Discussion of salary data is not something most companies welcome or encourage, but preventing such conversations is illegal.
Erica Baker, a former Google employee, recently put the law to the test when she systematically exposed the internet tech giant’s pay inequalities with a simple spreadsheet.
Last Friday, Baker tweeted the story behind her spreadsheet. She told of how, out of boredom, she and some coworkers conducted a salary transparency experiment on Google employees to share on the company’s internal social network.
According to Baker, Google fixes their employees’ salaries based on the assessed value of the individual’s output to the company, meaning that two employees can have the same job title and description but can see different figures on their paychecks.
“A thing bothered me yesterday and it’s still bothering me today and so now i want to tell a story.”
“One Sunday, some former coworkers & I were bored, talking about salaries on the internal social network instance. A spreadsheet was created.”
“We put our salaries in the sheet, realized that it was created on a public to the world spreadsheet, so I copied it to internal.”
“I then put a form on it and posted the link to the form and the spreadsheet on my internal social network account. It took off like wildfire.”
“It got reshared all over the place. People started adding pivot tables that did spreadsheet magic that highlighted not great things repay.”
“I did some general housekeeping stuff to the sheet (normalizing the gender field where it could be, exchange rate stuff, that sort of thing)”
“More reshares. More people adding pay. It became a thing.”
“I was invited to talk to my manager on Mon or Tues. Higher up people weren’t happy. She wasn’t happy. Why did I do it?”
“‘Don’t you know what could happen?’
Nothing. It’s illegal to retaliate against employees for sharing salaries.
“Meeting ended. Sheet kept going. People were thanking me for it. They were also sending me peer bonuses.”
“Here’s how peer bonuses work @ former co: If you did something good, someone peer bonuses you, you get $150 net in your next paycheck.”
“An important thing I learned during that time: peer bonuses are rewarded at managers discretion. My manager was rejecting all of them.”
“Wasn’t sure if this would be good for the company. Wanted to see what the outcome was. Mind you once a PB is rejected, that can’t be undone.”
“Meanwhile, one of the other people involved, a white dude (good friend I won’t name, he can name himself if he wants), was also getting PBs.”
“His weren’t getting rejected. I told him mine were. He was pissed. Wanted to tell everyone what was happening. I declined.”
“A smattering of people knew what was going on. Backchannels being what they are at former co. (lol IRC #yallknowwhoyouare), it got around.”
“Rejecting PBs was so unheard of, ppl didn’t know it was possible. There was outrage when they found out. Shock that I wasn’t talking abt it.”
“Meanwhile, spreadsheet still going, getting spread around, pointed questions being thrown at mgmt about sharing salary ranges (hahah no).”
“Most people agreed that it was A Good Thing. PBs kept rolling in. Rejections kept rolling out.”
“One PB eventually got approved. Way after everything died down. Because the person worded it in a way that was vary vague.”
“Any that were outright about the spreadsheet got rejected. 7 total in the end I think?”
“Higher ups still pissed. Some I used to support as an exec tech would pointedly not interact w/ me anymore. ¯_(ツ)_/¯”
“Before I left, about 5% of former co. had shared their salary on that sheet. People asked for & got equitable pay based on data in the sheet”
“The world didn’t end. Everything didn’t go up in flames because salaries got shared. But shit got better for some people.”
“I explicitly gave ownership of the sheet to someone else before I left so it couldn’t be taken over by mgmt when I was gone (can happen).”
“I am thinking of this because of everyone celebrating the fact that Google put Ida B. Wells in the doodle yesterday.”
“Ida B. Wells was great. She did stuff to affect change of such a magnitude that if I’m half the woman she was, I’m doing pretty good.”
“I don’t claim to come close, but from time to time, I do stuff that will make things better for people at the expense of the establishment.”
“I’m a pretty big believer in justice and fairness and will fight for both if necessary.”
“Fighting for justice & fairness INSIDE Google doesn’t go over well. Salary sharing is only 1 example. Blogger porn. Real names. Many others.”
“Shit WILL hit the fan if you tell a racist (a well documented racist) to go fuck themselves though. In defense of the racist, obvi. ”
“So sure. Rah rah, Google did an Ida B. Wells doodle.”
“Guaranteed that if Ida Wells were alive & working at Google today, there’d be many private calendar meetings focused on “her future” there.”
“tl;dr the sharing of one doodle does not a bastion of support for justice and civil disobedience make.”
Baker said she later discovered that coworkers had tried to reward her work on the spreadsheet with peer bonuses (instant $150 bonuses Google employees can give to each other), but that her manager had, in a rare move, refused to sign off on any of them.
In an emailed statement to Quartz regarding Baker’s spreadsheet, a Google spokesperson wrote:
“Our policy is not to comment on individual or former employees, but we can confirm that we regularly run analysis of compensation, promotion, and performance to ensure that they are equitable with no pay gap. Employees are free to share their salaries with one another if they choose.”
Baker has since left Google and now works as an engineer at Slack. Her spreadsheet, of which about 5% of the employees at her former company had added their pay data to when she left, is now in the care of one of her ex-colleagues.