One Way to Close the Gender Pay Gap: Lie

Government data say salary-history questions can keep women’s pay low.

This Office of Personnel Management finds that answering salary history questions can lower women's pay.
National Journal
Bourlee Lam, The Atlantic
Add to Briefcase
BOURLEE LAM, THE ATLANTIC
Aug. 14, 2015, 9:52 a.m.

There are a lot of hard ques­tions dur­ing most job in­ter­views, and there’s one in par­tic­u­lar that’s as wel­comed as it is dreaded: salary his­tory.

The ques­tion of salary his­tory is a prom­ising sign that a po­ten­tial em­ploy­er is ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing hir­ing a par­tic­u­lar can­did­ate — they’re look­ing at their budgets and see­ing what they can af­ford. But an­swer­ing can back­fire, res­ult­ing in lower pay, and some re­com­mend the safe route of re­fus­ing to dis­close it, or the even ball­si­er ap­proach of ly­ing about it. The premise for the lat­ter op­tion: The game isn’t fair, so don’t play fairly.

In be­ha­vi­or­al-eco­nom­ics-speak, a po­ten­tial em­ploy­ee’s salary his­tory is in­form­a­tion that can res­ult in an­chor­ing — the cog­nit­ive bi­as that makes people fo­cus around a num­ber once it has been stated, with only some small room for ad­just­ment. Hence why ly­ing about one’s salary his­tory is use­ful: One study on the ef­fect of an­chors on salary of­fers found that even im­plaus­ibly high an­chors res­ul­ted in bet­ter com­pens­a­tion.

But this can have un­in­ten­ded — and un­fair — con­sequences: Beth Cobert at the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s hu­man-re­sources de­part­ment, ar­gues that the ques­tion can per­petu­ate gender in­equal­ity. Last week, Cobert is­sued a memo ad­vising fed­er­al agen­cies against an over-re­li­ance on salary his­tory for de­term­in­ing com­pens­a­tion.

“Re­li­ance on ex­ist­ing salary to set pay could po­ten­tially ad­versely af­fect a can­did­ate who is re­turn­ing to the work­place after hav­ing taken ex­ten­ded time off from his or her ca­reer or for whom an ex­ist­ing rate of pay is not re­flect­ive of the can­did­ate’s cur­rent qual­i­fic­a­tions or ex­ist­ing labor-mar­ket con­di­tions,” said Cobert in the memo.

While the memo men­tions both genders, the pat­tern is more likely to ad­versely af­fect wo­men, es­pe­cially those who have kids. One study found that while chil­dren in­creased a man’s earn­ings by 6 per­cent, a wo­man’s earn­ings de­creased by 4 per­cent for each child she had. Last year, OPM found in a study that the start­ing salar­ies of fe­male fed­er­al em­ploy­ees were 10 per­cent lower than those of male fed­er­al em­ploy­ees. The new rule would also help with eras­ing the ef­fects of pay dis­crim­in­a­tion at past jobs, which would carry over if salary his­tory is the basis for how much a work­er is paid at a new job.

When it comes to the over­all pic­ture, one re­cent study by Pew had some en­cour­aging res­ults: Young wo­men are clos­ing the gap, earn­ing 93 per­cent of what young males earn. But that doesn’t ac­count for the fact that it’s later in people’s ca­reers that the biggest gaps hap­pen — due to the moth­er­hood pen­alty and the need for more wo­men in high­er-pay­ing jobs and po­s­i­tions.

Re­prin­ted with the per­mis­sion of The At­lantic. The ori­gin­al ver­sion can be found here.

What We're Following See More »
HOPES TO GET BIPARTISAN BILL EVENTUALLY
Trump: Time to Let Obamacare “Explode”
22 hours ago
THE LATEST
NO INDICATION WHEN IT WILL BE REVISITED
At Trump’s Behest, Ryan Pulls Healthcare Bill
23 hours ago
THE LATEST

Faced with a choice of Trump's way or the highway, the GOP chose the highway. In the worst possible development for the GOP, Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the healthcare bill from the floor for the second day in a row—even after President Trump demanded an up-or-down vote last night. According to multiple reports, Trump himself called Ryan at about 3 p.m. to tell him to cancel the vote. Trump has since blamed Democrats for the defeat. It's unclear when the legislation will be revisited.

SPOKESWOMAN CALLS IT ROUTINE MEETING
Comey at White House Now
1 days ago
THE LATEST
FROM ROGERS, COMEY
Nunes, Schiff Ask for Closed-Door Testimony on Russia
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said he and ranking Democrat Adam Schiff of California have asked FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers to testify behind closed doors about the committee's ongoing investigation into alleged ties between the Trump administration and Russia." He also said former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will also testify.

Source:
BRIEFING TRUMP ON HEALTHCARE VOTE
Paul Ryan en Route to White House
1 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login