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I've been following the fee disclosure thread with interest, because I've
been on every side in this question...newbie, old hand, employer.
Having been born with a Y chromosome (and the X one is still "intact" so far
as I'm aware), perhaps I'm blind to patterns of discrimination here, but is
there actual evidence of it...a pattern, not isolated cases, anecdotes, or
gripes? I find it a little hard to believe that a professional dominated
almost three-quarters by females could have a pattern of discrimination
against them. But I suppose it could be.
That seems to be the only strong argument for revealing how much each
contractor makes. The reason for keeping it quiet isn't usually to
discriminate, but to keep the peace. There are inevitably juniors who think
they're being screwed, and seniors who are jealously guarding their
precarious privileges. The same situation holds true for employees. Most
companies don't want the salaries bandied about. And most underpaid seniors
don't want anybody to know they're undervalued, that they're taking crap
without complaints. Nobody forces this silence. But for most parties, it's a
wise precaution. It's the same logic that makes kids in Catholic schools
wear uniforms, so theoretically nobody can pick out the rich kids.
Of course this silence is a perfect cover for discrimination, but it's also
a filtering mechanism. Once you get some seniority and wisdom, and you join
the fraternity so that the seniors trust you, you get to be privy to the
information. It's kind of a professional coming of age, after which you can
be trusted with the ritual beads.
The most basic philosophical question is a professional/economic one: are
you a free-marketer, or a restricted-marketer? If you're a free marketer,
you don't ever reveal what you paid for something. There's always somebody
else who'll drive a better deal on you next time, or someone waiting to tax
you, or to move in on your supplier. Or it's just prudent to keep quiet
about your affairs. Real-life economics has a hefty measure of concealment
This approach is rough on newcomers. But newbies have it rough everywhere. A
restricted-marketer will cry "foul" and insist that such practices be
curtailed, and that rates be fully published to protect those who aren't in
the network. It's the lure of the union, and of the regulatory agency. And
all too often, the information is torn from behind the veil, only to find
that it's not as valuable as it seemed when it was hidden. So now you know
how much the poor slob in the next cubicle is getting. So what? He's
disgruntled. You're smug. He can negotiate something better or move on.
Either way, he's now putting himself and the agency in an increasingly
untenable set of positions.
It seems to me that the basic problem is the same as that in any profession:
new practitioners have to cut their rates to get jobs, while the older folks
have to leverage their experience into higher salaries. Every other problem
discussed in this thread flows from that reality, which is basic economics.
Sometimes raw cheapness trumps expensive experience. Newcomers often take
tiny paychecks just to have something at all. Doesn't anybody teach them how
to calculate their minimum rates? And does experience or education really
translate into more dollars? Is the agency interested in those things? Or
does economics drive the agency toward body-shopping, where degrees and
intelligence don't count for much? If your current agency or employer
doesn't value excellence, and you do, what's the problem with moving on?
And as a final question, what can we as veterans do to help the situation?
Should we publish a list of suggested rates? Do a fee survey? Make it a
point to have agencies in for STC meetings? I don't think that compulsory
disclosure is much of an answer, because it doesn't address the underlying
needs. What can we do to alleviate those, if anything?
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
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