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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

How This Marketing Pro Embraces Transparency to Reduce Financial Stigmas

Courtesy of Hailley Griffis
Courtesy of Hailley Griffis

Ask anybody to live in San Francisco on $37,000 a year and they’ll probably laugh in your face. Ask Hailley Griffis, however? Challenge accepted. After what she describes as an “unsuccessful” stint freelancing after graduating with her degree in communications and political science, she accepted her first full-time job at a tech company in San Francisco.

“They hired me as their marketing intern and it was $37,500 for my starting salary with a signing bonus of $1,000, which I thought was wild,” she says.

While she was thrilled at the time, looking back, she sees it a little differently. “In hindsight, I realized $37,000 is not a lot of money to live in San Francisco,” she explains, recalling one encounter with a border officer when she was immigrating from Canada.

“The border service officer was looking over all my paperwork,” she recalls. “And I got a lot of pushback, with them being like, ‘Are you going to be able to sustain yourself in San Francisco on this salary?’”

Quick stats

  • Job: Head of Communications and Content at Buffer
  • Based in: Clarksville, TN
  • Annual income: $170,650

For whatever reason, Hailley says that still didn’t raise any red flags back then. “I was like, ‘For sure! This is so much money compared to what I was making while I was freelancing.’”

Sure enough, she made it work. She lived in Oakland for the cheaper rent, commuted into the city, and cut costs wherever she could. “I actually managed to pay off all my student debt from university with that job,” she adds. “Being an unsuccessful freelancer previously, I was used to living on a very small amount of money.”

She achieved a few raises in that first position, ending up with a salary of around $40,000 per year. So, imagine her shock when she started looking for a new role and was offered $94,000 to join her current team at Buffer.

It was that moment—and not hitting the “official,” often lauded six-figure milestone—that stands out in Hailley’s memory. “I was just floored,” she explains. “I remember calling my parents. They couldn’t believe the amount of money. I was like, ‘OK, my life is different now because I’m not going to have to budget so much and live such a minimal lifestyle.”

Using Buffer’s previous salary formula (the company has since adjusted the cost of living factor), Hailley was offered the $94,000 while living in San Francisco. When she moved back to a small town outside of Toronto after starting her position, her salary was adjusted to $72,000. But it didn’t feel like a loss to Hailley, especially since she was still earning more than six figures in Canadian dollars. 

Needless to say, Hailley has zero shame in talking about money. And that’s a value she shares with Buffer, a company that strongly believes in pay transparency.

In addition to the formula that’s used to calculate salaries (“There’s a reason that people are paid what they’re paid. It’s not just pure negotiation or guessing,” Hailley says), Buffer goes so far as to post every single team member’s salary on a public page. There’s also a calculator where anybody—regardless of whether they’re interested in working at Buffer or not—can plug in their information and see what they’d make.

But even if this wasn’t such a powerful and pervasive company value (Buffer describes it as “default to transparency”), Hailley still thinks she’d talk candidly and openly about money. “I think money conversations can be very personal,” she says. “It can be tied to, ‘Well, how much am I worth? Do you value what I do?’”

And for Hailley—who several times in her career discovered she was paid less than someone in a similar role—transparency is a way to reduce stigma around money conversations, as well as to empower people with knowledge and data they can use to advocate for themselves.

Bottom line, she says, “One of the ways that I can personally help people is by talking about salary openly so that they get a good gauge.”

In her own words:

What’s your favorite thing about your job? Definitely the people. It makes a huge difference to get to work with awesome people every single day. I’ve made lifelong connections.

If you could test-drive another career for a week, what would you choose? A wedding planner. I would not let someone else plan my own wedding. I loved it. I’m a spreadsheet human.

Do you have any financial or savings goals this year? We have baby number two on the way, so there’s a little bit of increased cost with more kids. I’m trying to budget a bit more and make sure that I can set up college funds. We have one for my daughter and I want to make sure that I get one going for my son once he’s born.

What’s your favorite thing you own that costs $50 or less? Really overpriced scented candles for my office. I love a scented candle and a vibe change in the office.

What’s your number one piece of career advice? Network horizontally. Everyone thinks of networking vertically and connecting with people who are ahead of you in your career. If you network horizontally with the people who are doing the same thing as you, you're all going to come up together. You’re going to be more likely to face the same challenges and to be able to assist each other with obstacles you might come up against.

Go here to read more about The Path to Six Figures, including stories from other women like Hailley.

Level up to your own six-figure salary by signing up for Ladies Get Paid’s negotiation course. Click here for more info!