EQUAL PAY: How Does a Woman Get Paid Like a Man?


Tough Questions: Salary History for Women

One of the primary factors in gender based wage disparity is the “salary history” portion of a job interview.  Is there any legitimate reason a prospective employer needs to know this information?  No.  It is meant to be used as a way to hedge a potential employer’s opening offer. For women, salary history has, over time, compounded the problem of wage inequity, because starting from a historically lower threshold puts female employees at a disadvantage.

California is great state to live in for women who seek to level the playing field.  The Fair Pay Act, a 2016 bill by Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) requires that women be paid equally to any male counterpart who is doing the same job. If you’re currently working, you now have protection to use in bargaining for equal pay. But what about women who are currently seeking employment?

“If the interviewer’s goal is really to determine a fair pay structure based on your skills, tell them to ask you in depth about those skills.”

Don’t Tell: Why Your Previous Salary Should Remain a Mystery

When you head into that interview, how should you handle the inevitable “previous salary” question when it crops up?  You may hear, “I need to know what your previous salary was in order to know what your skills are worth.” Rather than endure an awkward pause while you try to find a pleasant way to respond, have that response ready.  “Why don’t we talk about what I’m capable of doing for the company? Once we’ve established whether I have the skillset you’re looking for, we can discuss what those skills are worth to you.”

The most important thing to keep in mind is the interviewer knows exactly what skillset the company wants. They also likely have a number in mind for its value.  There’s no reason you should have to lay out your past financials to give them room to lowball you.  What you were paid in the past does not necessarily have anything to do with your skills.

In 2018, California will most likely have made the salary history conversation moot with A.B. 168,  a bill that proposes to outlaw that line of inquiry for job applicants.

A good analogy to come back with in this situation might be something like “Michael Jordan had no salary history when he went from college into the pros. Does that mean his starting salary should have been zero?”   In fact, his value to the team was instantly in the millions of dollars.  That value was based on his skill, not his previous earnings.

“You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”

Do Ask: Confident Negotiations Produce Results

With all the talk surrounding Equal Pay, multiple studies have been conducted to determine why women currently find themselves at such a disadvantage when compared to their male counterparts in terms of salary. They discovered that in addition to salary history practices, which tend to start women out at lower rates of pay initially, another big contributor to the pay disparity is the reluctance of female employees to advocate for themselves. Remember, you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.

  • Know Your Worth: Begin with an attitude that says “I’m worth more,” rather than holding back to avoid ruffling feathers. Women tend to shy away from conflict, so they tend to avoid the potential confrontation of a wage negotiation, even if it’s merely a forceful conversation advocating for a raise.  This kind of talk is often avoided, even when doing so is detrimental.
  • Study Up: Do a little research on comparable salaries in your field. Know what you should be paid, and set your sights on that. If she knows exactly what she has to offer, and what it is worth on the current market, an applicant is far more likely to succeed at securing top dollar for her work.
  • Get Ready for Your Close-Up: Practice until you are comfortable arguing your position. Have a friend or a spouse help you, or practice in a mirror.
  • Community Over Self-Interest Women know there’s a double standard at work. They should use it to their advantage, rather than trying to swim upstream. Instead of arguing each point on your own behalf, frame your pitch in a way that utilizes the perceived feminine tack of being nurturing. Argue that retaining your talents will benefit the company. Be the cooperative, yet confident, employee that deserves that raise or promotion, because your skills will help the company reach its overall goals.

The Take Away

If you’re about to undertake a job hunt to secure a competitive wage in your chosen career, these steps will aid you in realizing that goal.

  • Don’t feel compelled to reveal past salary history;
  • Do inform yourself and advocate for a fair wage, whether pre or post-employment.

If you are already employed, and wish to level the compensation playing field, know where you stand:

  • Questions about salary are permitted: It is unlawful for your employer to prevent your asking questions about the salaries of male counterparts in your department.
  • Challenge the policy: If you find out you are being paid less than the guy next to you doing the same job, take it to your boss. Find out why they believe the difference is justified.
  • Know the law: SB 358  provides that a woman be paid equally to any male co-worker performing “substantially similar” work, requires an employer to prove that the difference is justified by a factor other than sex, and provides significant penalties to complaints for failure to comply.
  • Retaliation: for any of the above activity is prohibited by law in California.
  • Document your case: The more evidence you have, the better. If a co-worker is willing to share a pay stub with you, or other evidence that he’s being paid at a higher rate, take him up on the offer.
  • Consider a Class Action: If the problem is widespread at your company, and you’re the type who wants to promote women’s issues, contact an employment class action attorney and bring a lawsuit benefitting everyone.

Now you are prepared to leverage your talents into money. Go get ‘em.

As always, if you are in need of legal assistance in the area of California employment law here in the Bay Area, we are ready to help. Give us a call at Lazear Mack 510-735-6316 or complete an intake form here 

Lazear Mack, LLP
Employment Law Attorneys
436 14th Street, Suite 1117
Oakland, CA


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