Should You Share Your Salary History? According To PayScale, Maybe

According to a new survey from PayScale, the advice women have been getting about sharing their salary history may be wrong. Almost universally, the recommendation has been this: don’t answer the question.

PayScale asked 15,000 people who had received a job offer whether they were asked to disclose their current pay and whether they shared that information.

When women refused to share their current salary, they made 1.8% less than women who answered the question. To add insult to injury, if a man refused to disclose, he got paid 1.2% more than men who provided their pay history.

These results were unexpected. As Lydia Frank, Vice President of Content Strategy for PayScale, says, “When I first saw the numbers I thought, is this right? Then it started to make a ton more sense for me. If a woman is asked a question and refuses to answer, how does the recruiter feel about that? What assumption do they make? Do they assume she is earning a lower salary than someone willing to share their number?"

Frank acknowledges gender bias may be impacting women’s experience. “Knowing about the social cost of negotiating, we know neither men nor women like it when women negotiate. For a woman, it may feel impolite that they don’t answer [the salary history question]. With a man, maybe it’s seen as confidence. Unconscious bias could certainly be at play here.”

This data further complicates the salary history question for women. “It’s so frustrating that I’ve been telling women not to reveal their salary history, and maybe that’s not the right thing,” Frank says. “What really needs to be the message here is to push employers to stop asking the question.”

The study didn’t identify how respondents refused to answer the question, and there’s a significant amount of research that shows women can avoid triggering gender bias if they use traditionally feminine qualities to their advantage (think listening, empathy and asking questions). Future studies may reveal that the way in which women decline the question affects the outcome.

Until we have further research, though, here’s what I’ll advise my clients to do:

1. Be sure you’re not anchoring to your current salary.

The main reason we tell women not to share their current pay is that we don’t want the employer to anchor or get attached to the number the candidate was paid previously. However, as Frank described it, even if you’re not disclosing your current salary, you could still be anchoring your salary expectations to that lower number.

Do your best to completely separate what you’re currently making from what you expect to make in this new role. What you were making previously has nothing to do with the work you’ll be doing in your new job. Learn your market value by using salary calculators and having conversations with trusted friends in the industry.

Do your best to completely separate what you’re currently making from what you expect to make in this new role. What you were making previously has nothing to do with the work you’ll be doing in your new job. Learn your market value by using salary calculators and having conversations with trusted friends in the industry.

2. If you do share your current pay, pivot quickly to the new position.

I’m a firm believer that you should be paid based on the work you’ll be doing in the new role, your new company, and your market value, not what you were making previously.

Frank echoes this perspective: “What you make currently shouldn’t matter.” She says that regardless of whether you share that information, “The important thing is to get to the value of the position you’re discussing as quickly as possible.”

Frank suggests pivoting immediately to language such as, “Based on my research [on the competitive salaries for this position], the range I’m seeking is this. How does that align with what you’re thinking?”

3. When it comes to sharing your salary history, make the decision that’s right for you.

You may not end up being asked about your current salary. While it can feel like a pervasive question, only 43% of PayScale’s 15,000 respondents were asked about their salary history in their interview process. It is helpful to know, however, that people interviewing for higher level positions with higher salaries were more likely to be asked.

When it comes to answering, do the important self-reflection about your priorities and comfort level with sharing salary information.  Know that each situation is different, and you may decide to share with one company but not another. That’s okay. Be gentle with yourself, and do what feels right for you.

Whether you decide to share your current salary or keep it to yourself, don't dwell on it too much, and try not to feel guilty for whatever decision you make. It isn't worth all of that valuable mental real estate you might expend wondering whether or not to answer, making a massive mental pros and cons list. As a dear friend tells me often when I’m overthinking something, “It’s not that deep.”

There’s no one right answer when it comes to tackling the salary history question. What's most important is to make a decision, ditch the guilt and focus on your market value in this new role.