She’ll tell you how she quit to become a junior data analyst for a small government contracting firm, a job that earned her $55,000 a year, a security clearance, and an unwanted 40 pounds. She worked in a secure building and couldn’t go out during the day, so she spent her breaks having coffee at the Dunkin’ in the building.
She’ll tell you that she quit that job, and another one after that, and that she was worried she had “ruined her resume” because this whole job change happened in less than three years.
“I thought no one would hire me again,” she said. But she researched pay scales in her field and learned to highlight her strengths, and when she met with a recruiter, she felt comfortable talking about the numbers. “When she asked me what my desired salary range was, I turned the question back to her and asked what was the budget for the position?”
While it’s impressive that, at age 25, Williams managed to bump her salary from $40,000 to nearly three times that amount, that’s not why I’m telling you about her. I tell you about her because she tries to help other people succeed in an often opaque job market.
Williams is a graduate of Northern Virginia Community College and Georgetown University. She gained a TikTok following by speaking publicly about her experiences working in Washington. But recently, she took that conversation a step further. She persuaded other people in the area to speak openly about their work.
Last week, Williams posted videos on TikTok and Instagram as Salary Transparent Street. They show her standing in the Georgetown area of the district and across the river in Arlington asking people what they do and how much they earn.
The videos feature a nurse, lifeguard, rocket scientist, architect and government workers, all revealing their salaries. The videos show a fitter making $60,000 a year, a navy contractor making $75,000 a year, and a sales engineer making $145,000 a year. Two teachers give their annual salaries of $83,000 and $100,000, amounts that led many who watched the videos to express shock and others to cite the high cost of living in the area.
So far, Williams has posted six videos and they have garnered millions of views. One of them has more than 14 million views. “If the Great Resignation taught us anything, it’s that there is power in numbers,” she said. “When workers are empowered, they can really influence change. I thought to myself, what better way to get open salaries on the internet than by asking strangers on the street? I thought it was going to be successful, but I had no idea it would go so viral. »
She didn’t expect the interviews to inspire thousands of strangers to click, comment and request more content. “Love this series,” wrote one commenter. “As someone looking to make a huge career change, please don’t stop these videos!” writes another. “Phenomenal series. Come to Philadelphia,” someone else wrote.
Commentators urged her to visit Houston, Chicago and New York. Williams said she eventually plans to visit other cities and ask people in those places about their salaries.
This national tour will no doubt earn more views for Williams, but it will also give his audience a more comprehensive view of the earnings across the country and in their communities. Talking about income remains taboo, and some companies try to prevent employees from disclosing their salary to their colleagues. Efforts to combat this silence raise important questions. Who benefits most from the lack of pay transparency? Who suffers the most?
“Not having those salaries and those open and transparent conversations is really a disadvantage for women and people of color because they’re the ones most at risk of being taken advantage of,” Williams said. “So having these conversations is really important to closing the pay gap and increasing diversity in companies.”
A few years ago, I wrote a column about the district with the largest pay gap in the country for black women. In it, I told you about a black woman in her 60s who worked in the service industry and had no savings or retirement plan. “I’ll probably have to work until I die, and that’s the truth,” she said.
On the first day, Williams held a microphone in front of strangers and asked about their salary, she was full of nerves. She had created a logo and printed shirts so people could see that she had a purpose for her questions. Even so, she didn’t know how people might react.
So far, she says, she hasn’t met anyone who got angry or threatening. If people refuse to reveal their salary, she won’t push them. But if they hesitate, she spends time explaining to them why these conversations are important.
Williams recalled an interesting conversation she had with a woman in Arlington a few days ago. The woman recognized Williams from TikTok but said she couldn’t persuade herself to reveal her salary. “I’m going to work this out in therapy,” the woman joked.
“We don’t try to change people’s minds overnight. But even those who don’t want to say it, they leave with something to think about,” Williams said. “So many of us equate our salaries and pay with our value. We have to disconnect from this notion. It’s literally just a number and chances are you’re underpaid.
Some of the salaries people shared in the videos left commentators lamenting their own salaries, discussing the need for a career change and asking Williams to visit other parts of the district.
Williams said she wants to “hit every neighborhood in the city,” but it will take time. She spends her days, after all, working the same way as the people she interviews.