How much of the gender wage gap is caused by differences between the way that men and women negotiate their salaries? If it's a big factor in unequal pay, is there anything that can be done? Tackling the gender pay gap is New York City public advocate Letitia James' goal when when she proposed a bill last week that would bar employers from asking job applicants about their salary histories.
James’ stated goal is to reduce the gender pay gap. She introduced the measure on Wednesday by saying, “Requesting a prospective employee's salary history perpetuates inequitable wages for women and prolongs the cycle of wage discrimination.”
This follows a successful effort earlier this month by the state legislature in Massachusetts, which adopted a similar equal pay law. These political and policy battles are being waged at a time when many people are starting to talk about the gender pay gap. In the past year, we have seen the U.S. soccer team’s high-profile legal battle for equal pay, Hollywood celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Patricia Arquette taking up the issue and the White House creating the Equal Pay Pledge signed by the likes of Accenture, Airbnb, Amazon, American Airlines, Cisco, Gap Inc., Jet.com, L’Oreal USA, PepsiCo, Pinterest, Rebecca Minkoff, Salesforce, Slack, Spotify, and more.
Equal pay and the gender wage gap are not just issues that appeal to our basic sense of fairness, but in a country where over 40% of American households with children have a female breadwinner, what women earn is also of great practical, day-to-day economic importance to families and the broader society.
Moreover, women are paying close attention to the issue in their own workplaces: 62% of over 1,600 women who said they experience gender inequality work when surveyed by Fairygodboss also said that unequal pay is an issue for them. This inequality impacts women’s job satisfaction and reduces the likelihood they will stay at their current employers, making equal pay a business and talent-retention issue.
But will barring salary histories really reduce the gender pay gap? Those who worry about their income because they have the disadvantage of a lower-than-fair salary history, should see some relief. Beyond that, it’s hard to know; many factors create the gender pay gap in the first place.
For instance, even if employers in New York City are no longer allowed to ask prospective job applicants about their salary history, negotiation and negotiation skills will still be something women have to face and conquer.
There is some evidence that women negotiate differently than men and that women tend to negotiate less often for their own salaries when compared to men. While many chalk this up to a lack of confidence, other academic research suggests that this may be rational behavior because women may actually be penalized for being perceived as “aggressive.”
However, context and individual nuances matter quite a lot, as some women have demonstrated superior negotiating results when it comes to advocating for others (as opposed to themselves) and some have a particular professional style or mind-set that makes them more successful at negotiation. In the end, it seems there is little conclusive evidence that gender is a dispositive factor in how successfully one negotiates.
Though barring salary history questions is a good step in the right direction, there's still work to be done by companies, advocates and women in the workforce to eliminate the gender pay gap.
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