Is it time to stop asking about salary history?

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

When searching for a new job, being asked your current salary is a fairly standard question when discussing the rate of pay on offer, whether you are talking to a prospective employer or recruiter. However, a UK charity is urging employers to ditch this question in interviews, and base salaries on the potential employees skills and what their responsibilities will be.

Why should we not ask about salary history?

The Fawcett Society is a charity campaigning for gender equality and equal pay. A recent survey of theirs suggests that asking employees about their current and previous salaries can have a negative effect, on both individuals and wider society as a whole. 3 out of 5 women who have been asked about their salary history believe that it damaged their confidence to negotiate better pay –  and that low salaries in their past were “coming back to haunt them”.

Jemima Olchawski, the Fawcett Society Chief Executive says “Asking about salary history can mean past pay discrimination follows women, people of colour, and people with disabilities throughout their career. It also means new employers replicate pay gaps from other organisations”. The society said its survey of 2,200 adults suggested that only 25% felt that pay should be based on past salary. This is compared to 80% for their skill and responsibilities and 77% for the value of the work they do. “If you are an employer, asking for salary history is incompatible with a commitment to equal pay” says Shobaa Haridas, from East London group of the Fawcett Society. “Many employers have already ended this practice and we call on more employers to take our pledge”.

Recruiting in a difficult market

It is unsurprising that this topic is coming under scrutiny, as the employment market is currently extremely difficult with the UK facing a labour shortage. Peter Cheese of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) agrees that setting hard and fast pay grades based on previous salaries could “exacerbate the problem” but that asking the question is a legitimate part of the recruitment process. He believes if employers want to attract the best talent out there, they need to look at their pay structure. “We need to be honest about that – if we think we can get away with paying the absolute minimum, we might be disappointed about our ability to recruit,” Mr Cheese added.

With the cost of living rising, it makes sense for those who are looking for a new role to be searching for a healthy salary increase, and businesses would be wise to review their pay structure against their competitors. Plus One’s 2022 Salary Guide can help employers to check how the salaries they pay compare in their area.

What do you think? Is asking salary history a reasonable question, or does it pose a larger problem? Tweet us @PlusOne_Jobs or click the button below!