Why do we shame people – particularly women – for wanting to earn more money?
When you’re starting out in the world of work or are within a low level job, banter about needing a pay rise is completely acceptable. It’s a failsafe topic for a bonding grumble with colleagues, friends and family. This topic moves faster than a billionaire’s Bentley into controversial territory once you move into a more comfortable salary band yet have the temerity to think you deserve more.
I was recently sat down for dinner with two old female friends and we ended up getting into a debate about appropriate CEO salaries, which then deviated onto an acceptable sum to live a happy life. Their resounding conclusion was a rather communist, well everyone should just get paid the living wage and I came away wondering whether I was a bad person for wanting more money even though I already earn a pretty comfortable salary.
British society tends to brand wanting money as a bit trashy really. Talking about money, wanting more money – it’s just not ‘done’ if you have any manners. With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that lot of people I’ve come across who can make a salary sacrifice to do something worthwhile or that they are truly passionate about and claim to not want more, often have a safety net of a partner or a family which means that it doesn’t matter if their job doesn’t pay well, they are safe at worst, a lovely lifestyle still guaranteed at best. Or, take stock of how much we love sneering at reality TV stars, a lot of whom come from working class backgrounds, for ‘selling out’ to get money?
But so long as you are not making money illegally/out of the suffering of others/already own a legion of super yachts – what exactly is the problem with saying you want more money? Money unfortunately is what is needed to help people make a lot of dreams come true. Really want to visit that country? You need money. Want to decorate your flat so it feels homey and less like a prison cell? You need money. Want to carry on doing that hobby you love? You need money. So what exactly is wrong with saying you want more?
I am hugely proud of my salary – in the last five years, I have had seen it increase by 108% off the back of hard work and doing well at my job (and I acknowledge that I couldn’t have got on that first rung on the media industry ladder from which I propelled myself without the support of my parents during unpaid internships and generally their generosity in making sacrifices to send me to a not-so-local private school). I can afford to rent in London and pay for an equestrian, food and clothes addiction. And I would like more money. Because horses are expensive. Because it would be nice to not rent for the rest of my life. Because I work hard and do a good job and I want to be justly rewarded for that to guarantee my ongoing independence.
An unwillingness to discuss what we earn, because it seems a bit uncouth, helps to contribute to unequal pay levels. One of my pay rises came off the back of me furiously storming into my then boss’ office after seeing them advertise for the equivalent role to mine on another magazine they owned at a significantly higher salary. If I hadn’t happened to be browsing Guardian Jobs, I would not have known that.
Women are famously said to suffer a raw deal in the salary stakes because we are notoriously bad at asking for more money. A study by Professor Lisa Babcock, economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, found that men are four times more likely to ask for a raise than women. They are numerous complicated factors behind this of course, but our taboo around people who want more money doesn’t help.
I’m not saying worship and love money above all other things in your life and at the expense of others. That’s neither healthy nor good. But let’s acknowledge that money is an important tool that helps people achieve their dreams and have a bit less of the shaming that just contributes to a lack of parity in salaries as well as makes people feel unnecessarily bad.