, 35k with 10 years experience and college degree #talkpay— talkpay (@talkpayBot) May 4, 2015
Product Manager, Telecoms, Sheffield, UK £57.5K + 15% White Male, late 40's, >10 years experience. #talkpay— talkpay (@talkpayBot) May 4, 2015
white female CS degree, 15 years experience. $120K no coding, leads 19 person team supporting sys mgmt sw for fortune 500 COs #talkpay— talkpay (@talkpayBot) May 4, 2015
36 yr old white male non-profit archives specialist 41K after 4 years exp #talkpay— talkpay (@talkpayBot) May 4, 2015
Borins didn’t share his own salary publicly when #talkpay began trending. But he wanted to.
“Obviously I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Borins said in an email. “Writing this bot was a way for me to both share my own salary, but give other people an anonymous forum in which they could do the same.”
Borins’ friend Forrest Norvell (@othiym23) was one of the Twitter accounts acting as a liaison between the public and people who didn’t want their name tied to a salary. It was Norvell who inspired him to create @talkpayBot.
In order for the @talkpayBot to tweet your message, it must be hashtagged with #talkpay. If the bot recognizes the hashtag, it tweets the message and immediately deletes it. So far, messages have come in from around the world, and though the #talkpay conversation initially stemmed from the technology industry, the @talkpayBot is sharing salaries from jobs ranging from nonprofit work to medicine.
@talkpayBot is written in Node.js, and Borins provided the technical details on GitHub. The bot doesn’t store any messages or personal information, and only logs errors.
By opening up a dialogue, albeit one that’s anonymous, we can begin to think of salary transparency as an acceptable way of determining people’s own market value—instead of a trade secret that can ultimately prevent people from asking employers to pay them what they’re worth.
Photo via espensorvik/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)