Doug Belgrad, via Getty Images
Doug Belgrad, via Getty Images

If there's one lesson to be drawn from the list of people apparently earning over a million dollars per year at Sony Pictures, it's that salaries should not be secret. Here's my version of the top of the list, which ranks by on-target earnings, including all bonuses. (This is just the top 28 names; there are 40 people in total with "on target earnings" in seven figures.)

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The list is, as the saying goes, "male, pale, and stale." There are a few exceptions to the rule: Hannah Minghella, for instance, at age 35, is on track to earn more than $1.5 million this year. But if you look at the very top of the list, the top man – Stephen Mosko – is earning nearly double the total pay of the top woman, Amy Pascal, who actually runs the place. Obviously, everybody in Hollywood is used to the talent making much more money than the suits, but it's still a bit weird that Doug Belgrad is on target to earn more than his boss, Amy Pascal.

More generally, it seems that if you allow a group of rich old white men to decide who they're going to secretly allow into their million-dollar-a-year club, they're going to end up, in general, picking other rich old white men. And then, when lists like this one occasionally become public, everybody else in the company – especially people who aren't white or men – becomes understandably demoralized.

This is the main reason for making salaries public: it forces companies into walking the walk, rather than just talking about their commitment to diversity at all ranks of the organization.

Look, for instance, at Chris Lehmann's report on life inside First Look Media:

One employee recounts a glitch that was extremely damaging for worker morale, which happened on “on our horrible [intranet] thing Asana, which is named after a yoga pose, that we all have to use because Pierre declared that email is over. It’s a Facebook wall, basically, and they posted all our salaries on it for three hours. So we all know how much everyone makes.” Not surprisingly, some of the most lavishly rewarded managers on the list were also some of the least revered company officials.


In any well-run organization, revealing a list of salaries should not be "extremely damaging for worker morale." Indeed, the opposite is true: if salaries are out in the open, then the amount of backstabbing and politicking is going to be greatly reduced. Salary secrecy is also bad for gender equality: women are often worse at asking for raises than men are. If men secretly ask for raises and secretly get them, while women don’t, then that helps to explain, at least in part, why men end up earning more than women.

If you work for a company where everybody knows what everybody else is earning, then it’s easy to see who the stars are, what kind of skills and talent the company rewards, and whether this is the kind of place where you fit in. You’ll also see whether men get paid more than women, whether managers are generally overpaid, and whether people of color are systemically stymied in their path up the salary ranks. And because management knows that you'll be able to see all this, they'll be much more likely to reward genuine skill, rather than unthinkingly paying more money to the pushy white men whom they're most comfortable around.


So let's do a small little jig of celebration, every time a salary list becomes public. It might make for depressing reading – but only with the sunlight of publicity are lists like this one ever likely to change.

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