Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Proposed salary history legislation would help limit gender, race inequality

Photo: Evan Jackson via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Evan Jackson via Flickr Creative Commons

Washington legislators are now considering salary history legislation (HB 1533), sponsored by Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia), that would prohibit employers from asking applicants, during the initial interview, what their wages were in previous jobs. (Employers could get that information once they offer the job and the salary that goes with it.)

Massachusetts passed similar legislation in August 2016. The proposed bill would also require employers to provide wage scales and salary ranges to employees, as well as to applicants upon request, and it makes administrative remedies and private cause of action available.

Asking job candidates their previous salary is a seemingly neutral practice that in fact perpetuates inequality by gender and race.

Social scientists have documented that women of all races and people of color across gender face more barriers to getting to the final stages of the hiring process than do white men.  When women do get to that final interview, negotiating too hard can backfire. This is true regardless of education level.

For example, a study from the University of California Hastings College of Law found that two thirds of all women scientists and 77% of African American female scientists reported having to provide more evidence of competence than men. The Asian and Latina women additionally reported that being too assertive triggered negative backlashes.

We’re not in the world of Hidden Figures any more, but we still have a ways to go.

In the restaurant industry, a 2015 study found that white candidates were given longer interviews than people of color, and were twice as likely to be offered positions. That study found additionally found that women of color in restaurants made 71% of white men’s pay.

Other studies have found hiring biases against women with children – but not fathers, and that people with “black sounding” names are less likely to get an interview than people with the same credentials and “white sounding” names.

So that question about salary history comes after women, and especially women of color, have already enduring an especially daunting job search, knowing if they set that number even a little too high they are right back to square one.

As someone who has participated in hiring dozens of people over the years, asking employers, upon request, to provide a pay range for a position seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable requirement.

I believe that most employers who ask the question about previous salary history do not intend to discriminate. But that’s the result, and it’s time to end this practice.

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