The ‘current salary’ question harms women. It must go

I am 26. At the current rate of progress, I will be retired – or worse – before women in the UK are paid as much as men. The gender pay gap starts the moment women enter the workplace and continues – often getting wider with age – until they move on to their (smaller) pension pots. Making it compulsory for large companies to report on their gender pay was a great step forward – but futile unless employers act to close their gaps.

Breaking the cycle of lower pay for women is complex, but bosses could start straight away by simply putting a stop to the “salary question” in interviews, and including wage details in job adverts.

The salary question – that dreaded question about how much you are currently paid, so that your prospective employer has a figure on which to base your new wage – is a surefire way of ensuring that women who are already suffering a gender pay gap continue to be paid less than men as their career progresses. The practice especially disadvantages anyone who has taken time out of work to care for children or other family members, or who has temporarily done a part-time job to spend more time at home. Basing salaries on previous pay can also penalise anyone moving to a region with higher living costs. Setting pay in this way condemns women to lower earnings.

As galling as it is to see high-earners such as Carrie Gracie paid less than their male colleagues, it can be even harder for women at the lower end of the scale to challenge their bosses on the issue. Young women on zero-hours contracts may fear that “causing trouble” will result in fewer hours and, as a result, smaller incomes.

The sectors that women commonly work in, such as retail and care, are less likely to have job security and often have high turnover rates, meaning would-be complainants fear losing their job. In job interviews, when you are trying so hard to win a potential employer over, challenging or not answering a question can feel even harder.

Some US states and cities have already banned employers asking about salary history. In the past year, New York City and California have outlawed the practice. Yet Young Women’s Trust has found that in the UK nearly half of employers are still asking candidates about their current salary and 42% admit to not including wage details when advertising roles. The practice is most common in the private sector.

We are now asking UK employers to follow New York and California’s lead, and for the government to look at banning employers from asking the salary question altogether. Instead, employers should be including salary details in job adverts. This would make pay more transparent and would make it harder for employers to, even unintentionally, pay men and women different amounts for similar roles, helping to reduce illegal gender pay gaps. We’re also calling on people to highlight job adverts where salaries aren’t advertised using #saywhatyoupay on social media.

Being upfront about pay in job listings also means everyone knows where they stand. We all know how hard it can be to negotiate salaries, especially when impostor syndrome – that feeling of not being good enough for a role – comes into play. Having an idea of how much to ask for or a band to work within helps.

Women should be paid according to their skills and the work they are doing, not stuck on low pay because of entrenched gender inequality. Salary secrecy and questions about someone’s pay history perpetuate the gender pay gap. It’s time to end it.

Originally written for the Guardian.


About Bex Bailey

Writer from Nottingham.
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