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Female workers are especially hurt when they don’t reveal their previous pay

Can giving an employer your last salary figure hurt you? Several states think so.

Delaware, Oregon and California are making it illegal to ask about your previous salary in job interviews — which they think will help fight the gender pay gap. But even with those laws, recruiting firm Korn Ferry says 65 percent of employers think there will be little or no change in equality.

That new rule is already hurting some employees. In Massachusetts, who were the first to make the change, female employees who did not disclose their salary were offered 1.8 percent less money than those who did, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Meanwhile, men who don’t disclose are being offered 1.2 percent more salary. Instead of working as designed, the laws are actually making the gap larger because of the existing biases.

The gap is real

Even though those laws are coming into effect, they still got plenty of work to do.

According to the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women make 80.5 percent, on average, of what men make. But even if they try to go off past precedent, female workers are getting hurt by trying to haggle.

“Women are penalized more than men for negotiating,” Carnegie Mellon University professor Linda Babcock says. “People are less likely to like them; if they negotiate in a job interview, they are less likely to hire them. There are real social sanctions that occur when women initiate negotiations.”

The problem is not just giving them a figure that’s less then a male coworker when asked. Now, when they try to demand their worth, females are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Question going away?

Some jobs are already looking at getting rid of the salary history question, regardless of the law. Nearly half (46 percent) of all executives will follow suit with a national change of the rules over a local change, which for some will be only a minor adjustment.

“For those that already have decent processes in place, it probably is a nonevent,” Korn Ferry senior partner Tom McMullen says. “The biggest difference it’ll make is in those organizations that have a ‘let’s make a deal’ culture” and do not rely as much on market data to set workers’ pay or have less rigorous ways of analyzing whether they are paying workers fairly.

Not everyone is prepared for the change though.  Only 19 percent of employers feel they are ready for that type of law switch and only 44 percent have made some preparations already.

How to avoid it

Just because a potential employer may ask about your previous salary doesn’t mean you have to start sweating. All you need to do is prepare properly.

Looking up salaries from websites like Glassdoor, and Payscale to help give you an idea of what your bare minimum should be. On top of that, you can use your own experience to figure out where you’d fall in the salary range.

When you talk to the hiring manager about pay, you can talk in terns of salary range instead of specifics, which can lock you in a certain spot.  Asking question can also figure out what other perk options you have, from extra vacation time to flexible work hours.

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Meet the Author

Ryan Lynch

Ryan Lynch


Lynch is a freelance writer for


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