Salary Transparency is a Jewish Value

By Larisa Klebe

I’ve worked in the Jewish nonprofit world long enough to know that we have a serious equity problem. About 70% of Jewish nonprofit employees are women, but the majority of the highest-paying jobs are still held by men. The wage gap is just as much an issue for us as it is in the nonprofit sector at large. We also have to recognize that widespread underpayment is almost certainly influenced by the fact that anything labeled as “women’s work,” which much of the work in the Jewish nonprofit sector is, is undervalued in our society.

Many issues having to do with underpayment and unequal payment stem from a lack of transparency around salaries. To promote greater pay equity in the field organizations should post salary ranges on job descriptions, and should also consider making a basic pay structure public. Unfortunately, these practices are not yet standard in our field. Thanks to the work of organizations like the Safety Respect Equity Coalition and The Gender Equity in Hiring Project we’re starting to see some improvements, but we have a long way to go before salary transparency is the norm.

Let’s get the uncomfortable part out of the way: The Jewish nonprofit sector benefits financially from intentionally keeping salary information secret, and this is directly in conflict with our Jewish values. So many of our organizations do a great job of modeling strong, positive Jewish values in our programming and messaging; however, far fewer of us translate these values to how we approach compensation, and communicating compensation.

If our insides don’t reflect our outsides we’re not really doing our job. If we’re not serious about salary transparency we’re not serious about diversity, equity, and inclusion. If we’re not serious about diversity, equity, and inclusion we’re not serious about living our Jewish values.

Recently there have been some great pieces, like this one, written about why including salary ranges on job postings is so important, and why failing to include salary ranges is harmful to women and minorities in particular. If you’re not familiar with the connection between missing salary ranges and our pay equity problem I recommend reading some of these pieces written by my colleagues. What I’d like to focus on here is why salary transparency is itself a Jewish value.

One of the central Jewish values talked about in our sector is tikkun olam (repairing the world). If I had a nickel for every time this phrase appears in a Jewish organizational mission I could probably close the wage gap myself. I would argue that part of our responsibility related to tikkun olam is actively working to dismantle the white, heteronormative, patriarchal system that negatively impacts all of us. Whether you believe it or not, it’s the water we swim in. One way to actively confront this system is to be transparent about salary, and to not engage in harmful practices like asking candidates for salary requirements, or, god forbid, salary history. Posting salary ranges on job descriptions promotes equity by cutting down on underpayment and unequal payment, and also saves both employers and job-seekers valuable time and money. In addition, organizations that post salary tend to be more equitable because the simple act of posting salaries works as a self-check. If the idea of posting salaries makes you nervous, it means you have equity issues to address in your organization.

To put it simply and positively, posting salaries is an act of tikkun olam. It’s a relatively small step we can all take to ensure that our field pays people appropriately and equitably, and that objectively makes our world better, and more whole.

The other value I want to talk about is the iconic “love thy neighbor as thyself” value from Leviticus 19:18. In the current employer/job-seeker relationship employers hold far too much of the power, and largely do not treat job-seekers in ways that they themselves would want to be treated. It should not be acceptable for employers to list bullet point upon bullet point about what they want from candidates, and then say absolutely nothing about what they’re offering in return. That is not treating people with kindness and dignity; that is not loving thy neighbor as thyself.

Finally, I want to talk about honesty. Parshat Mishpatim (Exodus 23:1) tells us: “Distance yourself from words of falsehood.” In order to truly live our Jewish values we need to be honest about salaries. Those of us who work in this field know that more often than not, “salary commensurate with experience” is not an honest statement. In addition, how many of us have applied for jobs that promise a competitive salary only to find out, usually at the very end of the process, that the salary is not at all competitive? I believe this has less to do with organizations outright lying and more to do with a failure to research salary data, but the statements are nonetheless false. The best way to avoid these common pitfalls is to avoid using these statements altogether, and to just POST. THE. SALARY. Posting salaries is the most honest, and most Jewish thing to do.

Being transparent about salaries doesn’t just make us better for ourselves, it also makes us better for the communities we serve. When we show we value our employees we show that we value people. When we show that we’re serious about equity inside our own walls it shows that we value equity in general. When we treat job-seekers the way we want to be treated it shows that we value treating people well. If we do these things our missions are strengthened; if we do not do them, they are cheapened. Let’s all commit to doing better. Let’s all truly, seriously, and Jewishly commit to equity by promoting salary transparency.

Larisa Klebe is a feisty Jewish feminist and a member of the Salary Transparency Working Group sponsored by the Gender Equity in Hiring Project.