Management consultant Alison Green offers a bevy of workplace advice on her popular blog, Ask a Manager. Her posts, which read in a “Dear Abby”-style, range from widely relatable issues — such as how to get over a job rejection — to highly specific quandaries, like: “My dad is dating my boss, and they want me to go to couples therapy with them.”
But in the past, Green has flipped the script and asked readers a question: “What do you earn?”
Two years ago, when Green last asked, readers posted their salaries as comments to the blog post. But this year, Green did something different. On April 24, she penned another “How much money do you make?” post. Instead of having readers comment on the blog, she linked to a Google form, which “vastly improved participation,” Green says over the phone. All of the responses are now publicly available on an anonymous Google spreadsheet.
In less than a week, the form — which asks for participants’ age range, location, industry, job title, annual salary and years of experience — has garnered more than 24,000 responses.
Green says she wanted to start a conversation, but didn’t realize how many people would opt in. “We’re so weird, as a society, about talking about money, and it really keeps workers at a disadvantage,” she explains. “For workers, if gives you a kind of power to know what kind of people doing similar work in your area or company are earning — it tells you what might be possible for you.”
The day her blog post went up, responses were flooding in so quickly that the form itself began malfunctioning, Green says. Within two days, the form — which had been posted solely on her blog — had over 10,000 responses. That number more than doubled after Quartz and Fox Business reported on it, according to Green.
In addition to being potentially helpful for workers, the spreadsheet might’ve become popular for another reason, Green says: It broaches a topic our society considers taboo. People are interested in knowing how much others around them are making, because it’s typically “so hard” to find out. “Some of it is just voyeuristic interest,” Green says, “and some of it, too, is like, ‘Am I normal?’”
According to the spreadsheet, there’s a coffee roaster in Minneapolis making $46,000 a year, an attorney in Denver making $165,000 a year, and a veterinary technician in Dallas making $32,000 a year.
But many blog commenters felt something was missing:
Green says that excluding gender was an oversight — that she had been trying to keep the form as simple as possible. “I’m really regretting not including gender, and I think in future years, I absolutely will,” she says. “Gender definitely should’ve been in there.”
Pay transparency has been an increasingly prominent aspect of the pay gap conversation in recent years. As we’ve reported on in the past, the gender pay gap continues to persist; last year, on average, U.S. women earned 85 percent of what men did. The gap is even larger for Latinas and black and Native American women.
As Quartz reports, “Google-doc” activism has been on the rise ever since 2015, when Google engineer Erica Baker started a spreadsheet revealing pay inequities at the company. The New York Times obtained the spreadsheet, which contained information from about 1,200 U.S. Google employees, and found that female employees were paid less than their male counterparts at most job levels.
Others have taken to social media to start the pay transparency conversation.
In just the last couple of months, the issue has taken center stage in politics. In March, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reinstate an Obama-era rule that required companies to report pay data by race and gender. And earlier this month, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to strengthen equal pay protections for women.
Green says that many women have written to her saying they know a male co-worker is making more than them, or are suspicious it might be happening. Her advice is to ask managers to explain the discrepancy if everything else — length of employment, job title, workload — seems comparable. “Name the factors that make this seem out of whack to you,” she says.
When we recently asked experts about pay negotiation, they advised to keep your conversation as specific as possible. Negotiation consultant Devon Smiley suggested that, instead of saying so-and-so makes more money than you, try this: “Based on my contributions and performance, as well as the salary levels of similar roles, I’m requesting an increase of $X.”
But that all starts with a conversation. Green says that she hasn’t even been able to really dig into the Google spreadsheet yet; the sheer number of entries has been overwhelming. The bottom line, she says, is that people don’t talk enough about money. “And that’s really bad for all of us.”