This first Monday in September, the United States pauses to celebrate Labor Day. I’ve been reflecting on my path as a worker, which started when I was 13 years old. I was technically not old enough to work, standards put in place thanks to the hard fought organizing of past generations. But I grew up poor and eager to help my mom out financially, so when someone offered to pay me under the table to sell NSYNC posters and Pokemon cards at a local swap meet, I jumped at the chance. Just an aside, I was really good at it too. I could convince anyone to buy a JC Chasez poster over Justin Timberlake. A position I think has aged well.
I realized while writing this that I’ve spent the last quarter of my life working. Ten of those years have been at MediaJustice (MJ). It would be an understatement to say that I love working here. From the first day I joined MJ back in March 2012, this has been an organization led by visionary Black people and other people of color. Today we are 75% women, TGNC or non-binary. One of the enduring qualities embedded in the DNA of this organization is how it encourages people to show up as their full selves. That means our people’s queerness, disabilities, and identities are not checked at the door. It means that we don’t ignore the impact that the outside world, shaped by racism, capitalism, ableism and patriarchy, might have on how we show up day to day.
To build on what’s made MediaJustice a special place to work, we are striving toward new ways to improve our work environment. That’s why this year we decided to change our approach to compensation and benefits.
Read MediaJustice’s newly released Compensation Policy here.
In an upcoming blog post, MediaJustice’s Operations Director, Shubha Balabaer will break down what our new compensation philosophy is but for now I want to focus on sharing the values that got us here.
Transparency. White supremacy culture rooted in individualism has us believe that it’s not polite to ask about money. It wasn’t too long ago that it was not common to see salary ranges posted on job applications. How someone’s pay is determined and what factors into it felt like a closely guarded secret. What the process was for a salary increase also felt opaque and unclear.
Thankfully, at MediaJustice, we weren’t starting from scratch. For as long as I’ve been around, MediaJustice has had a habit of posting salary ranges on job postings. Every year, we’ve had a practice of providing cost of living adjustments. We’d shared with all staff the salary levels and ranges at the organization. That said, when I stepped into the executive director role, I realized how much discretion my role had in determining any given person’s compensation. At best, I had arbitrary criteria that often defaulted to a merit based system of evaluating someone’s worth. And particularly during salary negotiations with a final candidate for a job, I’d found myself conceding to a larger salary demand for fear of losing out on a good candidate. This power made me uncomfortable because as a Latinx cis-gendered man, it was impossible not to have conscious and unconscious bias affect my decisions. We’d also routinely seen great staff leave because the trajectory for growth both in their role and pay was not clear.
Our new compensation policy attempts to solve for this in multiple ways. For starters, it separates pay from performance. In place of this, we have opted to align compensation with experience in the role. We are also incorporating a negotiation-free practice for increasing pay, meaning that staff know exactly when their salary will increase and how much that increase will be. And we are putting transparency in action by sharing our compensation policy publicly, especially when hiring.
Equity. As I shared earlier, MediaJustice is a demographically rich and diverse organization. Our staff are predominately people of color, women, queer, and gender non-conforming. In other words, our staff over their work careers have more likely experienced barriers to employment, inequities in pay and a lack of career growth opportunities. We also have staff that have primarily done organizing or operations work that tend to be paid less compared to other types of work.
That’s why we have decided to pay competitive wages for all roles at MediaJustice. At each level, we are committed to paying in the top 25th percentile, and aim to exceed that for roles at the lowest level of our compensation bracket. We have benchmarked these salaries against three of the most expensive cities to live in, including our home base in Oakland, CA, and apply those benchmarks equally to staff regardless of where they live. In addition, we will continue the practice of ensuring the salary difference between the lowest paid employee and the highest paid employee is no more than three times.
Inclusion. My time as executive director has paralleled the COVID pandemic. It’s both a mass disabling event that we have yet to fully understand its impact and a period of massive grief. As of the moment I’m writing this, last week 2,700 people died from COVID in the US. In the midst of the pandemic, we supported our staff in multiple ways especially as a means to make up for a lack of an appropriate response from our government. We reimbursed staff for PPE supplies, including cleaning supplies. We granted unlimited sick time and shut down the office on a quarterly basis. We accommodated longer leaves for staff who needed to manage a health emergency or a death in the family. As an organization, we stretched beyond what we thought was possible.
In revamping our compensation policy, we realized that pay is not the only thing that matters. Our benefits were an opportunity to lean into our values that allow people to show up as their full selves. We looked at the healthcare we provide and tried to solve for the ways that it doesn’t meet the needs of parents, trans staff, people with disabilities, and domestic partnerships.
We decided to strengthen our leave policies to support staff in a myriad of ways. Our medical leave is better structured to support staff with chronic illnesses. We set up caregiving leave, that will allow staff to care for the health of a loved one with a severe medical illness. We now offer re-entry leave to support staff bonding with loved ones who are released from incarceration or immigrant detention. This leave builds on top of things we’ve always done like offering sabbatical leave, stress prevention package, and generous paid time off.
And perhaps the thing I’m most excited for is establishing a discretionary committee that will take on the decision-making responsibility for benefits that require approval. The committee will comprise staff who can hold our financial, organizational and HR interests. I won’t be the sole person making those decisions and that’s a good thing.
We are committed to sharing our journey including the bumps along the road that led us here, and over the coming months you’ll see more from us on this topic. We’ll be hosting a workshop at the upcoming Facing Race Conference in November for those interested in learning more. Lastly and most importantly, we are not done. We are committed to learning from what we’ve done and are in continued dialogue with staff to evaluate the impact of this shift and build on it in the future.