‘Employers should stop asking about salary history during recruitment’

The Fawcett Society is to ask employers to stop asking people for their salary history during the recruitment process and using this to determine their pay because it ‘bakes in inequality’.

Job Application being filled out


The Fawcett Society is launching a campaign to stop employers from asking for people’s salary history as part of the recruitment process.

Felicia Willow, interim CEO of the Society, told a webinar run by King’s College’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership yesterday that the campaign was one way of addressing the gender pay gap. She said asking for people’s salary history and using this to determine their pay was a way of “baking in inequality” because women tend to be paid less.

Willow said asking people’s previous salary may breach the Equal Pay Act if it is used as a way to pay certain people a lower salary.

The society is asking employers to ensure they are not asking for previous salary in any way on application forms or in interviews, to review its screening procedures to ensure others are not asking for this information and to use other methods to determine salary, for instance, skills or experience. The society aims to name and shame those employers who don’t comply.

Willow added that employers who say this is for benchmarking purposes should look at alternatives and that information on previous salary is not always accurate in any event because candidates are not always honest.

The campaign launches on Equal Pay Day on 2nd November.

Gender pay gap

News of the campaign came during a discussion of GIWL’s latest research on the gender pay gap. The research is based on six countries – the UK, South Africa, Sweden, Spain, France and Australia – and shows the UK and Australia in joint bottom position when it comes to action on the gender pay gap, which currently stands at 10.4% in the UK, the same as in 2019/20.

While the UK did well on transparency and high compliance among employers, its gender pay gap reporting had “no teeth” and did not require employers to take any action, the research study found. Spain and France which topped the list required employers to follow up on their reports and fined those who failed to report. Other countries also had a lower employee threshold than the UK, which only obliges employers with over 250 employees to report.

The UK data shows 7,572 of the 9,628 companies who reported by the deadline on 5th October had a gender pay gap that favours men, while 1,286 had one that favours women. 770 companies reported no gender pay gap.

In the discussion about the GIWL’s figures, Jess Phillips MP said it is important to show why the gender pay gap matters, how it is about power and economic status and how it affects issues such as domestic and sexual violence against women which are also about power. “People never grope up,” she said.  “They grope someone they can fire, not someone who could fire them.” She added that ensuring women have equal power and economic status to men would do more to address violence against women than ‘tinkering’ with different forms of protection for women.

Phillips added that people should be careful of employers using Covid as an excuse for failing to close the gender pay gap. That showed that they did not see it as a priority. And she said action plans were vital and should be monitored and scrutinised to highlight sectoral and other issues, for instance, the impact of paid overtime. Policymakers could not rely on media interest around yearly publication of figures to make any significant difference, she added. Phillips also backed reducing the employee threshold, saying most employers in the UK are smaller than 250 employees and should not be missed out of the conversation.

Action plans that work

Ann Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute, said the gender pay gap has actually got worse since the last full figures in 2018/19 [the Government suspended the obligation to report in 2020 when the Covid pandemic began], with the private sector’s figures worsening faster. “The moment you take your eye off the ball fewer companies report and more stop doing anything about the gender pay gap,” she said.

She said it was not true that it is onerous for companies to report and come up with action plans. Most companies have this information, she said. She called for action plans that work, based on proportional promotion [most companies are bottom heavy with women, for instance], sponsorship programmes for women and unbiased recruitment processes as well as flexible working. “Presenteeism favours men,” she stated.

Francke called for equitable policies around flexible working to ensure bias is not increased if women are more likely to work remotely. In addition, she called on senior leaders to role model flexible working, for flexible working by default and for men to be encouraged to share caring responsibilities and not to be afraid of the possible impact on their careers.

Francke also recommended positive action to promote women and other underrepresented groups and for government schemes such as the furlough scheme and apprenticeships to be used to improve the talent pipeline, with all participants being monitored.

Asked about the drumbeat of calls to return to the office, she said that employers should not impose a one size fits all solution on the workforce and should ask people how they want to work, focus on outputs and stay in touch with remote workers, including them in all decision-making processes.


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