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Is it ethical to ask about current salaries in interviews?

by Laura Hayward | 23 February 2017

I have always wondered what relevance asking a candidate what their current salary has when interviewing for a new role. Is it appropriate? What purpose does this serve to the panel? What is gained from asking it? More importantly, what can be lost from not discussing it? I recently read that the State of Massachusetts in the US has become the first to make it illegal to ask candidates about their salaries before offering them the job, a step that I believe may assist in closing the gender gap across the pond.

The new law will take effect in July this year and will mean that the salary on offer will have to be decided upfront, rather than decided on the previous or current salary of the applicant. The new law also bars companies from prohibiting employees from telling colleague how much they earn, in an effort to increase salary transparency and equal pay. This is an incredibly positive step towards reducing the pay difference between men and women doing the same roles. 

I have always struggled with why there is a need to ask a candidates salary in a job interview, and think the offer should be based on an honest and true reflection of their experience, skills and qualities. Candidates should only be judges on their ability to do a role, and not by their gender, and I hope that this new legislation in America might help with inequality further afield.

Reducing the gender pay gap is a hot topic at the moment, with brands like Facebook and Audi standing up for gender equality over the past few months, and it doesn’t show any signs of dropping off. Here in the UK it is still an issue that is constantly debated, and yet we still have a very long way to go before women and men are seen as equals in the workplace. 

According to a study by the equal pay portal, between April 2015 and April 2016 in the UK, the pay gap for full time employees was 9.4 percent, a reduction from 9.6 percent which is encouraging – this may be a very small step, but at least one in the right direction.

On the other hand however, a report conducted by the World Economic Forum has stated that it could take as long as 170 years to close the gender pay gap, an alarming statistic and one that needs to be addressed. Reports have also suggested the following issues when looking at gender inequality:

  • Women are being paid almost half the amount of their male counterparts.
  • Women are working on average 50 minutes longer per day.
  • Women have fewer opportunities to reach senior leadership positions in all sectors.

Encouragingly in June several well-known organisations in America including Gap, Pepsi and American Airlines, signed an Equal Pay Pledge which means they will annually review their pay by gender. Also earlier this year, Facebook UK pledged to support 10,000 female business owners with training and development to help narrow the gap here at home.

The gender pay gap is frustrating– and it is vital that we adopt strategies, and work hard to close the gap. Any plan to fight gender equality issues needs to consider solutions to the gender leadership gap first and foremost, and then take into account pay and working hours also. I believe if we have more female role models, and the issue continues to be promoted in the media we will have a much better chance at narrowing the gap long-term.

We can only hope that with Theresa May, our second ever female prime minister, and the support of business across the UK we can fight and win the battle against gender equality. I would urge May and her government to watch this new American legislation carefully, as it may be the answer to closing the gap once and for all. There are certainly some interesting times ahead!  

To discuss how we can assist your remuneration package in a new role, please contact me by calling 0161 834 1642 or email laura.hayward@sellickpartnership.co.uk. Alternatively, browse through our latest roles