Picture this: You’re scrolling through LinkedIn and notice a job posting for the same role you’re doing now, as a contractor — and the job post says it pays $32,000 to $90,000 more than you make.
That’s apparently what happened to Kimberly Nguyen, a UX (user experience) writer in New York City, who has been working at Citibank
as a contractor through the U.K.-based I.T. services and consulting company Photon for the past six months. New York salary-transparency laws dictate that employers must provide the salary range for an open position. And that’s how Nguyen, who earns $85,000 a year in her role as a contract worker, learned that Citi was offering $117,200 to $175,800 a year for a UX copywriter staff position doing the same job she is currently doing as a contractor.
It was an unpleasant surprise. “I was just really upset that the pay discrepancy was so high,” Nguyen, 25, told MarketWatch over email. “But I was also really grateful that salary-transparency laws allowed me to see that information, because it showed me that I wasn’t really being valued.”
It should be noted that the Citi position advertised on Linkedin is for a full-time UX copywriter with five to eight years of experience, a spokesperson for Citi told MarketWatch, and Nguyen is one of 90 Photon employees who are currently providing services to Citi under contract for a project. While the banking giant pays Photon a market-competitive rate for its services, Photon is responsible for negotiating the contractors’ pay rates.
Photon was no immediately available for comment.
“‘I have always been a strong advocate of pay transparency laws. … Now I’m an even stronger advocate, because now it’s my own company’s word against themselves. I don’t have to make up numbers. They publicized the number.’”
Nguyen said that had been trying to negotiate a pay raise for some time before, after researching what UX writers make in New York City and realizing that “there was not a single UX writer job that listed their pay range anything close to what I’m making now.”
She said that her Citi managers have been supportive, but as noted already, her pay is handled by Photon, which has been less responsive. “It’s a weird no-man’s-land where I show up to Citi and do all my work there, but Photon is the one who handles my benefits and paychecks,” she explained. “I’ve been here since October, and I was told that it was a contractor to perm (permanent) position, that the eventual goal is to convert everyone to a full-time employee at Citibank.”
So Nguyen said she sent the data she found about UX writer salaries to Photon, “and actually asked for less than the market rate to seem amenable,” she said. “They’ve put me through this whole performance review process and have pushed back the date they said I would hear back. But I’m not expecting them to give me what I asked for.”
Especially now that she’s become the latest poster child for pay transparency.
Nguyen vented her frustration in a Twitter thread late Tuesday afternoon. “My company just listed on LinkedIn a job posting for what I’m currently doing … and now thanks to salary transparency laws, I see that they intend to pay this person $32K-$90K more than they currently pay me,” she tweeted. “So I applied.”
And her experience struck a chord with people on Twitter — perhaps in part because this conversation about pay equity and knowing what you’re worth at work hit just in time for International Women’s Day on Wednesday. Equal Pay Day is also a week away, on March 15. So her thread went viral, and before she knew it, journalists were reaching out to her and her company to get the full story.
“I honestly expected crickets,” she told MarketWatch. “People complain on the internet everyday and don’t go viral. I just expected to get it all off my chest and move on. I guess I’m not surprised that other people have had the same experience, but I’m surprised at how much the tweet got spread around.”
She believes her experience is resonating because “the American work landscape is shifting, and young people are really leading the charge,” she said. “We’re asking employers to dream beyond doing the bare minimum for their employees. Our motto really is, ‘It could be better.’”
“‘The American work landscape is shifting, and young people are really leading the charge. We’re asking employers to dream beyond doing the bare minimum for their employees.’ ”
But wait: There’s more.
According to Nguyen, her employer later told her and the other contracted UX writers that the job listing was supposed to be an internal posting and external candidates weren’t meant to apply, “because public companies legally have to post jobs even if it’s an internal conversion,” she tweeted. “But that doesn’t solve the fact that someone internally is now still going to make +$32K more” than her.
Several states, including California, Colorado, New York and Washington, now require employers to post salary ranges on job listings in order to drive pay transparency. Disclosing a potential salary upfront, rather than hiding it behind a phrase like “competitive salary,” is supposed to help to reduce gender and racial pay gaps, and promote pay equity, by showing people just how much a job is worth.
The Citi rep added that Citi has displayed salary ranges on all U.S. job postings since mid-October, and said the postings have often gone beyond the pay transparency requirements in some U.S. markets to support pay equity.
Unequal pay remains a persistent problem in the U.S., where women on average earned just 82 cents for every dollar a man made last year. That’s depressingly close to what the gender pay gap was 20 years ago, when women earned 80 cents on the dollar.
And the pay gap is further exacerbated by race. Black women earned just 70% as much as white men last year, and Hispanic women earned 65% as much. While differences in experience, education and access are all at play here, as well, the Pew Research Center notes that evidence of hiring discrimination against certain racial and ethnic groups also shuts out workers from opportunities to advance in their careers and earn more money.
But now, at least, one in five Americans lives in a state that requires pay transparency. That should help with the pay gaps, right?
Well, Nguyen’s experience with Photon has her questioning just how effective these policies are, as grateful as she is for them. She said that her company held a meeting with her and the other UX writers to discuss the situation. “Nobody is getting a raise. Nobody is getting anything,” she tweeted afterward. “Salary transparency for what?”
But she’s still grateful that the laws exist. “I have always been a strong advocate of pay-transparency laws, and I’m grateful to live in a state with one,” she told MarketWatch. “And now I’m an even stronger advocate, because now it’s my own company’s word against themselves. I don’t have to make up numbers. They publicized the number.”
Nguyen added that her company is now allegedly talking about possible layoffs, and she tweeted that she is officially looking for UX writing roles elsewhere.
She told MarketWatch on Wednesday night, “I’m pretty sure [my workplace] just called me 30 minutes ago to try to fire me. But I didn’t pick up.” She still hadn’t responded to them by Thursday morning.
Nguyen is hoping to leverage her 15 minutes of fame into a new position. But, she admits, “I think I’ll also think twice before complaining on the internet in the future.”