Hannah Williams has millions of people talking about money. A few weeks ago, as the weather was getting warmer around Washington, D.C., she and her fiance, James Daniels, took the streets with an iPhone and a mic to ask what some might consider an inappropriate question: How much money do you make?
Surprisingly to Williams, people opened up pretty quickly: An IT worker named Chris said he makes $70,000; a lifeguard shared she makes $15 an hour; Max, a contractor, earns $96,000; and a research scientist bringing in $52,000 a year says she loves what she does and that “passion matters more, but money is also really important, and people need to be able to make a living wage no matter what they do.”
It’s one of about a dozen videos in the new Salary Transparent Street video series, led by Williams, 25, who hopes to promote “equal pay through transparent conversations.”
From $40,000 to $115,000
Williams has a knack for discussing personal finances and career advice, garnering a steady following on TikTok for documenting her salary journey: She was earning $40,000 as a telemarketer out of college, job-hopped across five roles in three years, and now earns $115,000 as a senior data analyst in the D.C. area.
During those job changes, though, she says it was difficult to do market research about how much money she should be earning in each one. Looking online was a start, but when she tried to bring it up with friends to get more localized numbers, they were hesitant to speak up.
“It really just clicked for me that these conversations need to happen outside of our friend groups,” she says, “and they need to become part of our society — something that’s not taboo anymore.”
So when Williams saw lots of other workers making job moves during the Great Resignation, she wanted to put her numbers and advice out there.
Transparency can help close the wage gap
As she spoke more about her own salary, she did more research into the role salary transparency plays in improving pay equity, and how it could help close gender and racial wage gaps. On average, full-time working women earn 83 cents for every dollar paid to a white man, and the wage gap grows for women of color.
With more people changing jobs in the Great Resignation, Williams saw how salary secrecy could continue the cycle of women and people of color being hired at lower pay.
Williams grew frustrated by business leaders who said pay transparency would take away their competitive edge, or that workers would become unhappy and quit. She also remembers one viral social media post, where a recruiter says she offered a candidate $85,000 for a role that had a budget of $130,000 because that’s what she asked for.
“That really pissed me off,” Williams says. “You have the budget, which means that’s what you’re willing to pay somebody. It says a lot more to me about the company and that recruiter than it does the employee who underpaid herself.”
Williams felt she could use her social media platform and her data background to help. “A lot of people don’t know how to price themselves in the market,” she continues, “and that’s why salary transparency exists — to try to help advocate for employees to do market research to figure out what they should be asking for so employers don’t take advantage of them. They can literally get away with underpaying people because employees don’t know any better, and I’m sick of it.”
Keeping the conversation going
Getting people to talk to each other about pay equity is a grassroots approach to closing the wage gap, and it’s part of a movement that’s picking up steam. In recent years, more states and cities are requiring businesses to be more transparent about their pay practices, like by advertising pay ranges in job ads.
Williams hopes companies are paying attention to the conversations unfolding, even on social media: “I literally don’t have the power to go to the head of big corporations and tell them, ‘you need to be talking about salary transparency with all your jobs and within your companies.’ But the Great Resignation has shown us there’s power in numbers, and when we’re all kind of on board with one idea, we can really influence great change.”
Looking ahead, Williams hopes to take her series national. She also wants to discourage viewers from making comparisons across people who live in different cost-of-living areas. “The whole goal is to try to encourage people to do more market research” and be open to having conversations about pay.
For now, it usually takes Williams about an hour to film her videos. People have even started to recognize her. Every now and then, she won’t be able to get out a few words before the other person shoots her down. She finds older generations are more resistant to sharing their pay on camera.
But more often than not, she’s able to make people feel comfortable, empowered even, to share how much they make to a world of strangers. Once they get over their nerves, Williams says, “they look like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders, like, ‘Oh wow, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.’ And that’s wonderful.”