Why This Toronto Agency Shared Its Salary Bands on Social Media
In late February, the founder of the Toronto-based PR firm Craft Public Relations did something she found utterly terrifying—something people in her industry rarely do. Lisa Pasquin publicized her company’s salary bands on social media.
“I felt sick to my stomach,” Pasquin says of her gambit. “It was an incredibly vulnerable moment for me as a leader, and for our company. For my generation—I’m 43—and I think particularly for women, talking about money simply ‘isn’t done.’ The subject matter feels incredibly off-limits to begin with.” Plus, sharing a piece of competitive intelligence with your entire industry is nerve-wracking, she says: “I have a team of absolute rock stars. If anyone’s looking to poach them—which trust me, they are—I’ve just given them a real helping hand.”
The terror evaporated quickly, however, once she started seeing the feedback.
She knew it was likely to stir up some discussion among people in the PR sector in Toronto, but Pasquin was amazed at the positive response she’s received from people across the country in a variety of industries. “The overwhelming message has been clear: We need more of this,” she says.
The calls for greater salary transparency have grown louder over the past few years, given the increased focus on pay and workplace equity and inclusion for underrepresented groups after the social justice activism of 2020 and beyond. According to a 2021 World Federation of Advertisers study cited by Pasquin, women in advertising in Canada make 5 per cent less than men in executive and C-suite positions, and an astonishing 20 per cent less than their male counterparts in trainee and junior roles. The gap for racialized employees at the junior level is even worse at 22 per cent.
These stats lie at the heart of why Pasquin did what she did, she says. Craft has been working to improve diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, within the company for the past few years, complete with more detailed job descriptions including salary ranges. The agency also shared its pay ranges internally with the team in late 2021. But how could they effect change on a higher level? Hitting social media was a good start. “We wanted to spark dialogue. We’re a small agency; we might hire two or three people a year, so there’s only so much impact we can have,” Pasquin says. “But we hoped that sharing our salaries in this way might make it easier for other agencies to do the same, and inspire bigger change in our industry.”
Pasquin’s a-ha moment came when she was speaking with a group of PR students at an industry event organized by the Canadian Public Relations Society. The topic of salaries came up, and she read out Craft’s pay bands. She was struck by the students’ reaction; they were shocked that anyone would dare speak about salaries so openly. It became clear to Pasquin that they were entering a profession with very little sense of what their earning potential looked like.
“We hoped that sharing our salaries in this way might make it easier for other agencies to do the same, and inspire bigger change in our industry”
This is just the latest initiative in Pasquin’s quest for a more employee-friendly, inclusive workplace. “I started Craft in direct response to so many of my experiences in the agency world,” she says. “Time and time again, I had seen agencies claim to be people-first, but very rarely centre their employees in their decision-making.” When Pasquin opened Craft in 2015, she introduced policies like unlimited vacation, profit-sharing (where a share of the company’s profits are distributed among employees), and the Curiosity Fund, a $1,000 annual budget that employees can use to explore anything they’re curious about, whether it’s professional or personal (team members have used the money to learn everything from drumming to golf to hair-braiding to pottery). There’s also ongoing DEI training from organization Feminuity and a program called Craft Campus, which provides ongoing development for team members through a combination of internal training and external guest speakers.
Pasquin has attempted to make Craft’s recruiting process more inclusive in other ways as well. Each team member involved in hiring has undergone anti-bias training and all prospective employees who complete an assignment as part of the interview process receive an honorarium for their work.
Now, she says, she wishes she publicized salaries sooner. “Knowledge is power, and it certainly made me feel powerless, as both an employee—and even as an employer. As an employee, I had no idea if I was being well-compensated, and as an employer, I had no idea if our salary ranges were competitive,” she says. “Research proves fairly conclusively that salary transparency can help close the gender pay gap that sadly still exists in Canada in general, and in the marketing industry in particular.”
Kate Makinson, president and founder of Toronto-based PR firm Kate Makinson Communications, thinks that, in the long run, salary transparency could help improve employee morale, retention and recruitment, as well as promote DEI. It can ensure employers pay underrepresented folks the same as non-marginalized workers and save precious time some people don’t have for extensive applying and interviewing. And it can help build trust, Makinson says. “When employees know that their salaries are based on objective criteria and are consistent with those of their peers, they are more likely to feel valued and respected,” she says. “This can help build a more positive workplace culture and foster a sense of inclusion, which benefits everyone.”
But pay transparency has to go beyond sharing a salary range, Makinson says. “We have to be clear about salary versus total compensation,” she says, explaining that applicants need context for the numbers. “Are we talking about base salary only? Benefits? Vacation? Perks? We run the risk of information being misinterpreted or misused given the variables here.”
“When employees know that their salaries are based on objective criteria and are consistent with those of their peers, they are more likely to feel valued and respected”
There are pros and cons to releasing salary data, according to Lexi Pathak, president and partner in Toronto-based PR firm Faulhaber Communications. On the plus side, pay transparency evens the playing field for all genders, ensures fairness and equality regardless of race or identity, and it saves time in the interview process, she says. If you share what the salary is, you won’t have candidates applying and booking interviews that are expecting more money than is available. “It demonstrates that openness and transparency are values of your business,” she says.
On the cons side, Pathak cautions, salary is often dictated by revenue, and it might be harder for small- or mid-sized businesses to attract talent if larger companies share pay bands that they can’t compete with. And, Pathak points out, job descriptions are not necessarily consistent across agencies. For example, a coordinator at a smaller agency will likely have more hands-on learning opportunities than a coordinator at a larger agency, but this is not captured via the salary discussion. “Also, when pay bands are shared,” Pathak explains, “the higher end of the band can create an expectation of what employees expect to earn, which might not be the case if their experience or skill set is not in line with the high end of the band.”
Pasquin says after she shared pay bands she’s received a lot of follow-up questions on social media, like, “What are the hours for these salaries?” or, “How are annual bonuses calculated?” Pasquin has been answering as many of these queries as she can directly via LinkedIn and Instagram. She hopes her decision to share her agency’s pay bands will inspire others to do the same—even though no one has joined them yet.
At Faulhaber, Pathak says Craft’s initiative is a good reminder to circulate salary ranges freely internally and include them in all their job postings for 2023. “In the U.S., salary disclosure is already required in several states, and it is possible we could see this transpire in Canada also,” Pathak says. “Why not be ahead of the curve?”