Care about equity? Then let's talk about salary!

main.jpgFrom Ellen Pompeo to Mo’Nique, pay equity is big news right now. I have been following this topic avidly as a young professional who is still learning to believe in her worth and fighting to be paid accordingly. I have had some of these conversations about worth with one of the women I most admire, Jamie Millard. Forever ahead of the curve, Millard  touched on this very same topic in breaking the silence in nonprofit salaries back in 2012. Even now in 2018, the men and women of Hollywood are creating a spreadsheet basically identical to that which Millard  crowdsourced for us YNPs. Because the topic remains fresh, here’s the most recent edition of the Minnesota Nonprofit Salary and Benefits Survey, which has also helped me put my salary and skills in context.

Still, of all the stories of women fighting to receive their worth, the one that most sticks with me is the solidarity of Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer. As Chastain  explained on her Twitter: “[Octavia] had been underpaid for so long. When I discovered that, I realized that I could tie her deal to mine to bring up her quote. Men should start doing this with their female costars.”

In the social media circles I frequent, Chastain’s actions were praised as a brilliant show of allyship, solidarity, and feminism in action. She found something concrete to do with her privilege and took action. I have benefitted from similar help here and there, but I would like to see more of this kind of solidarity in the nonprofit world.

We may be working with less money than the silver screen stars, but we nonprofit professionals are more likely to know how national and local pay trends match with our own salaries. There are gaps by gender, gaps by race, and it’s not hard to see how your work stacks up and contextualize it. And once you have an understanding of how much you have, you know how much privilege you have to work with, how much you can or should give.

For example, I make the median household income for black Minnesotans, almost to the dot. I try to keep this in mind as I write grants for programs targeting populations with lower incomes. It would be hypocritical for me to do otherwise. I know that I don’t have their lives and that they know things I don’t about their needs. I am also well aware of my place on the pay scale as I seek funding from donors or when drafting grants that are equal to several times my pay.

I was a little afraid to write all that, but deep down, I know that I shouldn’t be. Given that the nonprofit world values transparency and lack of overhead, I’m really just demonstrating both (especially the latter). My job takes public funding, and I’m fine with being accountable to the public about how much I am paid. If my fear is being paid more than I provide or less than I’m worth, transparency would only help solve that mismatch.

In a perfect world, financial counselors would tell their clients how much they make and use their own budgets as reference before analyzing the poverty-level spending habits of their clients. Colleges would bring in career representatives to meet students and explain just how much their fields of study pay, with just as detail and weight as we give student loan counselors. And whenever anyone in power makes a moral stand against poverty, they should first explain their financial situation. I’m always very interested to see big a percentage of their income people are willing to give--it tends to be a smaller percentage the more money one makes, unfortunately.

As a member of the middle class, it’s easy to blame the 1% (you know, those guys who made enough money last year to end extreme global poverty seven times over. Buffett, Bezos, and Bill Gates in particular have more money than half of the United States) as the real source of the problem. Still, we also need to look at the habits of the 5%, the 10%, and the top 20%, which “engages in a variety of practices that don’t just help their families, but harm the other 80 percent of Americans,” according to Richard V. Reeves book Dream Hoarders. The Brookings Institution even made a little game about Dream Hoarding that demonstrates all the little things we could--and should--give up to give others a leg-up.

Anyone who makes money, be they super-rich or emerging middle class, can use the same excuses: “I know people make less than I do, but I’m more concerned with matching the people in my friend group. Many of my friends make more than I do.” But it shouldn’t just be about us competing with colleagues or women competing with men or nonprofits competing with corporate. Ultimately, it’s about all of us trying to build a fairer world. The fairest thing you can do with privilege is to use it to keep the doors open behind you, occasionally acting against your best interests to decline the things you want that others need. But occasionally, it means recognizing that you have just enough to help someone else up, like my friends have done for me when discussing my skills and my salary.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to practice my pay negotiation skills. My goal is to earn at least the Minnesota median with my next job move, but so long as I can help my parents retire, I’ll have made it.

As three takeaway questions:

1. How does your salary stack up against national and state trends?

2. How do you think privilege and generational wealth play into that?

3. What are some equity-building actions you’d like to take regarding pay?


Please Note: Each blog is written by the individual author, and the views expressed may not be shared by all YNPN members.

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