According to psychological studies, first impressions are formed within seven to 17 seconds of meeting someone. Moreover, 55% of that opinion is determined by an individual’s physical appearance. In job interviews, it’s vital to look put-together and professional, as your appearance can indicate how equipped you are to do the job at-hand. That impression might be right or wrong, but it’s real.
Now, a new study has found that if a company decides to hire someone, the way a candidate answers one important question could make all the difference in how much they make every year — but the “right” answer also depends on one specific factor: their gender.
Most of those in the business world know appearance is not all that comes into play during an important interview. The skills a candidate possesses are of immense importance to many employers. In fact, 77% of employers surveyed think personality skills are just as important as hard skills, and 16% of them find them to be more important. The way a candidate responds to questions is crucial, too. Their answers can help managers determine whether they might be a good fit for both the position and the company.
But whether or not employers realize it, they likely have some implicit bias when it comes to interviewing candidates of different genders. And according to new research from PayScale, whether or not a candidate decides to disclose their pay history when asked — and the gender of the candidate in question — has a big effect on their salary once they’ve gotten the job.
The study found that around half of Americans stated prospective employers have inquired about their pay history. Of those who were asked, around 23% declined to answer. This decision literally pays off for male candidates, as men who refuse to disclose their current salaries get paid 1.2% more on average once hired.
Women who play coy, however, receive the opposite treatment. Female candidates who won’t disclose their pay history in interviews earn 1.8% less than those who do. Women already make 90 cents on the dollar, Pew data shows, for every dollar men make, but the decision to not divulge created a 3% pay gap between those men and women surveyed.
The findings stand in stark contrast to the advice that women have received in the past. Both men and women alike are urged not to talk about previous salaries during negotiations for new positions, but for women, this advice has seemed even more critical. If they disclose their previously lower salaries, they might end up making even less, comparatively, in their new position than male employees. But since other research has shown women have been penalized for being too assertive in salary negotiations as well, these findings leave women with few options.
Apparently, you just can’t win.
Although McKinsey research has found that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers, many organizations make it difficult for women to even get through an initial interview unscathed.
Another study conducted by TimesJobs, based out of India, found that while employees of either gender are sometimes asked inappropriate or awkward questions in interviews, about 40% of female employees have been asked questions related to family planning, while 35% say they were asked about their relationship or marital status during interviews. Around 20% were asked questions relating to age, weight, or size. Overall, 80% of the female professionals surveyed said they’ve had to respond to inappropriate inquiries in these settings. While these findings may not reflect the exact trends happening in U.S. interviews, it highlights the fact that gender inequality in the workplace is still a universal issue.
Fortunately, the U.S. does have protections in place about what interviewers are allowed to ask, and some state and local governments are enacting measures to stop employers from asking about salary history altogether. Massachusetts recently passed a law, which will go into effect next summer, that will prohibit local companies from asking applicants about their pay history before a job offer is extended. New York City has also passed legislation that will keep employers from sticking their noses in their candidates’ salary business.
In addition, the Pay Equity for All Act was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives just a couple of months ago. While it has yet to move ahead, it would ban employers from asking about salaries all across the nation. That said, that bill is predicted to have a very small chance of being passed, so it may be up to the states — and individual organizations — to ensure all applicants are given an equal playing field, regardless of gender identity.