Enabling honest conversations about pay

Salary is an awkward topic. It’s not often that it gets discussed, particularly amongst colleagues, and the thought of doing so makes some people genuinely uncomfortable. But that’s ok right? Do we need to know anyone else’s salary as long as we know our own? The founders of Sliips decided that it was not ok, and so FollowInnovation had coffee with Tom Ridings, co-founder and CMO, to find out why.

“We were working in big corporates after growing up being told that success was getting a good career in one of the big companies – my mum was so proud when I got the offer!” Tom told us, “but then after a while I realised I wasn’t enjoying it. At the same time, I was being inundated with messages from recruiters all saying they could get me 25% more somewhere else. So I was thinking I must also be seriously underpaid! It’s not a conversation that I felt I could have openly with my employer, I just felt underpaid and I eventually left the company because of it. But really, I had no idea if those claims from recruiters were true, it’s very likely just a pitch from someone with a vested interest in getting me out of the company. The other co-founders had experienced the same and we had the idea of promoting a conversation around salary using real data through a digital platform.”

The Sliips platform is designed so that what you get out of it is related to what you put in. Within a minute you can enter your salary, employer and industry and get some basic data about average pay. But where Sliips sets itself apart is with the ability to enter a payslip, after redacting any personal information. They will still only use your employer and salary information, but it means that the data has been verified and so the comparisons you make are more accurate. Users are rewarded for doing so with a detailed breakdown of the data for their company and industry. Tom explained:

“One of the main differences between us and the incumbents is that HR managers don’t take the others seriously; anyone can sign on, say they work somewhere and then enter any salary. If you’re trying to have an honest conversation with your employer about salary then you need data that can’t be questioned. By having users enter payslips the value to them goes up so much, they can actually take the data you get back to a manager with a real comparison to the market rate.”

So the big question is, does it work? Tom told us about a user who had recently contacted them:

“One of our users emailed us recently; he works for a small consultancy and he wanted to do some research before his annual pay review. He found the site, signed up and realised he was being paid massively under market rate. He took that data into the meeting, and his employers actually agreed that he was being underpaid but admitted they simply didn’t know that market rate was so much higher than his salary. They doubled his pay increase right there, and were happy to do so because if he’d just felt underpaid or been offered more elsewhere they might have lost him. This brings to life what we want our data to be used for; it’s not just about helping people get paid more, it’s about fostering open conversations around pay, which will benefit both employers and employees.”

As well as helping with comparisons of individual’s pay, the kind of data that Sliips are gathering gives a good look at our society. Sliips have identified that this is another problem they could solve (they did a lot of work highlighting gender inequality, for example, around International Women’s Day) and they have plans to keep pushing in this direction. Tom told us about new legislation coming out which requires business to publish their gender pay gap, and how in practice this means that they just publish their average salary across genders, which although interesting doesn’t tell the whole story. “We know there’s a big issue with gender and racial inequality on boards,” Tom said, “and this massively impacts those top numbers. With granular data it becomes possible to tell a more detailed story, and understand how pay differs throughout all different levels of the organisation”.

The journey to redefining how we speak about pay is bound to be a long one, and Sliips have moved far since they first had the idea back in 2016. The product is live and they’ve passed 1700 users, so how did they get to where they are now?

“Growing an early stage start-up is really difficult, especially in the B2C space. We also have the issue that we need a large number of users to deliver value; if you’re the first person onto Sliips, you’re not going to get a lot of value from looking at your own payslip. We’re trying a lot of things to get new users and I definitely find myself awake at night wondering where the next thousand users will come from. To start we’ve gone after the big, graduate scheme industries of consulting and finance first; industries with a large number of younger workers who may be more comfortable disclosing their pay. As we grow, it’s so important to us to know about the users and what they need. We installed a chat widget on the site recently which feeds directly to our Slack channels, it took 5 minutes and the feedback we get from it is incredible”.

So the immediate goal is clear, to keep the users coming and use that data to provide value. But what’s next?

“The next 12 months will be a big push on developing the product to get something that works for every industry. To support this we’re trying to baseline the data, we’ll always value a payslip over everything else but we have begun to look at additional data, weighted on the reliability of the source. The algorithms we use for that keep getting better and we’ll keep developing them in the future. I think we are building a product that gives a really helpful view of salary, but of course that isn’t everything. There are lots of reasons people work for the company they do, and so we’ll start to look at other aspects of work culture to allow conversations not just about salary but about what it’s really like to be work somewhere. Interestingly we’ve moved out of the corporate world to set up Sliips, so sitting in a coffee shop working means we’re personally moving away from the lives of our end users. We’re working very hard to stay connected to that and make sure we understand what our users need.”

If you were wondering, the team at Sliips do have their salaries online – something Tom noted is becoming more common but is still not the norm. To summarise:

“There is a massive knowledge discrepancy between a person and their employer, all the power sits with the employer. We think that’s a broken system, and we think honest and open conversations are a better way to do it.”

You can see Sliips for yourself here