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Requiring a salary range may not help in the way you hope it helps

In my work in executive recruiting, I see a lot of reply comments to job postings that look like this real Facebook comment I saw today:

“We ask that all [full-time] job postings [in this Facebook group] include [a] salary range. Can you include one? Thanks!”

People posting these requests have the very purest of intentions, as I’ve learned through my private discussions with them. Some wish to save applicants time and disappointment. One friend told me, “I don't apply if I don't see a range because I assume they can't meet my requirements.” Others fear that the lack of salary range on a job description contributes to a lack of transparency that contributes to a lack of pay equity.

These concerns are all reasonable, yet I believe that putting salary ranges on job postings worsens pay inequality rather than mitigating it.

When there is a salary range listed on a job description and there is no indication that the range is negotiable, men apply for that job more often and negotiate more often. Women hold off on applying and negotiating unless the job description actively states that the salary is negotiable.

As we see at the societal level through negotiation-based pay gaps, men negotiate higher salaries for themselves more often, which means they are, in many cases, pushing the employer past their stated salary range. I see this tactical disparity in my own work quite a lot.

Research shows us that men expect higher salaries than women expect and men expect to negotiate more than women expect to negotiate. We also know that people who expect higher salaries earn more and people who negotiate more earn more.

So, if we care about pay “equity,” we want women to expect higher salaries and we want women to negotiate as much as possible. Therefore, anything [within reason] that we can do to help women expect higher salaries and help women negotiate more helps close any pay gap, real or perceived.

Putting a salary range on a job description, particularly without explicit signals that the salary is negotiable, may turn female applicants away from applying for your position. In my experience, it may also be costing you the best applicants for your position, but that’s the topic of a different communication newsletter.

There are a number of ways to solve this problem, each with its own strengths and weaknesses:

  • Post a salary range and a statement that the salary range is not negotiable, then (and this part is important), do not negotiate at all, which limits the potential benefits to women of integrative bargaining and produces inferior hires

  • Post a salary range and a statement that the salary range is negotiable (which of course requires that you lower the written salary range you post in the first place, rendering it less accurate for candidates), which is unsuccessful for those reasons

  • Post no salary range at all, resolving expectations early in the application process, which I recommend below

  • Post no salary range, asking the candidate what they earned in the last job, a strategy I do not recommend because it is demonstrated to perpetuate gender and race pay disparities, and illegal in many states besides

I advocate a Candidate Needs Based Approach (CNBA, an acronym I just made up):

  • Employers should post no salary range, instead asking applicants how much they’d require to do the job in the applicant tracking system or during the first screening telephone call

  • Candidates should apply for positions without a salary range, requesting the salary they want immediately at the outset of the process. Candidates should be armed with information about the industry’s salary ranges from websites that include this data.

Demanding a salary range up front looks like a good idea, but it damages the cause of those who wish to see equal pay for equal work because negotiation is happening behind the scenes. It’s tempting to believe that solutions mandating no negotiations would solve this problem, but integrative bargaining negotiation actually can help women by adding variables like working from home, flex time, and alternate paths to promotion into the process.

So apply for those jobs without salary ranges, negotiate even when a salary doesn’t say it’s negotiable, and don’t try to force employers to post salary ranges if you hope one day to see equal pay for equal work.

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