BLOG: To end pay inequality, we need to first end salary history

Wednesday August 18th, 2021

by Shobaa Haridas, #EndSalaryHistory Campaigner

According to McKinsey, close to $8 billion is spent worldwide on diversity training per year. This includes unconscious bias training. Over the years, we have also seen executive coaches and workshops proliferate, teaching women how to better negotiate their salaries.

Yet despite all these actions, the gender pay gap still stubbornly remains a reality in the UK. Latest figures show that the gender pay gap is 15.5% for all employees and 7.4% among full-time employees.

Most of these actions cited above have one thing in common – it puts the responsibility of equal pay on individual betterment and action. But in doing so, we have allowed the systemic causes of the pay gap to go unchecked. One such systemic cause is the familiar question that we often get asked in job interviews – what is your current salary? The Young Women’s Trust estimates that nearly half of employers in the UK still ask candidates about their current salary.


Asking for salary history is systemic discrimination

Basing a candidates’ new salary on their current one creates a self-perpetuating, unbridgeable pay gap. If women have historically been paid lower than their male colleagues, and a new employer uses their current salary as a benchmark to determine their new salary, the historical gap simply continues. Salary bias follows an employee throughout their career.

Organisations can invest in unconscious bias training, we can equip women with the best negotiation skills, but all this is rendered ineffectual in the face of this systemic bias.


Ending salary history works

Stopping the practice of asking for salary history during job interviews is easy to implement and compared to diversity training, could prove to be cheaper in the long run for organisations. More importantly, it works.

The United States leads on this front. Many states have already banned this practice and states where the salary history ban has been enacted have reported a 5-6% increase in pay for people moving jobs. The boost was larger for women (8-9%) and African-Americans (13-16%).

Organisations such as Salesforce, Amazon and Starbucks have also renounced this practice, employing other more comprehensive methods to set salaries. A recent research paper also suggests that teams that stop looking for salary history successfully hire more diverse personnel by considering a wider group of candidates.


We need to stop this damaging practice in the UK

It is with this in mind that Fawcett East London started our campaign #EndSalaryHistory. Our end goal is for a law to be passed to stop this practice in the UK. In the meantime, we are on a mission to raise awareness of the discriminatory nature of this question and to encourage companies in the UK to come forward and pledge to stop this harmful practice.

In the short space since we began our campaign, 26 organisations have pledged their support. And we need your help to make this bigger. If you could speak to just one organisation and highlight this campaign to them or convince them to take this pledge, it would make a world of difference.

It’s time all of us are paid what the job is worth without being held back by discrimination or what our previous company could pay us.

Sign the #EndSalaryHistory Pledge