Why Women Shouldn't Be Shy When Talking About Money

Have you ever been having a great conversation with your co-worker and all of a sudden they bring up how expensive their new car was? You take a moment as you realize that they are making significantly more than you are, and you both do the same job. Although this discovery bothers you, you don't bring it up, afraid to be perceived as rude for discussing your salary. You're not alone in this cycle — most people do not want to talk about money in both personal and professional settings. Some are uncomfortable discussing their income even with their other half. 

According to a survey conducted by Insider, out of 2000 Americans, only 41% said they would be willing to discuss money with their friends, whereas 49% said they would rather discuss politics. This surprising result showcases how truly uncomfortable people feel when discussing money no matter how much or how little they have. And it's not just amongst friends — many people struggle to discuss money with family, co-workers, and even bosses who handle their salaries.

Forbes reports that this taboo surrounding financial discussions leads to women and other marginalized groups often making less in the workforce than their male counterparts, and are left unsure or unable to advocate for themselves. So, why is discussing money so taboo and how can we overcome it?

Talking about money can be awkward, but it's important that you do

For generations, Americans have been conditioned to believe that money should not be discussed because it could be seen as "rude" and "awkward." Carmen Machado lifted the veil on the money taboo, telling Forbes that "the idea that money shouldn't be discussed is just for someone for whom money doesn't matter." For many without extreme wealth, they are led to believe that discussing money is a poor reflection of their work ethic or abilities, so they don't speak up when they notice unequal treatment. This taboo also disproportionately affects women in the workforce.

With the many financial freedoms women now enjoy, it's easy to forget that not long ago a woman could not oversee her own finances without permission from her husband or father. Women were not allowed to own a credit card in their own name until 1974 when the Fair Credit Opportunity Act was passed (via Bank Rate). This change did not happen until women spoke up about the inequalities they were experiencing and fought for equality. In 2022, the gender pay gap is still very present and it is unfairly affecting women in the workforce — and the stigmas around money often keep women from ever speaking up about the issue. Anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom said it best to The Atlantic, "The bubbles of denial that people operate within are sustained by taboos on talking about money, which in turn helps sustain the unequal society itself."

Some companies won't let employees talk about money

According to Forbes, discussing salaries and financial goals is actually one of the most effective ways to increase awareness surrounding income equality, especially for women. However, a 2017 report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research showed that only 17% of private companies offered pay transparency, and 25% actually explicitly expressed that it was forbidden. Even if salaries could be discussed openly, many women and people of other marginalized groups do not feel confident enough to negotiate their pay.

The code of conduct surrounding money is set in place so that people won't learn about any pay gaps or discrepancies and remain silent, as those who benefit from the norm continue to make money within the current system. According to New York journalist Porochista Khakpour, this polite silence can lead to people being unaware of their value and accepting lower rates as they enter the workforce. She claims that "people are going to get cheated over and over, and it tends to be women, people of color, people in more marginalized positions ... If people are silent about problems, things can be perpetuated' (via Forbes).

Breaking the stigma surrounding financial discussions, especially for marginalized groups in the workforce, is long overdue. So, next time you're feeling shy about asking your co-worker how much he made last year or unsure if you should ask your boss for that raise, remember that an unequal society is fueled by silence.