Could the Ban on Asking about Past Salaries Backfire for Women?

Recent changes in laws in New York, California and Delaware that were designed to end the gender pay gap by forbidding employers from asking about previous salary when interviewing candidates during the hiring process may have unintended negative consequences. Noam Scheiber of the New York Times writes that conscious and unconscious bias can still be at play and might even make the gender pay gap worse:

  • When employers cannot ask about salary, they might assume that a woman will accept less than a man and offer a particularly low salary.
  • Some employers offer a very low salary when they cannot ask about salary history and assume that applicants will speak up if they previously made significantly more. This can leave women worse off because they tend to be more reluctant to bargain than men.
It will take some time before we have enough data from these changes in the law to know their impact for sure. What does not bode well, though, are some recent studies reported by Scheiber on the impact of laws in some cities and states prohibiting employers from asking about criminal records during the job application process. These studies found that employers appeared to assume that young black and Hispanic men were more likely to have criminal records—and they hired fewer of them once the new policies were in place. It is too early to have any long-term results of these new salary laws, but we must keep trying ways to close this stubborn gender gap. Transparency or required reporting from companies on salary gaps determined by race and gender (at least) may still be the best avenue to pursue in terms of public accountability to close the pay gaps. Let’s keep the pressure on.   Photo courtesy of mohamed_hassan (CC0 1.0)]]>

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