Megan Driscoll was CEO of PharmaLogics Recruiting when Massachusetts passed a pay equity bill banning employers from asking job applicants about their salary history. The law was intended to narrow the pay gap between men and women by removing a step in the job application process that tended to perpetuate salary disparities.
Within weeks of the ban going into effect in 2018, though, Driscoll said most companies just switched to asking what applicants’ salary expectations were. Anecdotally, she noticed that white men often gave salary expectations that were 50 percent or even 100 percent higher than their female counterparts applying to the same job.
Driscoll’s anecdotal observations are consistent with research that finds women tend to be less aggressive in negotiating for higher pay and that female and Black job candidates may be less successful when they do negotiate. The impact of the 2016 law on pay disparities appears to be limited.
Now the Massachusetts Legislature is considering a bill that would further regulate the job application process in an effort to reduce the pay gap. It would require companies with more than 25 employees to include a salary range in every job posting and require companies to tell current employees, upon request, what the salary range is for all employees in their position. And it would require companies with over 100 employees to submit the same wage data reports they are required to send the federal government to state government, which would aggregate the information into a report that sheds light on industry-wide wages and demographics.
Companies violating the law could be investigated by the attorney general and fined.
The House passed the bill, 148-8, Wednesday and sent it to the Senate, where President Karen Spilka has been a longtime proponent of ensuring women and men are paid equally for comparable work.
This bill, if it becomes law, will not single-handedly close the gender wage gap. Far more complicated factors contribute to that gap, including women’s concentration in lower paying industries and women’s larger family caregiving responsibilities. But the bill is an important step that could make the process of applying to a new job fairer and simpler by giving applicants the information they need to negotiate a fair salary based on their talents and experience.
“When you’re asked your salary expectations … a candidate often defers back to a number above what they’re currently earning,” said Driscoll, who cochairs the Wage Equity Now Coalition that has been pushing for the bill. “If women and people of color are earning less, what was happening continues to be what happens.”
It is not clear what impact, if any, the law passed in 2016 banning questions about salary history has had on lessening the gap between what men and women are paid for comparable work. A 2021 study by Boston University researchers found that in the dozen states that banned employers from asking about salary history, wages for workers who were switching jobs increased on average by 4.1 percent, with increases of 6.2 percent for job-changing women and 5.9 percent for non-white women. Employers in those states were also more likely to list salaries in job postings.
But the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, which tracks gender wage gaps among Greater Boston workers, found that the difference between men’s and women’s earnings actually increased from 2016 to 2021, with wage gaps persisting by gender and race even accounting for differences in industry and job title.
A coalition of groups representing women’s rights, Black and Latino communities, labor, social services, and philanthropic agencies has been spearheading the push for the bill, led by Driscoll and former lieutenant governor Evelyn Murphy. The bill has been introduced in different forms for five years.
What got it to the House floor was increased engagement with the business community. Business groups opposed earlier versions of the legislation, but revisions turned several business groups either neutral or supportive. Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a major business trade group, was involved in negotiating the final version. Business-friendly adjustments included protecting the confidentiality of individual companies’ wage data forms and not letting private citizens sue over violations.
Both job applicants and businesses benefit when they enter interviews with similar salary expectations, and a law that covers all employers should address any competitive concerns businesses may have about revealing pay unilaterally. Brooke Thomson, president of AIM, said she sees the bill as leveling the playing field for all job applicants regardless of race or gender, while making Massachusetts more competitive in attracting talent since it gives workers the tools they need to get the best salary for the job.
Four states — Colorado, Washington, New York, and California — already require salary ranges to be listed in job postings. A handful of other states require employers to disclose a salary range upon request or at various points during the job application process. Many online job postings already include salary information. (The Boston Globe generally does not.)
There will be room for negotiations over details as the bill advances. Small businesses, for example, have questioned whether the 25-employee threshold is too low. But the basic idea of requiring job postings to include a salary range is about common-sense transparency and about giving job applicants the information they need to negotiate an appropriate salary for the job.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.