Widening Participation: Why we need to talk about pay

This blog was written by The Pay Index, sponsors of the 2020 Widening Participation Conference.

Traditionally, there has been an element of secrecy around earning more or less than others. Adults talk about pay when it comes to their salary review or when it comes to negotiating pay for a new position. Why do we not talk about earnings outside of this? Does society deem that pay is such a dirty word that it must only be discussed in hushed tones in private meetings? This “let’s not talk about pay” stance has led to too much opacity and lack of clarity for the individual.From an organisational perspective, employers do not want staff to feel underpaid. There is also this added pressure not to divulge your earnings with anyone else in your organisation. Please keep your salary to yourself. Pre Covid-19, pay varied depending on your geographic location but how will the massive increase in remote working impact on this? Just last week Reddit announced that they will pay their employees the same salary no matter where they work in the world, taking the more costly geographic locations of San Francisco and New York out of the equation. Why did Reddit standout on my newsfeed for its bold stance on pay?

While adults may want or seek some level of pay privacy, the taboo around talking about how much you personally earn does not do any service to our young people. They may need pay information to make a more informed choice about what they want to do next, especially if they come from a disadvantaged background.

Young people and pay

Young people are not aware of how much they will earn across all sectors and locations as soon as they enter the workplace. They turn to their parents, guardians, or Google to find out what approximate number to ask for or they just accept the offer they are being presented with by their first employer. They are just happy they got a job! HESA and LEO data sources take it one step further and highlight that there is a gender pay gap as soon as you graduate university across the majority of sectors in the U.K. Female graduates are being discriminated against in their first year of employment. How incredibly frustrating. Wonkhe recently asked why have graduates not challenged this to date?

Young people are encouraged by schools and colleges to follow their dreams and their passions, which is well-meaning advice but the pragmatism of pay awareness can add an extra layer to their thought processes. We all know that students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have the same advantages enjoyed by middle class students today. They come from single parent families, have caring responsibilities, are under the guardianship of the state and do everything they can to make ends meet on a daily basis. Worrying about money is a constant struggle for them and a lot of them work on a part-time basis as soon as they can. We need to provide more public and safe spaces for them to talk about pay. We need to let them know it is o.k. to talk about pay and to take it into consideration when choosing the best possible pathway for them.

Let’s all talk about pay

The Pay Index wants to stand on the shoulders of the good work that has already been done by university and community practitioners with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds from a widening participation perspective. We want to bolster the importance of talking about pay and encourage this generation and future generations to discuss it more openly using data and visualisations as a guide. In particular, we want to help young people and parents from disadvantaged backgrounds to see the value of pursuing further education across all sectors over time (one year, three years, five years, ten years out) versus heading straight into the workplace without it. We want to help guide young people who are at risk of no longer being in training, education and employment post school or college to see a pathway for them.

If you asked a young person how much does Marcus Rashford MBE earn per week they would probably be able to answer it as we like to talk about footballers’ salaries. If you asked the same young person what is the starting salary of a chemistry graduate or level 3 apprentice would they be able to answer it as quickly?