• | 8:00 am

Why we are still so uncomfortable talking about money

On the latest episode of The New Way We Work, Hannah Williams, creator of Salary Transparent Street on TikTok, talks about how to finally get employees and companies to open up about pay.

Why we are still so uncomfortable talking about money
[Source photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels; Eva Bronzini/Pexels]

No matter what your job, you’ve probably wondered at some point what your colleagues or boss makes, and how it compares to your salary.

Money is one of the most taboo topics. There is so much emotion and self worth tied up in how much we make. And all of that plays into keeping us from talking about our salaries, sometimes even with those closest to us. In fact, in a recent survey, only about half of people said they share their salary with family members, while just 32% said they’d share their pay details with close friends.

But we can’t change what we don’t talk about and keeping mum about salary is what keeps gender pay gapsracial pay gaps, and executive-to-worker pay gaps thriving. The less we talk about our salaires, the less we know our worth and the less likely we are to be paid fairly.

Luckily the tide has been slowly turning in the past few years, with more companies adopting (at least partial) salary transparency policies, and some states and cities have even introduced salary transparency, or at least salary range laws. But we have a long way to go.

Two years ago, 27-year-old Hannah Williams, created Salary Transparent Street on TikTok. In the series, she hits the streets of cities all over the country asking people of all different backgrounds what they do and how much money they make. She joined me on the most recent episode of The New Way We Work to talk about how finally make change in salary transparency.


In the two years Williams has been asking strangers how much money they make, she’s noticed some patterns in who is comfortable opening up and who isn’t. She says it often speaks to larger issues about who has the most at-risk. White men are more likely than any other group to be okay sharing how much they make, likely because they don’t feel as vulnerable, she says.

Hearing those figures can be very instructive for women and people of color who often face wage gaps. “​​I think that it’s really great when men are willing to share, because they’re statistically the highest-paid.” Williams says. “We should be finding out what the highest-paid people are making, so that we can bring everybody else up to a fair rate.”

She’s also noticed that there’s a generational gap in comfort and even familiarity and expectation with pay transparency. “​​Gen Z and millennials—younger generations . . . really expect pay transparency. It’s what they expect to see in a job posting. And if it’s not there, they won’t even bother applying.”


While Williams’ series focuses on employees sharing their salaries, she firmly believes that the onus for pay transparency should be on companies. It is their “responsibility to pay people ethically—that should not lie with the employees, it should lie with employers.” she says. “If we had a transparent system to begin with all around, there wouldn’t be infighting or this risk. It really demonstrates that private institutions in particular utilize pay secrecy to hold power over their employees. And it’s wrong.”

That’s why Williams is a proponent of pay transparency laws. She points out the slow progress that’s been made with 15 states having pay transparency bills currently in the works. She acknowledges that many don’t go far enough or aren’t as effective as they should be. (Think: job listings with pay ranges that vary by a hundred thousand dollars or more.) But, she says, passing some form of legislation is the first step. “If we can get that passed, then that is a win for all workers, and there’s a reason that amendments and revisions exist.”

In the end, she says pay transparency is a positive for companies, too. “It helps their bottom line and employee morale. So it’s great to see that. I think we have a lot of work to do.”

  Be in the Know. Subscribe to our Newsletters.


Kathleen Davis is Deputy Editor at FastCompany.com. Previously, she has worked as an editor at Entrepreneur.com, WomansDay.com and Popular Photography magazine. More

More Top Stories: