Is public disclosure the answer to pay inequity?

One of the truly great achievements of the #Me Too movement has been to point out the prolific and unsettling pattern of pay inequity, something that critics have historically dismissed as hyperbole.  The often times enormous pay disparities amongst executives and high profile personalities in the media, not to mention sport, which is often guilty of the most egregious pay disparities has become the subject of contention and increased scrutiny of late.

Despite competing in the same sport, in the same ocean and in the same conditions as her male counter part. Female surfer Zoe Steyn claimed half the prize money as male surfer Rio Waida at the Billabong Pro Junior series in Ballito, South Africa, on the weekend.


The gender pay gap is often clouded in a degree of confusion. Most young people would regard it as incomprehensible that a man would be seen by some to be intrinsically more valuable than a woman or offered more money for the same job.

For most of us, our first jobs are subject to an award wage. Whether it be hospitality, retail, ect. In this case a man and woman of equal age that perform the same job are entitled to the same wage. If a company chooses to pay a male employee in such circumstances more than his female colleague, then she would have grounds to sue that company for discrimination.

Women that are in mid to senior level professional positions are often times vulnerable to gender pay inequity as these are the types of jobs that often offer the potential to negotiate on salary.  It’s in these circumstances where men seem to commonly be offered a disproportionality higher amount of money than their female colleagues.

The reasonable question to ask is how do companies get away with paying female employees less than their male colleagues? Ultimately what it essentially boils down to is secrecy. Often times people simply don’t know how much money their colleagues are making. Most of us have been raised to think that it is impolite to talk about money and certainly in many cases this is true. It can be seen as boastful and obnoxious to talk about what your salary is or intrusive and indelicate to ask your colleagues about their own. But what if it was all public information?

In Norway this is indeed the case. If you want to know how much money your boss, doctor or teacher makes you can simply look that information up. There are pragmatic reasons for this policy. Norway is one of the most highly taxed countries in the world with an average income tax rate of 40% therefore having an increased level of transparency to ensure that everyone is paying their fair share is seen as acceptable.

The Scandinavians are pioneers when it comes to wacky social policies but they consistently rank in the top 5 for happiest people on earth so maybe we could learn a thing or two from them.  The idea certainly has its merits, one would hope that employers wouldn’t dare pay their female employees half the salary of their male colleagues for fear of public outcry and the backlash it would inevitable ignite. Most people simply do not accept the notion that a woman should be paid a cent less than that of a man for doing the exact some job. If salaries were public record it would hold employers to that standard and force them to make it reality.

At the very least perhaps we should revise the taboo about discussing money amongst colleagues and friends.  Knowledge after all is power. The Me Too movement also highlighted the fact that female actors of colour are routinely paid significantly less than that of white female actors. A fact that was in part, brought to light by women of different races discussing their salaries amongst each other. If we were encouraged to be more forthcoming with one another it could help to identify exploitation and recognise disparities.