Hannah Williams Isn't Afraid To Ask Strangers About Their Salaries

And you shouldn't be either!

Hey! Welcome back to Trade Secrets 🔓

This week, we had a blast chatting with Hannah Williams, founder and CEO @SalaryTransparencyStreet (STS). She has amassed millions on millions of views by asking strangers on the street what they do for a living and how much money they make.

Hannah is energetic, passionate, thoughtful, and truly cares about the work she is doing. In this Trade Secrets, she dives her background, the origins of STS, her mission, what salary transparency means to her, and what’s next for her and STS.

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Imagine a stranger comes up to you and asks “What do you do?” and “How much do you make?” Oh, and they’re also filming. How do you answer?

The first question is pretty standard for an introduction. It’s a question you get asked on awkward first dates or by your aunt during the holidays. But the second question sends alarms blaring – your immediate reaction may be to say: “That’s personal, why do you want to know?”

This hesitation stems from the institutional mindset that pay and finances should not be discussed. And this absence of transparency and open dialogue leads to pay discrepancies and workers being taken advantage of.

Hannah Williams, founder and CEO of Salary Transparency Street, noticed this lack of conversation about salaries and negotiation for higher pay among her friends and colleagues. As she graduated Georgetown and entered the workforce in 2019, she recognized that these limited resources and education around salary negotiations led to her being underpaid and undervalued at multiple jobs — so she decided to make a change.

Hannah told Trade Secrets she decided to document her experience of breaking into data analytics, negotiating salaries, conducting market research, and how much she made in each of her roles on TikTok. The community was very responsive and found this transparency incredibly helpful. Hannah then decided to venture onto the street to interview people about their jobs and their salaries. Thus, Salary Transparency Street was born!

Image Courtesy of Hannah Williams

With 847,000 TikTok followers, 259,000 Instagram followers, and over 69,200 YouTube subscribers, Salary Transparent Street (STS) truly has become a viral sensation.

Salary Transparent Street has been to multiple cities and rural areas across the country to capture a wide variety of job and salary perspectives. Hannah told Trade Secrets community feedback plays a major role in deciding where exactly the best spots to go are. After a location is picked, Hannah and her fiancé, who also serves as her trusted iPhone cameraman, hit the streets to interview people. They’re out all day, capturing hours of footage to ensure they have more than enough content to post — especially in the event that someone retracts their interview.

Click image to watch TikTok

Hannah is the machine behind every aspect of Salary Transparent Street, from filming, editing, posting and promoting on socials, to writing a newsletter, running a LinkedIn group, and developing brand deals. With no prior journalism or video editing experience, the success of STS is a true testament to Hannah's dedication to the account's mission.

Being a data analyst at heart, Hannah has collected a lot of telling insights from her interviews. Hannah told Trade Secrets these were a couple trends she has noticed since she began filming:

  • Women are more eager to talk salary as opposed to men who become stand-offish

  • Culture plays a major role in how people view finances and their openness to divulge details

  • People seem happiest when their work has purpose and they are helping others, but they complained about a lack of pay

  • While people in fields like tech and software engineering had a higher pay, they didn’t seem to have the same passion as public service workers and teachers

  • Employees who had biggest offense to Hannah’s questions? You guessed it - Human Resources.

Image Courtesy of Hannah Williams

While Hannah has certainly interviewed a cast of characters, her dream interview would be with female athletes in leagues like the WNBA and NWSL, with a follow-up of male athletes. She said she hopes to highlight the pay difference between the two and show how someone could be at the top level and work so hard and still barely make ends meet.

Salary Transparent Street’s mission is to be a part of an institutional change that closes the pay gap that marginalizes underrepresented groups. Hannah wants her reach and impact to go beyond viral videos.

Hannah said she wants to transform STS into an educational hub that helps empower people to have these important discussions with colleagues, and other aspects of work culture that tend to be gatekept, like salary negotiating, interviewing, 401K investing, and conducting market research.

Click image to watch TikTok

Trade Secrets had the privilege of talking one-on-one with STS’s creator, Hannah Williams. Here's a condensed version of our interview where we dove into content creation, the taboo around salary negotiations, the explosive success of STS and what the account’s future looks like.

Trade Secrets: Why do you think there’s been a shift from the older mindset of “not talking about finances” to content revolving around being open and honest about pay, careers, and schooling?

Hannah: It’s the after effect of the Great Resignation and workers standing up and advocating for themselves. It's happening because social media holds companies more accountable for bad practices and unfair situations. Platforms like TikTok help spread the truth and make people notice it. Millennials and Gen Zs are so set on this change because we’re getting screwed over in this economy. You can’t buy a house or a car without living paycheck to paycheck. And it’s unfair if CEOs can make three times what their average employee makes, but employees can’t make ends meet.

"I think people are tired of being told we’re greedy for saying 70K isn’t enough to live in this country."

- Hannah Williams

Trade Secrets: How do you think your content is breaking this taboo?

Hannah: The reason we went so viral was because we were the first ones to go out and ask such a taboo question. The power of these videos is it created an intro to these questions. I can go up to a stranger, ask them this question and show the value of the conversation instead of it being viewed as a detriment. There’s a value to interviewing on the street and not in the office. We opened the door to this conversation, can really examine the good and bad, and begin to move forward.

Trade Secrets: What do you wish schools taught students about in terms of salary, negotiations, etc.?

Hannah: All the things about work they don’t tell you. I’m working on a course that teaches people about life experiences and skills that they need to have before they are put in these situations. I learned more about business from having a business than from business school. Schools don’t prepare students on understanding negotiations, health insurance, interviews, or 401K. And work throws you a packet to sign full of information most people – unless they have a family member to ask – don’t know or understand. Companies take advantage of this disconnect and it fuels a lot of biases that hold people back.

Further into our discussion, we pivoted to chatting about the booming creator space and how pay transparency is translating from the typical 9-5, corporate structure to the unknown of content creation.

Trade Secrets: As we pull back the curtain and talk more freely about financial issues, how do you see this transparency translating into the creator space?

Hannah: There is such a lack of transparency in that space and there are no numbers out there. It’s hard to know how to price yourself because every creator is unique. Everybody’s price and each app is different. Someone who has the same number of followers as you could charge a different price based on their engagement or community type. I’ve been talking to a lot of creator friends about how much they charge and how they structure their brand deals. Because I didn’t know a lot about monetization, brands took advantage. But I noticed that creators are stepping up and talking more about how much they make. Salary transparency is hard for creators because it is not structured on a schedule and they can’t plan their income. It’s hard to understand without context.

Trade Secrets: What’s a “trade secret” that you would give to people who want to try on-the-street type interviews or create content?

Hannah: Due to so many copycats, I would advise not doing on-the-street interviews because it's blurring the space. For example, I went to Washington Square Park and it was packed with on-the-street interviewers. At a certain point, people are going to be less responsive. But if you do want to get into this content, then reach out and ask some creators questions like what kind of mics they use. Know that you will have to try different things and need to go out there - see what works and what doesn’t.

Trade Secrets: How does Salary Transparent Street differentiate from similar accounts?

Hannah: What differentiates STS is our mission that grounds me. I started STS to grow a community – not to just have a viral video. I provide resources for people to use like the free market research guide, a newsletter, and a LinkedIn group. We’re working on different content that furthers the STS mission rather than just videos. I believe that these videos will help close the pay gap that has marginalized people. I don’t see another account that doesn't go deeper than the videos. I’m currently working with a job board and a pay equity software that is invested in STS’s mission and helping expand our brand. Which is a good tip to creators: don’t take the first brand deal that is that offered

Trade Secrets: How has the negotiation process changed from being a data analyst to content creator?

Hannah: Having my own brand and company gave me the empowerment to ask for what I want. When I was an employee, I was in the mindset of “if I ask too much, will I not get the job?” Now I have confidence knowing what I have built and if what I’m asking for is too high for one company, I know someone else will offer what I’m asking for.

"Self-employment versus seeking employment totally changes your viewpoint on negotiating."

- Hannah Williams

Trade Secrets: You [Salary Transparent Street] are on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Youtube, and have a newsletter – what is next for your content?

Hannah: I want to continue to do regular videos but lean more into educational content like teaching people how to have these conversations with colleagues. And also deep diving into the taboo aspect. Like where does the taboo come from, how can we combat it, and how can we discuss work culture as a whole?

After chatting with Hannah, a few things became certain. Hannah isn’t afraid to rock the boat. She isn’t afraid of asking the big, oftentimes scary questions. She isn’t afraid to put in the work and make lasting, beneficial change for the workforce that spans beyond the era of TikTok and a 15 second video. Oh, and she isn’t afraid to tell you just how much she makes.

Click to watch TikTok

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