Let Us Not Ask about Current Salary, We Should Not Care: A Concrete Step for the Jewish sector to Move Towards Pay Equity

equal-pay-actBy Tehilah Eisenstadt and Mark S. Young

When was the last time you were part of a job interview process, either as the candidate or the employer, and the question was asked, “What is your current salary?” Have you ever thought about the rationale behind this question?

We live in a time when women get paid, on average, $.80 for every $1 a man makes in a similar job. Time.com and many other news outlets have recently been reporting the growing consensus that asking the “What is your current salary?” question contributes to this unfair disparity.

In an ideal situation, the employer uses the current salary question to offer a salary that is sufficiently above and attractive to the candidate’s current rate. More often, and we, the writers of this piece, have both been on either end of this discussion, the question can also help the employer avoid paying more than originally thought to secure the hire, even if their budget or their set compensation levels (if these even exist in the organization), allow for it.

In reality, when we think about women who might take time off for parental leave, women who might at the start of their careers be offered lower wage jobs due to inherent biases, asking the “what’s your current salary?” question may only make things worse. If men are already ahead in their compensation, even slightly, then women at the same stage of their career, the men are set up for life with higher salaries just by potential employers asking this question.

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio recently signed a bill specifically focused on closing the wage gap for city agencies. He was following the state of Massachusetts’ lead earlier this year forbidding private and public sector employers from asking, and now even researching, previous salary history. In an article from The New York Times from earlier this year, “To Help Close the Wage Gap de Blasio Tells Agencies to Stop Asking About Applicants’ Past Pay,” we learn that those who never learned to advocate for themselves, to appreciate their experience and professional worth regardless of previous compensation, are forever disadvantaged, undervalued and often resent the salaries they accept.

We, the Jewish nonprofit sector, want to be a model for the rest of industry. We ask our organizations to put into practice not asking candidates for their salary histories when applying for and negotiating the terms for jobs. We should not care.

There is a second rationale here and we believe it to be both moral and Jewish. Why might we pay two people different rates to do the exact same job in the first place? Does a higher salary for one person over another in the same exact position mean that person will produce more and is therefore overall more valuable to the organization? The answer is frequently “no.” Often men with higher salaries then women at the exact same level are not as successful as their female counterparts. One could examine The Forward’s annual publication of CEO salaries and note the vastly higher salaries of male CEO’s to female. We are huge fans of the recently retired Ruth Messinger of AJWS. She is one of the only female CEOs on the list, and is towards the bottom in her compensation. We could easily make a compelling argument that she is among the Top 5 Successful Jewish Organizational CEO’s of all time in her success growing the organization, raising money, and changing the world for the better then many higher on the CEO salary list.

Certainly, we should abandon the practice of not looking at past salaries not just for executive hires, but across all professional levels. What do we gain from keeping this practice? On the contrary, we might just be losing out on the Ruth Messingers of the next generation.

One might respond that experience matters and we pay higher for more experience. There is validity to this point but also consider that one’s salary should not merely reflect one’s past experience or success, but rather one’s capability, what they will do for us starting on day one, which is what we are paying for them for and thus the salary should reflect.

So, why not offer the female the $100k salary budgeted for the role even though she might say yes to the $80K salary? Show the candidate and ourselves that we value this female candidate as we would have valued any male candidate, right from the start! This will project the message to this new hire that we value them with the compensation what they rightfully deserve. We predict a quick drop in gender pay inequality as a result.

We recognize that money is not the only or even primary driving motivator in our field, but feeling valued is key, and if our employees do feel highly valued, they will work harder, be more productive, stay in the organization longer, and deliver much stronger long-term results for the organization, driving revenue and lowering turnover costs.

Let us stand for fairness, more transparency, and equal opportunity and pay equity for all as a field. When asked why we don’t ask our candidates, “What is your current salary?”, we simply will respond, “We don’t care.”

Tehilah Eisenstadt is the Director of Education & Family Engagement at the Society for Advancement of Judaism (SAJ) in NYC. She is also a national Jewish educational speaker and activist with a focus on women’s rights.

Mark S. Young is the Managing Director of The Leadership Commons at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS. Mark is also a board member and programming co-chair of the JPRO Network.