Stop asking people for their pay history

Why your pay history shouldn’t matter when you go for a job interview…



When I was about to go on maternity leave back in the day, I was worried that my maternity cover should get properly reimbursed. He was a reporter while I was an editor and the cover role meant acting up. I felt that should be acknowledged in his salary. Fair’s fair, after all.

It turned out, however, that he was actually being paid more than me. So much for fairness. The reason was that he had come to the newspaper I was working on via a reporting job on a well paid publication. I had come from a less well paid series of jobs and a less traditional career path, which included six years as a human rights researcher and several years on a care magazine, the BBC and an education news website.

When I got the job the pay offered was a significant increase on what I had earned previously. I didn’t ask for more. I have been fortunate enough to be driven more by my interest in the jobs I have done than the money, although the money is clearly important, particularly when you have a family to support [I was the main earner and it was my third child].

I talked about this with other women at the time. Many had started in secretarial or assistant roles and while their pay had increased it had not increased in line with the rises their male counterparts were seeing. The silo-ing of women into lesser paid roles at the start of their working lives and the undervaluing of those roles – whether it be working in call centres rather than technician roles [which offer a clearer career path to better pay] or stacking supermarket shelves instead of working in distribution centres or whatever – can entrench pay inequality throughout women’s lives.

That’s why the Fawcett Society’s new campaign to stop employers asking for candidates’ salary history is important. Everyone should be judged on what they can actually do, the demands/seniority of the job and the skills they have for the role they are applying for rather than what they were paid in their previous role. Pay should be seen to be fair.

I’ve been going through all the gender pay material this week. It is quite depressing reading, despite some improvements. This is mainly because so many employers seem to just see it as a tick box exercise. Either they don’t publish an action plan or statement or the action plan they publish is little more than a description of the overall reason for their gap [usually that there are more women at the bottom than at the top of the pay ladder] or is full of bland statements. It is when you hit an action plan which shows that the employer has really looked at the reasons in depth in particular departments and divisions that you sit up. It is whether they have asked interesting questions and challenged received ideas, such as about pay history, rather than just blaming social norms that you can tell they are really interested in making progress.

Employers may argue that preparing an action plan is ‘too onerous’, given all they are facing, but all such statements actually show is that they don’t see fairness as a central issue. If you don’t have an action plan you’re basically turning a blind eye to the problem.

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