How to avoid being caught in a vicious cycle of low salaries

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on why you need to aim high when negotiating salaries.

The interview has gone fantastically well. You and the interviewers built up a rapport. Your responses rolled off your tongue. You even shared a couple of pleasant laughs. This job is in the bag. You are feeling on top of the world. And then they ask “how much do you get paid currently?”

Your mind begins to race. If you are honest, you could lose out on a lot of cash. If you lie, you could get caught out and risk losing the job before you even begin. It turns out that the salary question is another way of fuelling the gender pay gap. A woman who is asked about her salary history and declines to disclose earns 1.8 per cent less than a woman who discloses. If a man declines to disclose, he gets paid 1.2 per cent more on average, according to Payscale.com.

As a result several US states and companies, including Delaware, Chicago, California, and New York City as well as Starbucks, Amazon and Google, have banned asking about salary history. It is thought that by banning the question, it will prevent low pay from following women from job to job and will help to address gender pay discrimination.

When the ban was introduced in New York City last year, chair and commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights Carmelyn P. Malalis said in a statement: "Women and people of color deserve to be paid what they're worth, not held back by their current or previous salary. Today's law will enable job seekers to negotiate a fair salary based on their skills and will help break the cycle of income inequality that has been so prevalent in the workforce for so long."

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But unfortunately it is still legal, and commonplace for companies in Ireland to ask about your salary history. The next time you are asked that question, do not panic and do not answer directly. Remember, this is information that is highly valuable to what could be a potential employer. It gives them a gauge that they would not have otherwise when offering you the job. Besides that, your market value is not determined by your previous salary.

If they push on the matter, instead of telling them your current salary, tell them the salary you are targeting in your new role and ask them if that is within the range they are offering.

Of course, this can also be a problem for women. If you say too little you could undervalue yourself. If you say too much they will think you’re full of it or too expensive. But what is too little? What is too much? The answer is to do the research. Before walking in the door of the interview you should have a ballpark scale you expect the salary to fall under. Google it. Ask others in the industry. Talk to recruiters. You should also decide what the lowest amount you are willing to take to do the job. And then aim high. Aim for a salary so high you are almost embarrassed to ask for it. If the employer says it is too high, you can always negotiate with them if you really want the job. But take the chance that they might not think it is too high. They might just agree because they know you’re worth it. You won’t close that gender pay gap asking for a tiny salary bump. Go for gold!

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