Campaign urging employers to stop asking candidates for salary history

Thursday 18th November marked what the Fawcett Society have labelled “Equal Pay Day.” Equal Pay Day is a national campaign led by The Fawcett Society, a UK charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. Equal Pay Day marks the day in the year where women effectively start to work for free for the rest of the year, relative to men – this is due to the current average gender pay gap in the UK.

In light of Equal Pay Day, the Fawcett Society are campaigning to discourage UK employers from asking job seekers about their previous salaries, as they believe that this only serves to contribute to the existing gender pay gap and replicate gender pay gaps between companies. The Chief Executive of The Fawcett Society told the BBC that:

"We're calling on employers to make a simple change and stop asking potential employees about salary history. Evidence shows that this will help to stamp out pay inequality, not only for women but for people of colour, and people with disabilities.”

Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of The Fawcett Society

The charity’s survey of 2,200 workers found that 47% of people had been asked about their previous salaries when entering new employment and 62% of women said that this question had impacted their confidence to negotiate better pay. Other findings included that 58% of women and 54% of men felt that questions about their salary history meant that they were offered a lower wage than they may otherwise have received. The survey also found that asking about previous salaries is not always reliable, as four in ten adults have lied to new employers about their past salary.

“Asking about salary history can mean past pay discrimination follows women, people of colour, and people with disabilities throughout their career. It also means new employers replicate pay gaps from other organisations”

Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of The Fawcett Society

In response to the campaign, Peter Cheese (head of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – CIPD) agreed that paying employees based upon their salaries in previous jobs can exacerbate the problem, but he believed that questions about previous salaries were legitimate, stating that "I'm not convinced that employers should never ask about previous pay because it's not an unnatural question to ask.” Cheese’s suggestion is that transparency around pay is improved instead:

"What we want is to encourage employers to be transparent about how they pay; the basis under which they pay and how that reflects things like market dynamics; and that they communicate that to their own organisation, as well as to external recruits.“

Ending questions about salary history has been deemed critical to closing the gender pay gap and ending pay discrimination in the UK; this has already been recognised in the US, where 19 states have banned the practise. Last year a study was published by scholars in Boston which found that in states where the practise was banned, 5% of overall job-changers received a pay increase in their new employment, 8% of those were female. Though only an initial study, Professor James Bessen who was one of the authors, said that the study:

“…finds that salary history information is a substantial cause of the perpetuation of wage inequality and it appears to have narrowed the wage gap for job changers in the few years since these bans went into effect.”

To read the full study about salary history bans in the US, click here.

To find out more about The Fawcett Society, click here.

The #EndSalaryHistory pledge which The Fawcett Society are encouraging employers to take, will commit to three things:

  • Not soliciting current salary information from prospective employees in any manner

  • To review all background and candidate screening software to ensure that they do not ask for past salary information

  • To seek to employ other methods to negotiate salary instead of depending on past salary information

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