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Younger women are practicing radical pay transparency on TikTok

6 days ago 42

Jessica Rosales, 29, has always been interested in pay transparency. In daily life, talking about what you make is “so taboo, it’s almost like a secret,” she explained. But such secrecy isn’t for her — or her followers on TikTok.

A cleaner in a medical facility in Michigan, Rosales posts videos documenting many aspects of her life, including how she handles her money. Followers love her “realistic paycheck breakdowns,” where she talks about what she’s paid and how she allocates it — credit cards, groceries, mortgage, utilities — breaking it all down for the camera on a cute budgeting worksheet she designed.

Rosales is among a growing contingent of workers on TikTok — largely younger women — shattering the code of silence around pay, which advocates have criticized for worsening U.S. income inequality. Their style is accessible and granular: posting videos of their “payday routines,” baring the details of their net worth and breaking down their weekly budgets line by line.

While older workers may consider talking openly about money verboten, many younger workers are accustomed to seeing people online share everything about work, from daily commutes to their experiences with layoffs. For them, being candid about money seems natural and necessary, said Kristy Nguyen, 23.

“A lot of that shift has to do with the fact that we, as a younger generation, are more open on social media,” said Nguyen, who makes videos about personal finance on TikTok. “We feel like if we’re more open and vulnerable about it, it can make a difference for other people.”


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This is also part of a broader shift as pay transparency laws proliferate, requiring companies to provide expected pay ranges in job postings. At least nine states, including New York and California, and several municipalities have adopted such measures, and more are scheduled to take effect next year in Minnesota and Vermont, according to Payscale, a firm that aggregates and analyzes salary data.

Meanwhile, job sites like ZipRecruiter, Indeed and LinkedIn report higher shares of postings with salary ranges, as more companies opt to be clear about salaries whether it’s required of them or not. Advocates say access to pay information empowers workers to negotiate for fairer compensation, although some companies have sought to sidestep regulations by posting jobs with unhelpfully wide salary ranges.

It’s all adding up to a “quickly evolving pay transparency revolution” that’s headed for a tipping point, according to Andrea Johnson, director of state policy and strategy at the National Women’s Law Center.

“Gen Z is saying, ‘This is what we expect. We’re not even going to apply to your job if you don’t list it,’” Johnson said. “Employers are realizing that this is where we’re going.”

Leveling the playing field

A big chunk of pay transparency content on TikTok comes from younger women of color — which is notable given that they are hurt the most by the gender pay gap.

Women who worked full time in wage or salaried positions in 2023 earned 83.6 percent of what men earned for comparable work, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Gaps widen across race. Black women, for example, earn 66 cents for every dollar earned by White men, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

“I rarely see men on my For You page when it comes to pay transparency,” said Nguyen, who works as a manager at Aldi and as a security guard. She said she thinks young people turn to TikTok for financial advice in part because they don’t get enough education on personal finance. Her videos have titles like “A complete breakdown of my $150k+ net worth at 23” and “How I budget $11,282 for the month of April working three jobs.”

Commenters line up to thank her for her honesty — and plumb for even more detail.

“I’m soo happy you did a video for those under 40k,” one commenter said. “Sometimes it feels impossible living paycheck to paycheck, so any tips would help!”

“Would you be willing to share your Roth IRA portfolio,” another asked. (She made a separate video about it.)

Trying to translate transparency around pay into the real world has been more complicated, Nguyen has found. When Nguyen tried asking one of her managers at Aldi what she earned — to get a sense of what she could expect as she moved up the ranks — the woman got offended and refused, saying: “It doesn’t matter what I make.” Nguyen was unsettled but not totally shocked.

The culture of pay secrecy in the American workforce is a legacy of long-standing approaches to managing workers that empowered employers and put employees at a disadvantage, said Ellen Ernst Kossek, professor of management at Purdue University’s business school. This, among other factors, has led to inequitable compensation for women, especially those who are caregivers, Kossek said.

Meanwhile, younger people today get less instruction in how to manage personal finances than previous generations, which has left many relatively unprepared to manage money, she noted.

“A lot of parents don’t have time to socialize children on this,” said Kossek, who is also a scholar with the Academy of Management. “I think this might be some gap that people are picking up on as the self-taught generation.”

Pay transparency legislation “supposedly levels the playing field,” according to Lisa Simon, chief economist at Revelio Labs, a workforce analytics company. Simon said there’s evidence that women do get promoted into management at “slightly” higher rates in states with laws on the books but cautioned that these measures might not be the most effective tool to close the gender pay gap.

“It doesn’t hurt, but the problems lay elsewhere,” Simon said. She pointed to the many other barriers to promotion and access to mentorship and other opportunities women face in the workplace, as well as weak compliance to enforce the measures in effect.

A more comfortable conversation

When Ana Thompson got her first job after graduating from college, working as a clinical research coordinator in a gastroenterology clinic, she didn’t negotiate her salary — a decision she “really regrets to this day.” In chatting with a colleague, she soon learned she was being paid $10,000 less than another person in the same role. Her frustration got her “fired up” about pay transparency.

Thompson, 25, who now works in marketing at General Mills, funnels that passion into videos on her TikTok, talking through her strategies on budgeting, saving and investing. She has found there a lot of other people who feel intimidated by the prospect of negotiating for a higher salary or making long-term financial plans, and she tries to respond candidly through the lens of her own experience.

“I have built a six-figure net worth at 25, and I’ve been able to do it by investing early and living below my means,” Thompson said.

Most of the pay transparency content Thompson encounters on TikTok comes from workers who make between $70,000 and $130,000, she estimates. She wishes people with a broader range of incomes would participate.

“The more you talk about money, not only at work but with friends and family, the more natural and comfortable you feel in that conversation,” Thompson said.

After she left an abusive marriage, Tiffany Morrison “struggled so much financially.” A newly single mom supporting two children in Central Florida, she had never had much instruction on how to manage money. But after she started following thebudgetmom on TikTok (a financial counselor who was also a working mother, building herself back up after debt), Morrison saw a way forward.

Under the handle singlemombudgeting, Morrison, 37, has been documenting her financial journey, starting with her goal of saving $5,000. She shows herself grocery shopping at Walmart, breaking down paychecks from working as a closing agent and allocating her money across a monthly budget calendar.

When Morrison first started making videos, she didn’t see many other people in her income bracket being open about money. It was motivational, but she was still hungry for something more relatable.

She’s since found them through her posts. She’s made friends with women who messaged her directly, thanking her for her candor about the realities of being a single mom with a tight budget. She feels like they can talk more comfortably about money than with anyone else.

“Everybody I know personally is so hush-hush about it,” Morrison said. “But I feel like we’re in a different time now.”

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