Why is money such a taboo topic? Is it competition? Guilt? Feelings of inadequacy? Or is it just because we've all been conditioned to think talking money is tacky?
There are few conversations that induce awkwardness as much as talking salaries. But have you ever given much thought as to why? Some argue that perhaps discussing money more candidly could help close the gender wage gap, while others believe that it makes workplaces hostile since we, as a society, define success monetarily.
In an effort to better understand what makes us steer away from the money talk, I reached out to 10 women in different fields to share the many reasons they don't discuss their salaries with others. Here's what they had to say...
1. It's about competition.
"For me it is mostly petty reasons, because I don’t want my siblings to know how much I make. Its ridiculous and petty, but there it is," says Jacque Fairbourn, SEO & public relations expert.
2. It feels like bragging.
"Most women don't like to brag and sharing how much money we make feels like boasting," explains Laura Browne, author of Raise Rules for Women: How to Make More Money at Work and an HR senior director for a global technology company. "If I tell you my salary and find out that I make more than you, I'll feel bad and will need to apologize and make excuses to make my colleague feel better. If I find out that she's making more money than me, I'm going to be upset. The only scenario that would not make me feel bad is if we both make the same amount. That's probably not going to happen so why would I want to cause problems by comparing salaries?"
3. It's socialized.
"I have never shared salary information—this is not something I do in my personal life either with friends or family members," says Sarah Hague, marketing manager at online retail company Find Me A Gift. "It may be a learnt behavior from parents as I was always told there are certain things that are private and not to be shared, and finances are one of those. I have also seen the huge trouble sharing salary details can cause in a company. Long gone are the days of tiered salaries in many companies and, although job roles may be similar, salaries are often based on personal performance so will vary. If I was unhappy with a salary I would discuss with my manager in the first instance; there would be no need for me to discuss with other colleagues."
4. It feels awkward.
"For whatever reason, talking money makes me feel awkward—I think I've just been conditioned to feel this way, so I never ask and I never tell," says Alyssa Lynn, a high school teacher. "I just think there are some things people should keep to themselves, but maybe it'd actually help women to know what each other are making and how we compare to our male colleagues. So it's something I've been mulling over a lot, but it's so taboo still."
5. It can be helpful only with good intentions.
"Depending on the person asking, I will gladly tell them," says Amy Lynch, a marketing manager. "If it is a friend or family member, I would weigh the pros and cons. Are they in a related field to me? Will it encourage them to ask for more in their current role? Are they thinking of changing careers? I've learned over the years as I have spent time applying for and working in contract marketing roles in different countries, the more comfortable I get with talking compensation and researching my market value, the better I am at negotiation. Whether it's differentiating myself for a new role or assigning a monetary value to the work I've already done, I try to keep emotions out of it, project confidence and back myself first."
6. Money matters too much with regards to success.
"I don’t talk about my salary because, for whatever reason, people tend to relate to you by how much money you make," says Hayley Ellis, marketing associate for Maple Holistics. "There will inevitably be someone who makes less and more than you, and both situations could have uncomfortable implications both for you and for the other person. Also, for the same reason that French women tend to not want to talk about their beauty secrets, the amount of money you make gives people an insight into you and your 'preparation process' that takes away the mystique. We tend to want people to relate to us to how we are in the present, to what we are letting them see. Knowing where you hold financially also takes people out of that illusion you want them to have."
7. It's anxiety inducing.
8. It may feel undeserved.
"I don't discuss my salary information because I don't want people to know how much I make," says Lauren Hughs, an investment banker. "I don't always feel comfortable with people knowing my salary because I don't want them to look at me as a woman and assume I don't deserve it. I work hard, late into the night all week, and earn my paychecks. But it's no one's business."
9. It breeds resentment and jealousy.
"Like the majority of business professionals I know, I don't talk about my salary," says Crystal McFerran, CMO at The 20. "I don't think there's a benefit in discussing salary, particularly with coworkers, as it breeds resentment and jealousy. It's a double-edged sword — there's guilt associated with finding out you're making more money than your peers (and the possibility of resentment from others); and, on the opposite end, finding out you make less than your peers would evoke feelings of inadequacy. As a society, we correlate income with success. (Also, it's difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison, as it's extremely rare to find someone whose experience, education and credentials mirror your own.)"
10. People will make assumptions.
"I do not share my salary simply because I do not want people in my pockets," says Ashley Ogbonna, a federal government attorney. "People will hear my salary and think I have money to waste or freely give out without knowing all of the bills I have. I also am a humble person, who does not want to intimidate anyone with what I make. I am pretty sure that as a federal government attorney, people would be surprised about what I make. Unless a person is interested in my same position in the federal government, then knowing my salary is not needed information."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.