Hannah Williams would like to know how much money you make.
The full time social media influencer is the face behind Salary Transparent Street, a viral TikTok account in which she interviews strangers on the streets of D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York about their salaries, what they do for a living, their dream job, and how much experience they have in their field.
“People are so happy this is happening,” Williams tells NextAdvisor. “I get great messages from people telling me they realized they were being underpaid or they started having these conversations with their colleagues. They’re starting to advocate for themselves. Those are the actions I love to see.”
It didn’t take long for Salary Transparent Street to become popular. Most of Williams’s videos have been seen by at least one million people, and some have been seen by as many as 20 million.
Along the way, Williams has opened up a conversation about salary transparency, how to make more money, and why it’s important to negotiate your pay even if you’re not changing jobs.
From Underpaid to a Viral TikTok Account
When Williams first started working, she says she didn’t know that negotiating a salary was an option in corporate America.
“When I started [working], I had a hard time finding the right job for myself, so I job hopped and my salary went from $40,000 to $115,000,” Williams said. “I didn’t negotiate my salary until my fifth job. I didn’t even know you could do that.”
As Williams grew in her career, she talked about her experience on her TikTok account, Stocks and Squats, a page offering career advice and building wealth. The more she spoke about increasing her earnings, the more her community wanted to know. Because, just like Williams, most of her viewers didn’t know their own earning potential or how to increase their pay.
“It lit this fire in me that people need to start talking about this,” Williams said.
The Importance of Salary Transparency
The responsibility should be on companies to disclose their salaries upfront rather than putting that responsibility on employees, says Kimberly Brown, a career expert and founder of Manifest Yourself, a leadership development company.
“When companies do salary studies, we often see that people are overpaid or underpaid for the same responsibility, with no real justification outside of how the negotiation went,” Brown said.
We should push companies to change their policies, Brown says. In the meantime, sharing your salary with friends and colleagues can help to promote salary transparency and equality—even if those conversations can be difficult.
Do Research by Talking to Peers or Looking Online
One of the most significant benefits of salary transparency, according to Brown, is that it provides more information to workers when they enter into salary negotiations. Besides TikTok, you can learn about salaries within your company and your industry by speaking with colleagues or using salary research tools like LinkedIn and PayScale.
Bring Strategy to the Negotiation Table
Once someone knows what a reasonable salary range for a particular job is, they can share their research with their employer while stressing the value they bring to the organization.
“When you’re talking about salary negotiation, one of the things I always stress is – yes, we want you to get paid your worth – but it’s a value-based negotiation,” Brown said.
Approach your salary negotiation from a strategic place and really emphasize the value you bring, Brown recommends. Discuss your experience in the industry, your time with the company, and any major projects or achievements you’ve completed during your time there.
While salary transparency is an important and useful tool, Brown recommends making your negotiation about what you bring to the company rather than your financial needs or what others in similar roles are being paid.
“You never want to get looped into a bucket of someone thinking you’re complaining,” she says. “You’re more than warranted to complain if you find out you’re being underpaid, but that’s not what will get you the results as much as demonstrating your value.”
Help Change Policies by Being Vocal Locally
Ultimately, the best way to close inequitable salary practices is to put pressure on organizations, from companies to lawmakers, to change their policies.
Recently, states have started passing legislation requiring companies to disclose their salaries in job postings. Colorado required companies to start doing this in 2021, and New York City is set to follow suit later this year. While no other state requires this level of transparency, some do require that companies disclose the pay for a job at some point in the hiring process.
If your state hasn’t enacted salary transparency laws to protect workers, Brown recommends contacting your representatives to encourage it.
“In the same way that I want you to advocate for yourself in your salary, advocating for yourself in your state’s policies is just as important,” Brown said.
Want to promote salary transparency on a systemic level? Contact your employer and lawmakers and ask them to promote policies for pay transparency and equality, such as requiring companies to disclose salaries in job postings.
Hold Your Company Accountable
Employees can also ask for the same amount of accountability within their organization. According to Brown, employees can request a pay equity study, especially if they’ve learned of pay disparities within their companies. These studies, best done by a third party, can help shine a light on salary inequality issues.
Finally, while hiring managers may not be able to change the policy for their entire company, they can do more due diligence to ensure pay equality in their departments.
“If you’re a hiring leader, do the research before bringing new people on to see what everyone else is paid,” Brown said. “Make sure you look at where your team is and while you’re advocating for pay equity in the company, make sure that for each person brought into your team, you’re looking at your entire team and what the pay looks like.”
Fighting the System With TikTok
When asked about her goal for Salary Transparent Street, Williams shares that she hopes to see change on an overall systemic level.
“The goal was that corporate America makes their salaries transparent, but I didn’t know how I would have the power to influence that,” Williams said. “But what I saw with the great resignation is that there’s power in numbers.”
In 2022, women and people of color are still underpaid compared to their white male counterparts. As of 2020, women still earned just 83 cents for every dollar men earned. And the disparity is even larger for Hispanic and Black women.
“Women, when they negotiate for the same amount as a male counterpart, often won’t get as much and may not get anything at all,” Williams said. “People see them as greedy or difficult to work with, and many women don’t negotiate because they’re scared of that happening. Pay transparency removes that and creates equal opportunity for so many people who deserve it.”
While Williams admits that salary transparency alone isn’t enough to change that, she hopes it’s a step in the right direction.
In addition to the changes Williams hopes to see on the corporate level, she also hopes to change the way people correlate their income with their personal value.
“So many people tie their pay to their value,” Williams said. “They think if they’re paid less, they’re worth less in society. There are discrepancies with salary based on what you do, but we need to be okay with that and remove this tie we have between our salary and our identity. Very likely, you’re actually underpaid, so you end up valuing yourself less than you should.”