Last month, on 8 March, it was International Women’s Day. The Minister for Women, Baroness Stedman-Scott used that platform to announce two initiatives designed to help towards levelling up employment opportunities for women. One of them aims at stopping employers asking about salary history – we will ask if that’s a good idea.
The first initiative involves participating employers running pilots aimed at closing salary gaps by publishing salaries on all job adverts. In addition, applicants will not be asked to disclose their salary history, which will provide an opportunity for women to negotiate pay on a fairer basis. The concern is that asking about salary history helps to keep women on lower salaries and contributes to the UK’s gender pay gap.
The second initiative is a ‘new returners’ programme to support women into STEM roles after taking time out to care for loved ones. The aim is to help employers to recruit and retain talented staff who are often overlooked because of a gap on their CV, by providing training, development and employment support to those who have taken time out for caring.
Commenting on the initiatives the Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, Jemima Olchawski welcomed both of them. She said: ‘We are pleased that the government is encouraging employers to remove embedded bias from recruitment practices and supporting our call to End Salary History. Asking salary history questions keeps women on lower salaries and contributes to the UK’s gender pay gap – and can mean that past pay discrimination follows women and other groups throughout their career.’ She went on to refer to evidence from a number of States in America which have banned asking about past salary and how that has helped improve pay disparity.
People Management covered this story, quoting Charles Cotton, the CIPD’s senior policy adviser for performance and reward. He called on employers to look again at their recruitment practices with a view to being more transparent about pay. He said that approach would not only help set reward expectations among job applicants and reduce the risk of unfair pay gaps, but also encourage a greater diversity of people to apply.’
So, what do we think about being transparent on salary, publishing salaries openly on job adverts. Is it a good idea? It’s a question I put to Glasgow-based Lesley Finlayson:
Lesley Finlayson: “Well, Joe, I think this is a really good idea and the main reason for that is, I think, there is a lot of evidence that shows that if a salary range is listed in a job advert then from the ‘get go’ it gives women a really strong footing to negotiate their pay on a fairer basis and there's also a lot of evidence that there is a gender bias which can influence salary negotiations. That's basically because women are traditionally less assertive, maybe less self-confident, and maybe going to be less pushy, basically, in a salary negotiation and those traits are more seen as male character traits. Even if a woman demonstrates those traits, it can be seen quite negatively and so if there's a salary range in the advert that is immediately giving them a good basis to start the negotiation, and it's counting out some of those factors. There's also a lot of evidence, as well, that when women are asked about their salary history, so during an interview, for example, this can undermine their confidence and recent research, for example conducted by The Fawcett Society, showed that. So all these things, I think, can bake inequalities into salary and the initiative proposed by the government whereby they're saying list the salary, don't ask about salary history, seeks to try and circumvent that.”
Joe Glavina: “What's the incentive for clients to adopt these initiatives, Lesley? I can see a potential negative, which is you might have to pay people more, so what’s the positive here?”
Lesley Finlayson: “Well, employers all over are really looking at trying to be more transparent and, obviously, trying to promote women onto an equal footing and, obviously, for example, publishing their gender pay gap is a real highlight point and organisations are looking to try and reduce the gender pay gap and this could be a positive action they could take, something that has been demonstrated to assist with women's pay. Also, there's just a general want within employers to be fair and to be transparent and this is one way that you can obviously do that.”
Joe Glavina: “So what’s the take-away for HR professionals listening to this, Lesley?”
Lesley Finlayson: “So, I would say to HR professionals that this is something that we are increasingly seeing employers doing and there's definitely a shift towards greater salary transparency, and employers are increasingly publishing their salary ranges. I think they should be really trying to get ahead of the curve on this and considering if that's something that they can adopt now and also looking at their internal pay structures so that they are confident that it's something that they will be able to follow through with.”
The Fawcett Society is leading a national campaign to end the practice of asking for salary history. Their website is the place to go if your business wants to sign up to that pledge. We have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.