I had nothing to gain in this game. Neither person would report to me, neither person would even work with me. Heck, I was just a hired consultant and wasn’t even part of the company. But that’s not the point either.
The point is that the company didn’t care that they were paying men more than women, even when the men were subordinate to the women.
Hello, the 1950s are calling and they want their gender inequality back.
Over the following weeks I had many conversations about how this simple act would define the company. It doesn’t matter whether others find out or not, what matters is that the company was fine with it.
How a company does one thing is how they do everything.
If they don’t care about their inequitable treatment of employees in this situation, they won’t care about it in other situations as well.
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” HR told me during one of my tirades.
No matter the situation, there is always something that can be done. You are just as guilty for doing nothing in the face of wrongdoing as if you were the one doing wrong.
In the end, the white male was hired at a higher salary and then, partially thanks to me being a complete pain in the ass (and maybe, just maybe, the information got leaked to people in power who would care), the female employee got a pay increase to represent her more senior role.
And this, my friends, brings us to Finland.
I’ve Got This Government And I’m Not Afraid To Use It
The Finnish government has become about as fed up as I with gender inequality in the workplace. Unlike me, however, they have power and can do something more than writing a snarky newsletter.
So they decided to do something.
In an incredibly bold statement, the Finnish government has publicly released the salaries of every single employee in the whole country.
Yep, if you work in Finland you can see all of your colleague’s salaries, out in the open, as transparent as the screen you’re staring at now. Their goal is to expose every instance in which a female is getting paid less than a male counterpart.
That, my friends, is how we do radical transparency.
Because We Always Have
“Transparent communication” is a hot phrase these days. Why?
Because nobody likes surprises. Because nobody likes to feel they don’t have control over their lives. Because if you don’t tell us what’s going on, we’ll assume the worst.
Think of the people you know. It is often the liars and the untrustworthy ones who are the shadiest in their communication. Most likely it is your closest friends, the ones you trust and respect, who are open and transparent with you in their communication.
It is exactly the same with companies.
People feel more comfortable with transparency. They feel more secure in their jobs and with their future. Oh, and 94 percent of customers are likely to be loyal to a transparent brand.
But increasing transparency is tough.
The number one reason companies have a tough time increasing transparency is because they don’t know how to change.*
Companies move from day to day with little time to restructure and enforce new cultural conditions.
Increasing transparency does no good if it’s just a core value or a company goal. It takes time (lots of time) and effort (a ton of that too) for a company to transition to one of increased transparency.
For transparency to work, it must be a mindful daily practice involving an entire leadership team. You must remind each other and hold each other accountable, not just this week and next, but always.
Most importantly, you have to overcome your fear of transparency. Let’s face it, it’s scary to always tell the truth in business. Sometimes it’s easier to not speak at all and pretend nobody else will find out.
Like the HR person at the top of this rambling, that “don’t ask don’t tell” mindset is exactly what reinforces inequality.
On the other hand, there’s Finland – an entire country that enacts initiatives forcing everybody to be transparent.
And guess what – for the fifth year in a row, Finland is rated the happiest country in the world. Hmmm, I guess they’re doing something right after all.
Do me a favor, reassess your level of transparency*. Push yourself further. Find the Fin in you.