We need to normalise talking about salaries! Here’s how to start the conversation

Why do so many women feel uncomfortable talking about their salaries? An expert explains why we need to open up about how much we earn and gives her advice on how to go about it inside and outside the workplace.

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There is a stigma around talking about money for almost everyone, but it’s especially acute for women. According to a report by Fidelity UK, 80% of women have refrained from talking about their finances to those they are close with. It also found 32% of these women avoided doing so because they find it uncomfortable.

What’s more, failure to speak openly about our salaries may also be linked to the gender pay gap. Some progress has been made in recent years, but the gender pay gap still sits at 7.4% in the UK among full-time employees. Although much of eradicating the gender pay gap is down to employers and those in power, it also comes down to how confident and comfortable women feel about money to then ask for a pay rise

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Selina Flavius founded a platform called Black Girl Finance UK for this exact purpose. “I wanted to provide a safe space for women to talk about money freely, openly and unapologetically,” she says.

Selina believes women need to talk about money more openly for both personal and political progress, to provide themselves and women around them with more clarity on the amount they should or could be earning, how much they should be saving for pensions and how to handle the financial side of issues that often fall on women, like maternity leave and childcare.

This is particularly true when it comes to salaries. Talking about how much we earn more openly means you can gain a better understanding of where you are at within your career compared to your peers, both in your professional and personal life, so you can understand if you should be earning more and ask for a pay rise with confidence. Having more clarity around salaries and what other people are earning can also help to stop pay discrimination from taking place. 

Here, Selina shares her advice for talking about your salary more openly, including what the rules are around talking about salaries at work and conversation starters you can use if you feel uncomfortable bringing the amount you earn up in social situations

Will I get in trouble for openly talking about my salary at work? 

“Sometimes not having conversations about salary is written into contracts,” Selina says. “We just operate in this kind of world in the workplace whereby you’re not supposed to talk about it.”

She explains that these policies and the culture they create benefit employers rather than employees. It means, in theory, employers could offer someone a lower salary than they deserve without them ever finding out they were being paid less than a colleague or someone in a similar role.

Even if not talking about your salary is written into your contract, you can still have conversations about your salary at work, says Selina. As long as you do it discreetly with people you trust. 

If there isn’t anything in your contract about discussing your salary, you can do it more openly but there is still a culture in some workplaces where it’s considered inappropriate to talk about salaries. So, Selina says it’s best to start small with a discreet approach and see where that gets you. 

Do some research about salaries online first

If you feel nervous about talking about salaries, especially because you feel unsure about how much your colleagues and friends might be earning compared to you, Serena suggests doing some research online to make sure you’re being paid in line with industry standards and to get more clarity on what other people might be earning.

“Websites such as PayScale, LinkedIn and GlassDoor are really good,” Selina says. 

Find trusted allies within and outside of the workplace to talk about your salary with     

Talking about salaries can be a sensitive topic, so it’s best to start talking about it with people you know you trust, both at work and outside of work, Selina advises.

It can be useful to talk to people within your workplace and industry to get a better understanding of whether you’re being paid properly and what you should aim for in terms of salaries. 

“There tends to be a high concentration of women in lower-paid industries,” Selina continues, adding that you might realise this is something prevalent in your life by talking to the women around you.

It’s also worth talking to friends who might work in totally different industries for a greater perspective. “It gives you an idea of the different opportunities out there and what’s going on in the wider world,” Selina says. “It also gives you food for thought about your career and perhaps where you want to go next.”

Remember that everyone has different relationships to money 

“Everyone’s going to feel differently about talking about salaries,” Selina says. “People have different mindsets about money.” You’ll probably be surprised about how many people are keen to talk more about what they earn and their professional finances, but some people may find it inappropriate, whether that’s because they’ve been conditioned to think that way or they are uncomfortable with it for other reasons.

“Respect people’s boundaries,” is Selina’s advice. Even if you feel like a conversation about salaries and money could be useful, some people will take more time than others to come around to it. “As you get more comfortable having money conversations, other people around you will get more comfortable as well,” she adds. 

Ensure you’re having important conversations about your salary with your family

“With families, there are so many times when we need to be talking about money,” Selina says, and salaries are a key part of this. Speaking about family planning and things like writing wills is an essential part of family finances and it can be hugely beneficial to be open with your family about how much you’re earning in order to make sufficient plans.

“Think about a reason why you need to have that conversation and just have it,” Selina says. You could start a conversation about wills, buying a house or by starting to talk about planning for the future. “They’re not easy conversations to have but they do need to happen.”  

Be careful sharing information about your salary online 

The amount of information you share about yourself online is a personal choice and the same is true for when it comes to sharing your salary online, Selina says. But you do need to make sure that security is a priority when talking about money and how much you earn. 

Avoid sharing details about which bank you’re with, any bank details or your home address in order to avoid scams, Selina advises. If you feel unsure about whether sharing your salary online is a good idea, you should probably avoid doing so until you are absolutely certain.

Selina’s suggestions for conversation starters about money you can use IRL 

  • “I’ve been thinking about my salary and I was wondering if you’d be comfortable talking about it with me?”
  • “I read some information about the gender pay gap and it made me think about my own salary.”
  • “Do you mind if I ask you how much you earn?” 
  • Selina Flavius, founder of Black Girl Finance UK

    Woman wearing orange blouse in office
    How to start talking about your salary with Selina Flavius

    Selina created Black Girl Finance, a financial coaching company dedicated to UK Black women and girls. She also hosts the Black Girl Finance Podcast and is the author of the personal finance book, Black Girl Finance: Let’s Talk Money.


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