Should We Talk About How Much Money We Earn?

girl counting money

If your parents were anything like mine, then chances are, you were raised with the subliminal message that it’s impolite to talk about finances. Some conversation topics do not leave the house, and money is one of them—at least, that was the outlook of their generation. No offense to my parents, of course. They are remarkable humans who instilled values into me which I continue to prioritize today. But when it comes to finances, I have to wonder if this subject actually should be as taboo as I once believed it was.

A recent poll from the investment firm Capital Group found that most Americans are more comfortable discussing mental health, addiction, politics, race, sexuality and marital conflicts with each other than talking about money. As someone who is just not motivated by chasing the dollar (I want to feel secure, but I don’t equate my own success with material wealth), I find these survey results fascinating. Where does the hesitation to compare notes on financial matters stem from? Insecurity? Shame? Competition? 

For a culture that’s so fixated on economic gains and a consumerist lifestyle, it’s quite the curious paradox that we’ve placed a stigma on this topic. However, it does beg the question: if we normalized open communication around money—rather than avoiding it—would we be more informed as a society to combat the financial injustices in this nation? Would honest dialogue pave the road for equity in the household incomes of women and racial minorities? Don’t we owe it to one another to at least broach the subject?


Gender and Racial Pay Gaps

As of 2021, women of all racial and ethnic groups tend to earn $0.82 for every dollar their male counterparts earn, according to research from PayScale. This means the average median salary for a man is around 18 percent higher than it is for a woman with the same education, qualifications and position. Men of color generally earn less than White men, the data continues, but they all out-earn their female coworkers—and these wage disparities are even more inequitable for women of color in the workplace. 

Black and Latinx women often earn less than $0.80 on the dollar, while many Native American and Pacific Islander women earn closer to $0.70 on the dollar. White and Asian women fare better in terms of median salary than women of other races, but female professionals across the board have taken a major financial blow during COVID-19. 

Case in point: throughout December 2020, 140,000 employees were laid-off, all of whom identify as female. How Corporate America pays its workforce is biased—the statistics alone prove this fact. But if we are collectively willing to discuss the amount of money we earn with our peers, then it stands to reason, we’ll be more empowered to advocate for either ourselves or our colleagues who experience financial discrimation. 

Why We Should Talk About Money

Are you aware that it’s illegal for companies to actively prohibit staff members from discussing their salaries? The National Labor Relations Act protects your right to initiate this conversation in the workplace or outside of it. While I’m not super financially driven, that information would have been useful to know in my first restaurant job as a teenager where I earned a pittance, was paid under the table, then had to share my tips with the owner’s mom. But I digress…the point is, you can be transparent about your income and encourage those you work with to do the same.           

I won’t pretend to have all the answers on how we can push beyond the personal and societal discomfort which often surfaces in financial discussions. This is an emotionally charged subject because we often conflate our self-worth with the dollar signs in our bank accounts.  And while money should not be the measure of our human value, how much we earn should be an accurate reflection of our contributions and capabilities.

This is why I think we need to throw out the archaic rulebook which has so many of us believing that finances are meant to be a secret. If we’re committed to overturning systemic barriers to make the world a better place for everyone, then we can’t ignore the unequal stratification of wealth and income. We help each other when we talk about it. Communication is mutually beneficial for all people in all scenarios—and money is no different.    

If you are in a minority group, the boldness to ask your male or White coworkers what their base salaries are can equip you with the information and confidence to negotiate what you also deserve to be paid. Likewise, if you are someone who holds any amount of privilege, the openness to reveal how much you earn and the willingness to speak out on behalf of your female or BIPOC colleagues can lead to structural improvements within the organization. So let’s break the silence. Taboos are so our parents’ era (sorry, Mom and Dad).    

What do you think? Should we talk about money, and if so, could it help shine a light on financial inequities in the workplace? We want to hear your insights on this topic, so chime in with any feedback you might have in the comment section below!

About Author

Mary-Elizabeth Meagher is a freelance writer, social media marketer, travel enthusiast, musical theatre nerd and self-described bohemian. She lives and seeks adventure in the Arizona desert, and she also blogs over at Health Be a Hippie—her personal contribution to making the internet a more authentic, vulnerable and empowering place.

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