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The impact that new salary transparency laws could have

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Was your New Year's resolution to ask for a raise? Well, new salary transparency laws went into effect in a handful of states on January 1, and they just might make your job easier. NPR's Stacey Vanek Smith reports.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Hannah Williams graduated from college in 2019 and went to work as a data analyst near Washington, D.C. Her salary was $90,000, and she was pretty happy with that at first. But then she started to wonder if she should be making more.

HANNAH WILLIAMS: I started doing market research and realized for, like, the work I was doing, I was underpaid by about 20- to $25,000.

VANEK SMITH: Williams asked for a raise, but was told that was not possible.

WILLIAMS: I was really angry. I was upset with myself that I didn't advocate for myself, but I was also upset that a company had known they could take advantage of me and did because it was profitable.

VANEK SMITH: Williams is also frustrated that the pay information she'd tracked down hadn't been more available. For residents of Washington state and California, that information is now required by law. Companies in those states that have more than 15 employees will now have to include salary ranges in their job postings. Similar laws are already in place in New York and Colorado. Many business owners have pushed back against these laws, saying it will cause a managerial and financial nightmare. And that is kind of true, says Glenn Kelman, CEO of online real estate brokerage Redfin. The Seattle-based company has been posting salary ranges for years.

GLENN KELMAN: You really have to brace yourself because there are people who are underpaid. And as a business, you've benefited from that.

VANEK SMITH: But, says Kelman, it's worth the expense because even something as small as including salary ranges on job postings quickly exposes some pretty ugly truths about pay.

KELMAN: You really can't put it off because as soon as you know that some people are underpaid, you notice that the people who are underpaid do tend to be women and people of color because they just come to you having earned less.

VANEK SMITH: And, says Kelman, the benefits of salary transparency extend beyond equity. It also forces companies to create concrete metrics for what success means in every position and how that success is measured.

KELMAN: And it is so much work. Sometimes you just want to sell houses...

VANEK SMITH: Yeah.

KELMAN: ...Instead of thinking about how much to pay everyone. But you signed up to do both things not just one.

VANEK SMITH: Hannah Williams was extremely upset when she found out she was underpaid. And one day on a whim, she just decided to go out into the streets around her house and simply ask people how much they were getting paid and make a little video about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

WILLIAMS: This is Hannah Williams' Salary Transparent Street. We're in Arlington, Va. And today we're going to ask people what they do and how much they make.

VANEK SMITH: Williams posted her video on TikTok.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

WILLIAMS: Chris (ph), what do you do?

CHRIS: I work in IT.

WILLIAMS: How much do you make?

CHRIS: Oh, about 70K.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm a lifeguard.

WILLIAMS: And how much do you make?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I make $15 an hour.

MAX: My name is Max (ph).

WILLIAMS: Max, what do you do?

MAX: I'm a contractor.

WILLIAMS: And how much do you make as a contractor?

MAX: I make $96,000.

VANEK SMITH: Williams uploaded her video to TikTok and went to sleep.

WILLIAMS: I think, the next morning, it had, like - I think it hit a million, and it was just - immediately, the content went viral. And people were like, post more, post more. I think, like, in two weeks, I made the decision to quit my job and do this full time. It was, like, a no-brainer to me.

VANEK SMITH: When Williams was quitting her data analyst job, her employer begged her to stay and even said she could name her price. But Williams was too excited about the prospects of her new business. Over the last year, she's made Salary Transparent Street into a full-time job supported by sponsors, including the job search site Indeed. Williams says there seems to be an endless hunger for getting salary information and for giving it. Not everybody wants to share their salary, but often when they do, they act a little giddy.

WILLIAMS: Still now, it's so taboo to talk about money. When they do these interviews, it's like a little protest. It's a harmless protest. And it helps so many people. It inspires people. It gives them resources to stand up for themselves.

VANEK SMITH: Williams says she's gotten thousands of messages from people saying they've seen her videos and asked for a raise. She says she hopes the new salary transparency laws will empower people to ask for more and get it. Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.