Good friends can talk about anything, from embarrassing sex tales to intimate health concerns, but when it comes to money, it can be a totally different story.
But should you ever talk about your salary? And if you do, how can you stop it causing friction?
Leadership psychologist and director of the White Water Group, Averil Leimon, believes that women should absolutely be discussing how much they earn, both to ‘egg each other on’ and also to arm themselves with ammunition for better wage negotiations - to close the pay gap and ensure women are getting a fair deal. But, she admits, it’s not always easy.
“Conversations between friends can be very, very open, but it often seems like discussing money is the last taboo,” she tells us.
“But it shouldn’t be. It depends on the basis of the friendship. The assumption that all women turn into mean girls or get bitchy is just stupid. Real friends can have genuine conversations about money that are helpful, open and supportive. But the more it’s not talked about, the more it feels like a taboo subject.”
Why is talking about salary so difficult?
In our society, how much you earn feeds deeply into your self worth, because it dictates the kind of life you can lead, and is often how we value ourselves and others, whether we mean to or not.
If your friend’s earning thousands more than you, does that make her better than you?
How much you earn is linked to, among many other things, power, freedom, success and prestige, so in your head it can be difficult to untangle how much you earn and how much you’re worth.
“There is the problem of like for like,” Leimon explains. “One of the key issues worth addressing is ‘what are you working for?’
“If you go into finance, say, you possibly are more motivated to earn a bigger salary than if you’ve gone into a creative field. In that case there are other things in there that motivate and drive you.”
She continues: “What makes us choose our careers is where our passions lie and so we shouldn’t be naive - of course you can earn a bigger salary in some industries and that’s fantastic, but for most people, once you’re past poverty levels, other things are as, if not more, important. Job satisfaction isn’t just salary-based.”
She adds that women should be open about all aspects of their work, not just their salaries, to help keep things in perspective and avoid resentment.
“If you go into law, you’ll probably have to accept that you won’t see your friends for at least the first few years, because you’ll be working all hours. And being paid very well for it. But it’s about being open and saying ‘Yes I can afford these things, but look at my empty social calendar!’.”
So how can you talk about it like grown ups? And why is it so important?
There are two important reasons to talk about what you earn. One is purely practical. Your salary will determine what you can afford to do - what restaurants you can meet up in, what group holidays are realistic etc. And it’s good for your friendship group to be on the same page.
But perhaps more importantly, women need to be open about the topic, because there is still such inequality in society.
Leimon is passionate about this: “There have been numerous studies that show women are far less likely to ask for more money than men. Women tend to assume the company employing them will pay them what they’re worth, which sadly in the business world isn’t always the case!”
“Holding each other up saying ‘Did you go for that job, how much did you get?’ helps women keep up the pressure on themselves (in a good way) so that whatever industry you’re in you know you’re being paid fairly.”
She adds that it’s vital for women to talk to their male friends too - often to just get a reality check.
“Get your confidence up talking to women, but the real comparison is what your male peers are getting. If they tell you, you’ve got good allies there that can really put your company to the test - is it as gender fair as you would hope?”
Five golden rules for talking salary:
1. Be open, particularly with those working in comparative industries to yours, they could use this information in their future wage negotiations.
2. Employ tact, you’re talking to friends here, there’s no need to show off.
3. Show the whole picture. High salaries come with other sacrifices and it’s important to be open about the positive and negative side effects your chosen career has on your life. Equally if you don’t earn very much but you have a great work-life balance, that’s worth celebrating.
4. Be careful who you complain to. Don’t whinge about not being paid enough to someone in an industry that regularly pays 10, 20 or 50 thousand less than yours at your level. If you don’t think you’re being paid enough, do something about it instead.
5. Have confidence in yourself. Know why you do what you do. Promoting a charity you really care about isn’t going to be as lucrative as running the finances of a market-leading big business. But it probably gives you far more satisfaction, and that’s why you chose it.