18th November 2021

New polling carried out to mark Equal Pay Day 2021 by leading gender equality campaigning charity, the Fawcett Society, finds that asking about past salaries during recruitment is pointless because four in ten working adults (39%) have lied about what they previously earned. Asking about salary history helps to keep women on lower salaries and contributes to the UK’s gender pay gap, which currently stands at 11.9% with no sign of shrinking anytime soon.

The survey is being released to mark Equal Pay Day (18th November 2021) – the date when women effectively start to work for free because, on average, they are paid less than men.

While these “salary history questions” may be pointless, half (47%) of working people still say they have been asked them. 61% women who have been asked about salary history say it damaged their confidence to negotiate for better pay, and 58% of women said it made them feel as though a low past salary was ‘coming back to haunt them’.

Jemima Olchawski, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said:

At best salary history questions are annoying and our research shows asking them can damage an employer’s reputation. But it goes deeper than that - asking about salary history can mean past pay discrimination follows women, people of colour, and people with disabilities throughout their career. It also means new employers replicate pay gaps from other organisations.

On Equal Pay Day we’re calling on employers to commit to closing their gender pay and to stop asking about past salaries. This is a simple, evidence-led way for organisations to improve pay equality and we know this is good for women, employers and our economy.

The survey also finds that:

  • Just a quarter (24%) of people feel that pay should be based on past salary, compared to 80% for their skill and responsibilities and 77% for the value of the work they do.
  • 58% of women and 54% of men say salary history questions meant they were offered a lower wage than they might otherwise have been paid.
  • 63% of women and 58% of men would think more highly of an employer who didn’t ask them.

The pace of change to close the Gender Pay Gap is glacial and more needs to be done by government and employers to tackle its causes, which include:

  • pay discrimination
  • unequal shares of caring work in the home done by men and women, resulting in women doing more part-time work
  • under-valuing of the types of work women do
  • the lack of women entering some well-paid careers such as science and engineering
  • failure to promote women within organisations.

Salary history questions are unfair and research in the US shows that banning them increases the pay of new starters – particularly women and people of colour. Other people who start off on lower wages, like disabled people, or people moving between lower and higher wage sectors or regions, are also likely to benefit from ending it.

On Equal Pay Day, Fawcett is calling on employers to stop asking salary history questions as part of the #EndSalaryHistory campaign.

This campaign was started by Fawcett East London, one of Fawcett’s 21 local groups, and has been supported by a raft of employers who are early adopters of the pledge: https://www.endsalaryhistory.co.uk/our-supporters

Companies who are keen to close the gender pay gap should stop asking about salary history and encourage those in their supply chain to do the same.

Shobaa Haridas, from East London Fawcett who started the grassroots campaign, said:

Closing the gender pay gap has often been framed as an individual endeavour with calls for women to negotiate better or having employees undergo unconscious bias training. But this framing ignored bias baked within the system. We started this campaign to shine a light on this unquestioned recruitment practice. 

If you are an employer, asking for salary history is incompatible with a commitment to equal pay. It is as simple as that. Many employers have already ended this practice and we call on more employers to take our pledge.

Fawcett is calling on everyone who supports fairer pay to ask employers and companies they buy from to drop salary history questions and sign up to the End Salary History pledge. We also urge people to join the Fawcett Society, and use their voice to create a fairer society.