When Hannah Williams graduated from Georgetown University in 2019, she took the first job that came her way: an entry-level telemarketing gig that paid $40,000 a year.
Williams hated that job from day one, she says, and her meager salary — an especially paltry sum for someone with student loan debt and rent to pay — made punching the clock even more painful. So when a recruiter offered her a data analytics role a few months later, she promptly put in her two weeks’ notice.
To be clear: The new position was exactly the kind of job Williams had trained for in college, and it came with a $20,000 pay bump. But before her last day at the telemarketing firm, she says, its vice president sat Williams down and gave the teary 22-year-old some dramatic parting words. If you quit this job, the executive said, it will ruin your career.
Their conversation lingered long after Williams’ last day — but had the opposite effect the VP intended. If “making it” in corporate America meant sacrificing her happiness, pay and career growth for the benefit of whatever company she happened to work for, Williams wasn’t about to play by the rules.
Four jobs (and $20,000 pay raises) later, Williams took to the streets of D.C. Last spring, armed with a microphone, she asked a bunch of strangers what they did for a living and how much money they made. She uploaded videos of the interactions to TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, building a rapid-fire stream of woman-on-the-street-style interviews with a diverse cast of characters (her first video features, among others, a contractor who makes $96,000 a year and a lifeguard who makes $15 an hour).
Almost instantly, she went viral.
Salary Transparent Street, as Williams calls the series, now has dozens of videos and 1.5 million followers across social media. It’s gotten so popular that she and her fiancé (who films Williams on her iPhone from the sidelines) now travel outside of D.C. for many of the videos — in the last few months alone, they’ve been to Austin, Boston, Miami, New York and San Francisco. On TikTok and Instagram, the videos often get hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of comments from people chiming in on how underpaid (or overpaid) the participants are.
“No one is talking about this,” she says. “So once I did, it’s like I couldn’t stop.”
Seven months after its debut, some obvious themes have emerged. Williams says men almost always make more than women, even if they have the exact same job title, and are more hesitant to talk about it on camera. Likewise, no matter where she’s filming, the people in public service jobs — teachers, social workers, healthcare staff — always seem to be paid the least.
“When you're talking to people … the economic disparities play out in real time,” she adds.
Watching Salary Transparent Street feels a bit like snooping Zillow for homes you’ll never buy. It’s a behind-the-curtain look at how other people live, with a universal metric you can compare to your own paycheck — and it's endlessly entertaining.
Still, Williams didn’t create Salary Transparent Street just for our ogling pleasure. The bio link on all of her social media accounts direct visitors to a salary negotiation guide informed by hours and hours of her own research. She also runs a career-focused newsletter, a LinkedIn Group and a salary database that anyone can contribute to anonymously. As of this writing, there are more than 4,000 salaries represented on that database, many with detailed context about their contributors’ location, experience, skills and education.
In retrospect, the VP of that telecommunications company was spectacularly wrong about Williams’ career trajectory. Now 25, Williams says she’ll net about $200,000 in 2022 from Salary Transparent Street videos alone (thanks, in large part, to partnerships with brands like Indeed). She expects that number to grow to $600,000 in 2023.
Looking to the future, Williams says she wants to keep showing people “what salaries look like across the country” and teaching them how to use that information to advocate for themselves.
“This number says nothing about who you are and your value in society,” Williams says. But in all likelihood, she adds, “You're probably underpaid.”