Salary information – to share or not to share, that is the question

Published: 21 September 2016

I was struck by the recent news that from 1st January 2018 in a groundbreaking effort to close the wage gap between men and women, Massachusetts will become the first US state to bar employers from asking about applicants’ salaries before offering them a job. The new law will require employers to declare a compensation figure upfront, based on what an applicant’s worth is to the company, rather than on what he or she made in a previous position.

Having worked in recruitment in the UK for 16 years, I have recently noticed an increasing number (yet still small minority) of candidates reluctant to share salary information. This always appears to me to be more about being paid ‘what I am worth’ rather than an attempt to rectify gender pay inequality, but does provoke an interesting debate about whether this information should be shared up front, and how the recruitment industry would need to adapt if it wasn’t?

What you earn is still a taboo subject in most friendship groups, yet whenever a top premier league footballer gets a big money transfer their new weekly wages are publicised. Also, in response to public demand, both the BBC (stars earning over £150,000) and NHS (income for private consultations) have recently made commitments for greater wage transparency. So why does it appear there are moves afoot to avoid salary disclosure for the ‘person in the street’, and how would this impact the ability of a recruiter to get candidates the best possible deal?

In my experience, without the starting point of current earnings, non-disclosure would make life harder for everyone. Suppose we adopted a policy of range matching, as often mooted in advice on how to avoid directly answering the salary question in interview. The client says their range is £80,000-£90,000 per annum but in reality want to pay £80,000; the candidate says their range is £80,000-90,000 per annum but in reality want to earn £90,000 – we are starting with a £10,000 discrepancy in expectations when current salary information would help to validate the appropriate offer; alongside the expertise and ability to do the role in question.

I am often amazed by the variety in earnings I see for people effectively doing the same role, whether through wage suppression due to long service, individual negotiating capability, how the organisation values its people, discrimination etc. I’m not sure however that withholding previous salary information will help make the world a more equitable place, or aid the negotiations between prospective employers and employees. Your last salary is a useful guide in ongoing discussions and shouldn’t prevent you securing the best possible deal for your skills, regardless of gender.

David Thomas is a Principal Consultant in the Manufacturing and Engineering practice

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