Most professionals have been asked at one time or another about their current salary during a job interview. However, depending on where you are interviewing, that question may now be illegal for employers to ask: Some states and cities have recently passed laws prohibiting interview questions about current and previous salaries.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center analysis, women earned 83 percent of what men earned in both full- and part-time positions based on median hourly earnings. Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 44 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2015.
The salary question allows companies to base a compensation offer on your current or last employer's identification of your worth, rather than standard market worth. This means employers can easily perpetuate the gender pay gap and keep lower earners from jumping up the pay scale.
Breaking the chain
Massachusetts was one of the first states to bar employers from asking about applicants' salaries before offering them a job, The New York Times reported in 2016.
The law, which is set to go into effect in July 2018, will require hiring managers to state a compensation figure upfront based on the position's worth to the company, regardless of any applicant's present salary. New York City followed suit and approved a measure that will prohibit asking job applicants about their salary history, set to go into effect on Oct. 31, 2017.
"Professionals should be paid based upon their skills, experience and the value they bring to a position, not by their negotiation skills or salary history," said Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume. "The [passing of these laws] is an important step to closing the wage gap between men and women of equal talents and abilities."
"Proponents of the law champion it as a way to eliminate the pay gap, arguing that an employer's use of an applicant's previous salary history could lead to gender-based wage discrimination," said Christine Hendrickson, co-chair of Seyfarth Shaw's Pay Equity Group and senior counsel, in a statement. "The theory is that applicants would be paid based on their past earnings, rather than what they would be offered if judged on a blank slate."
Hendrickson notes there is criticism of the bill because it's believed that it will not eliminate any wage gap, but will instead create greater reliance on salary negotiation.
To further crack down on this initiative, the New York City Commission on Human Rights will be enforcing the new law, the statement said. The commission will impose a civil penalty of up to $125 for an unintentional violation, and up to $250,000 for an "intentional malicious violation."
If someone does ask you about your previous salary in a state or city where it is illegal, politely tell them so, and shift the conversation to your salary expectations.
"You can be nice about it," said Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster. "Don't get defensive, but you can state something along the lines of, 'It's my understanding that, according to New York City law, that's not allowed, and it's new, so many people may not know about it.' You're simply stating facts. Then quickly [transition] into what you can talk about – what you want to earn!"
Closing the wage gap
Though closing the gap through legislation is the first step, women have the power to demand change in their pay. However, according to career experts, women are less likely to negotiate a job offer, setting themselves up to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of their careers.
"As a former corporate recruiter, only 1 in 10 women negotiated their offers with me, compared to 9 in 10 men who always did, regardless [of whether] they were qualified or not," said Salemi. "You should still do research to assess what your expectations are so you don't undercut yourself. Ask for more when they present you with the first offer, and ... hold your ground in terms of what you're worth."
Augustine agrees. "Many women are scared to negotiate because they're afraid of being considered too pushy," she said. "There is a fear that if they demand more money, the job offer will be revoked. They're overly concerned about being polite, often to the detriment of their paychecks."
In addition, Augustine said women often feel they need to prove their value before they can ask for more money. Men, on the other hand, often enter these conversations expecting to ask for, and receive, a better job offer.
"The fact of the matter is, if you don't ask for what you want, you won't get it," Augustine said. "You have to negotiate."
Regardless of gender, here are five tips to help you negotiate the compensation package you deserve:
Do your homework. If you're going to negotiate confidently, you need to be prepared. Research the market rate for your position by visiting Glassdoor, Salary.com and PayScale, accounting for the company's location, size and industry, Augustine said.
Have a statement ready. It's important to have prepared statements ready so you aren't caught off guard when salary is brought up. Focus on your salary expectation and include specific examples as to why you deserve what you are asking for, said Salemi.
Focus on your current and future value. What do you bring to the table? Make a list of your major contributions and accomplishments, quantifying them whenever possible, Augustine said. How have you (or will you be able to) cut costs, increase revenue, streamline efficiency, improve customer satisfaction, etc.?
Remember it's not personal. Negotiation isn't about one person winning and the other losing. It's about each party giving a little to keep or get what they want most. Leave emotions at the door. If you feel your emotions rising, hold off on negotiating until you can pull it together, Augustine said.
Fake it till you make it. Confidence is essential to being a strong negotiator. You must exude self-assurance, even if you're insecure or uncertain. Don't apologize for negotiating – own it. Women often apologize when they've done nothing wrong and may be viewed as being weak or lacking conviction. Don't let yourself fall into that trap, Augustine said.
"Not every great employee is a great negotiator," Augustine told Business News Daily. "If [you don't] possess stellar negotiation skills, there's no reason why you should tolerate earning less money than an equally qualified candidate who does."
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.