In everyone's best interest: Why you should disclose salary in your job postings

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Imagine walking into a shoe store and finding a pair of sandals you’d like to buy, searching in vain for a price tag and approaching a clerk to ask the cost, only to have the clerk ask you what you think the shoes are worth. You consider offering the price of your last pair of shoes or perhaps a price you saw in another store but you have no idea whether your valuation is in any way correct or whether it will be accepted by the clerk, who clearly has a price in mind, but won’t tell you.

Almost no financial transactions take place in this manner, except one: the discussion of salary between job seekers and employers. While numbers vary from day to day, fewer than half the jobs posted on Charity Village tend to show the salary range.

This doesn’t sit well with job seekers. Here’s a sample of what they recently had to say on Twitter about the practice of putting the burden of communicating salary expectations on job seekers instead of being transparent about compensation in a job posting:

"If there's no salary range, I will not apply for the job. Employer is not being honest and upfront. That's the message."

"I am very discouraged from applying to positions that do not have a salary posted since I am unable to envision if the position will offer a tenable standard of living."

“There is all this talk re: #askformore /#payequity, but then orgs working on gender rights posts jobs on @CharityVillage without $$ info.”

"Is there any reason for an employer not to post salary info that isn't nefarious?"

"It drives me nuts that companies don't want to give salary ranges & I'm an HR person."

“YES pay should always be posted in job ads, many ppl won't apply if not or decline it if too low, wastes everyone's time. If companies post pay & get few & or low quality applicants then they know not offering enough for what they're asking for.”

“Would save a lot of time on both the job seekers, and employers' ends. And that saves money.”

CharityVillage approached a wide range of professionals working in the nonprofit sector, as well as job seekers to understand why organizations do or don’t include salary ranges, and what the implications of this decision are, both for potential candidates and the organizations hiring new employees.

What does the law say?

Some employers are required by Canadian law to disclose their salary ranges. Unionized environments, for instance, have standardized salary ranges in their collective agreement. Employees and potential employees alike are able to see what each job in a unionized organization is worth. When someone applies for a job in such an organization, there’s no real room for negotiation of salary, and salaries are often based more on years with the organization rather than skills and experience.

By contrast, private sector companies and non-unionized nonprofit organizations are not required by law to disclose their salary range or even to use a standardized salary structure. As HR professional Denise Lloyd of Engaged HR says, “In a non-union environment, the rules of transparency don’t apply to the same degree. Every organization has its own salary structure and its own culture about whether this structure is disclosed even to its current employees as well as potential employees.”

Transparency is the operative word

When it comes to making the decision to include salary information in a job ad, an organization's commitment to transparency is key. Nancy Ingram of Foot in the Door Consulting says nonprofit organizations often list transparency and fairness as being among their values in their mission statements but don’t always practice this by listing salary ranges in their job ads.

Lloyd suggests that for some organizations, the internal culture is what drives this lack of transparency with potential employees. “Often if an organization has paid attention to its compensation structure and has a good rationale for its salaries, they are happy to be an open book. But the last thing an organization wants is to disclose salary ranges if they are not already transparent within their organization and among their current staff.”

In many organizations, there can be a strong culture that “we don’t talk about how much money people make.” This almost always reflects management’s comfort level with transparency. It’s unlikely an organization with such a culture would post a salary range in a job ad.

Taking an ethical approach

A lack of transparency can, however, create ethical problems. “Without transparency,” says Jane Garthson, president of the Garthson Leadership Centre, “how can you tell whether an organization pays both women and men fairly?” Audra Williams of Townhall Communications agrees: “Studies show that women don’t negotiate salaries or talk about money. This pay equity issue is aggravated by not knowing what a job will pay. Knowing a salary range would be a big boon for pay equity, but it’s often viewed as aggressive or greedy to talk about money.”

A lack of transparency can be problematic in other ways. “Canadians have a democratic right to organize,” says Garthson. “If a group of employees is considering organizing or joining a union, they have to talk about whether or not their pay is fair. Restricting conversations on pay internally can be deemed as restricting the right to organize.”

An awkward conversation

There’s a commonly held belief when it comes to talking about salaries: “Whoever mentions money first loses.”

Lloyd notes that money is a trigger for all sorts of sensitive issues for people, and that the vast majority of organizations will disclose their benefits before they talk about their salaries. She also says that people perceive salaries differently. “Putting money in job ads changes the nature of the conversation.”

“Compensation is often an area where organizations try to maintain some level of control in terms of information shared,” says Veronica Utton, of Veronica Utton & Associates. “If the organization doesn’t have a clear philosophy on their rewards and recognition program, and does not share an annual compensation statement with employees, a lot of this information is hush-hush.”

Garthson strongly encourages organizations to develop a compensation philosophy so that they don’t simply pull a salary figure from the air — as some may do — but instead figure out fair compensation for a job, and how a salary will be determined from a range. Utton says organizations can determine a fair range by participating in salary surveys by compensation specialists, comparing salary levels with colleagues at similar organizations and by establishing and maintaining a job evaluation practice.

Having a clear compensation philosophy helps an organization explain its compensation structure to potential employees, observes Utton. “A lot of nonprofits miss out on saying who they are, what they value, where they want to be in the marketplace — and how this explains their salaries.”

A common practice is for organizations to ask potential employees to indicate their salary expectations without knowing anything about the existing compensation structure.

“Withholding information such as salary sets up an adversarial dynamic,” says Williams. Garthson agrees: “Asking an applicant to give their salary expectation is an attempt to turn the organization into the winner and the applicant into the loser. It may sound reasonable at first but is that really the best way to start an employment relationship?” She adds that employees often are able to discover what their predecessor made or what their colleagues make, and that finding this information after a hire can make an employee unhappy. Garthson believes offering a salary range in a job ad is a sensible way to find a win-win solution.

Just in it for the money?

Some employers believe that if a job seeker isn’t willing to entertain exploring a job opportunity without knowing the job’s salary, that job seeker might not be the right fit for the organization. By not disclosing a salary range, such employers argue, potential employees make decisions based on other motivations, such as passion for the cause, besides money.

Williams says this belief indicates a “staggering amount of privilege.” She adds, “We work in nonprofits because we want the world to be a better place, but we get leaned on hard and are told we shouldn’t care about how much we get paid. Anyone working in a nonprofit still has financial needs and many people fall asleep each night doing math in their heads, hoping their rent cheques don’t bounce. To tell people they shouldn’t care about how much they make is unethical, manipulative and anti-equality.”

There are a variety of ways job seekers can figure out an appropriate salary range for their experience and the position they are applying for — from sites like, from CharityVillage’s Canadian Nonprofit Sector Salary & Benefits Study, the National Occupation Classification through Service Canada, career development support organizations, the collective agreement library and conversations with others in the sector. Williams suggests that this approach favours candidates who are younger, web savvy and have English as a first language. “When job seekers have to put in layers of detective work, certain people are privileged while others fall off the bottom rung. I’m glad people are finding workarounds but our current model further disadvantages the most disadvantaged job seekers.”

Even those who do their homework find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing what a reasonable salary might be. Ariel Troster, a national campaigns officer for a labour union, has worked in communications, journalism and community organizing and says salaries in her field range from $30,000 to $90,000. She says, “I have seen jobs with the exact same qualifications and job tasks differ in salary by $50,000. It’s not worth my time to apply if I do not know if I can afford to work somewhere.”

There are risks involved in not disclosing salary

Employers often worry that disclosing a salary range can run risk of attracting masses of people who are only attracted by the money or conversely discouraging excellent potential candidates who might not consider a job simply based on its wage. However, there is also strong evidence that job seekers are less likely to apply for a job if the posting doesn’t include a salary range.

Like many other job seekers, Troster assumes when an employer posts a job without a salary range that “they are trying to call a candidate's bluff and try to bargain them down to the lowest salary possible.” Garthson says this can sometimes be othe case and doesn’t blame job seekers for their distrust: “The organization isn’t being transparent, might be violating collective bargaining opportunities and certainly wants to be winner in a win-lose relationship. It’s a poor way to start relationship.”

Not disclosing a salary range can also be an enormous waste of time, for the organization, the candidates and any search firms involved. “Not including a salary range in a job posting,” says Ingram, “often results in a lengthy recruitment process that needs to be repeated because of a difference in salary expectations based on the criteria of a job posting. We encourage all organizations to post their salary ranges with their postings whenever possible to make life a little easier all around in the recruiting process.”

The recruiting process is also streamlined by the inclusion of a salary range. Lloyd advises, “If you know a job ad will produce a lot of applicants, putting the salary in the job ad will eliminate applicants who are not a fit. If you know that salary is a barrier to entry, be up front with it.” Garthson also suggests including a salary range in a job ad that inspires and attracts people who share your organization’s values, and that details the kinds of benefits the organization offers.

Finally, because job ads are also a form of external communication with potential stakeholders, Ingram offers this reminder: “A job posting helps people — whether they apply or not — form an opinion about the organization.” Whether or not an organization values transparency can be clearly demonstrated to these potential stakeholders in a job ad.

Is there ever a time not to disclose salary?

Each organization has to decide what is best for them, says Utton, but the one time most human resources professionals would suggest not disclosing salary, regardless of internal culture, is when demand exceeds supply. Senior fundraisers, for instance, can be hard to find and are in high demand. Putting a number on these positions can give other hiring organizations a competitive advantage. Even in such situations, however, Lloyd advises entering into salary discussions sooner rather than later.

Often, nonprofit organizations don’t post a salary range for jobs simply because “they are following the norm of bad examples,” says Garthson, “doing what has always been done by others.” Organizations that want to stand out from the crowd for the right reasons will do well to consider posting a salary range. “If you can be transparent,” says Lloyd, “be transparent. It will help your brand, especially in a competitive job market.”

Such transparency is also in line with the values most nonprofits profess. “We're trying to make the world better, but the sector is furthering a model that disadvantages people who are already the most disadvantaged,” says Williams. “I think it ought to be illegal to post jobs without a salary range.”

Susan Fish is a writer/editor at Storywell, a company that helps individuals and organization tell their story well. She has written for the nonprofit sector for almost two decades and loves a good story.

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