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People don’t want to negotiate salary based on their previous pay

Quit the chit-chat and just cut right to the chase.

That’s how most Americans — especially women — feel when an employer asks them about their salary history, according to a new survey from job listing website Glassdoor.

It’s not just employees who don’t want to stay hush-hush about how much they used to make. Some states are considering laws that would ban employers from talking about it.

“The time of looking backward to go forward to determine pay is over. Asking prior salary history questions can trigger unintended consequences and introduce bias into the hiring process that disadvantages women from day one,” says Dawn Lyon, Glassdoor senior VP. “We need to reframe the conversation to pay expectations around the value of the job and the skills and relevant experience required to do it.”

It puts women at a disadvantage

Sixty percent of women wish they could sidestep the question of how much they used to make. That’s 12 percent more than their male counterparts who feel the same.

A combination of factors could be what leave women more disgruntled when asked about their salary history.

A lower average salary for women compared to men as well as the research that shows women are less likely than men to negotiate salary put them in a vicious cycle of being paid less.

On average, 52 percent of men accept the first salary they’re offered, whereas 68 percent of women don’t negotiate pay.

So it’s pretty justified that women — or men for that matter — don’t want to talk about their pay history, as that salary goes into consideration when an employer makes an offer, and in turn leaves women with a smaller paycheck than men.

Give it to me straight

While most people don’t want to discuss a past salary, pretty much all want to know what an employer plans to offer before they even apply for a job.

Just shy of all U.S. employees — 98 percent — say it would be beneficial to see pay ranges included in open job listings. On top of that, 95 percent feel it’s important to know how pay raises would be determined before they even accept a job offer.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most as salary is one of the top factors that play into whether to take a job or not, the survey found.

“Pay is a key area where implicit bias can creep into people processes,” says Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, executive director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. “Women are often implicitly assumed to be less qualified and thus, have to work harder to demonstrate their worth, especially in roles that are male-dominated … past salary is not an accurate measure of an employee’s value and putting all the onus on the candidate to negotiate their salary is not the answer either. It is critical to base offers on what the job is worth.”

The future looks bright

Soon enough, people won’t need to tip-toe around the question of what they were being paid.

Recently, six state and local governments —  New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Massachusetts, Delaware, and Oregon — have passed laws barring employers from asking about a prospective employee’s salary history.

Some companies have been taking their own initiative and not asking the question.

“Many companies are already doing this without legislation or regulation because it’s the right thing to do,” says Lyon with Glassdoor. “And, candidates can help change the conversation by offering answers that address their pay expectations based on the role and their current market value, while also taking into account how the company structures its overall pay and benefits package.”

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Meet the Author

Gregory Cox

Gregory Cox


Cox is a freelance writer for



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