Why Financial Transparency is Good For Everyone

Turns out we were ahead of the curve when adjunct professors across the country added salary data to a Google Doc in an effort to promote financial transparency in the higher education workplace. The Adjunct Project was at the forefront of a new trend toward financial transparency that’s now spreading to the corporate world.

Tech startup company, Buffer, has also adopted the position that financial transparency is the best way to do business. According to co-founder Joel Gascoigne, Buffer “sees no reason not to share everything.” So it’s that easy? Do it because there’s no reason not to?

Yep, it’s that easy.

Financial Transparency

It doesn’t take an HR professional to know that paying people different rates to do the same job is going to make people mad. And you know what makes people even madder? Finding out through the grapevine amidst swirling rumors that they make less than the guy next door who does the same job. That’s a recipe that will ruin the culture of a workplace in no time.

So why have we done this for so many years? Why has it been taboo to discuss salary data with co-workers? Mainly because those at the top have taught us that it’s taboo in order to avoid those very conflicts that result from employees learning about pay discrepancies via the rumor mill. Keeping quiet about pay doesn’t help the workers at all. This is one of those cases where Antonio Gramsci would point out that we’re adopting the values of the ruling class to our own detriment. Financial transparency is good for workers because it keeps the administration honest.

But, as Gascoigne realizes, financial transparency is also good for the business as a whole. No more “cloak and dagger” attempts by employees to undermine each other. No more destructive gossip about salary structure. No more nasty negotiations during the hiring process. The information is all available. “This is what we pay someone who has your skills and experience. Period.” Now doesn’t that sound nice?

Financial Transparency in Higher Education

Higher education could learn from Buffer’s philosophy. Practically every person in a given department earns a different salary–even those who do the exact same job. What a nightmare. No wonder departmental politics can get so nasty. And think about the heated negotiations during the hiring process. Life could be so much easier for everyone if colleges adopted a policy of financial transparency.

The key is setting a base pay that’s actually fair. Buffer recognized that everyone in the company needed to be at a minimum threshold in order for this to work. Salaries had to be “normalized” before the internal salary wiki was published. But once everyone was making a fair salary, it was all worth it.

It’s this salary normalization step that we are trying to expose with the Adjunct Project. Universities want to suppress adjunct professor salary data because the pay is almost always shameful. It’s the kind of information that poisons a company culture and causes everyone to fight and resent their jobs. Especially when you consider that salaried professors earn three to ten times as much as adjunct professors who teach the same classes. That’s a problem.

With the Adjunct Project we’ll continue to promote financial transparency in higher education. If colleges would see the light, as Buffer has, and normalize salaries they’ll be on the path to creating a thriving and innovative culture, as well. Financial transparency is the future of successful businesses. Adjuncts realized it a year and a half ago. Now we’re just waiting for our employers to catch up and get with the program.

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