Why the Salary Question is Bad for Women and People of Color

A federal court in Philadelphia struck down a new city law that barred employers from asking job candidates about their salary history. The ruling has serious ramifications for the fight to narrow the gender wage gap.

Asking applicants how much money they earned at previous jobs has long been a routine part of the hiring process. But this seemingly harmless question is a key culprit in the persistent gender wage gap in the United States, according to a growing number of civil rights groups and legal experts.

Businesses decide what to pay new hires based partly (or entirely) on how much they earned at their last jobs. Because women are generally paid less than their male co-workers, for reasons that include discrimination, asking female job candidates about their past salaries nearly guarantees that the wage disparity will continue throughout their careers. The same dynamic disadvantages workers of color.

This awareness has led equal rights advocates to push state and local lawmakers to address the problem with a straightforward idea: ban companies from asking the question altogether.

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