Like Google, Facebook, and Cisco, Amazon has announced that they will throw out the "tell us your salary history" question in the hopes of eliminating the effects of past discrimination. Several states and cities have adopted legislation that does the same thing.
If a job is worth $75,000, and the person can do the job, that person should earn $75,000 regardless of whether the person earned $50,000 before--male or female.
It makes sense, but Quartz is reporting that it could backfire: They report:
But there's reason to believe the law could backfire, and end up punishing women. That's because taking information away from employers doesn't make them stop caring about the information, said Jennifer Doleac, an economist at the University of Virginia.
When employers can't ask about salary history, they'll make assumptions based on what they think they know, Doleac said. "When we make them guess, it hurts the best applicants in the groups we're caring about, because we have no way to distinguish them, and they get grouped together with the rest."
Ms. Doleac doesn't hire many people, is my guess. "We have no way to distinguish them," she says. Hogwash. If you have an exceptional resume you'll stand out. If you come into the interview and do a bang-up job, you'll stand out. Not knowing the salary history reduces the bias, not increases it.
Doleac is assuming that, even without knowing history, managers will want to pay based on history. Some may. But, when that is taken out of the equation what should happen is that the company determines what a job is worth and makes an offer based on that. Take it or leave it. Sure, there is a negotiation, but within a reasonable realm. If a job is valued at $75,000 and you make an offer at that level, coming back with an "Oh, but I made $100,000 at my current job" won't get you a $25,000 pay increase. It will get you a "Goodness! Stay where you are, then!"
And heaven knows there are overpaid people (male and female) who should be earning a lot less than they do, so why should we reward them with more money just because someone made a mistake in their favor years ago?
Yes, it's true that on average men earn more than women, but gender differences make up only one tiny portion of the difference. When you account for all differences, such as experience, education, and hours worked, the difference becomes tiny.
Women, we know, tend to ask for less money and are not as comfortable negotiating. (Speaking in generalities of course, and not as to the individual--every individual is different.) Those things can be trained and changed. Psychologist Jordan Peterson said, in a now-famous interview with Cathy Newman,
One of the things you do as a clinical psychologist is assertiveness training. So you might say--often you treat people for anxiety, you treat them for depression, and maybe the next most common category after that would be assertiveness training. So I've had many, many women, extraordinarily competent women, in my clinical and consulting practice, and we've put together strategies for their career development that involved continual pushing, competing, for higher wages. And often tripled their wages within a five-year period.
This is a skill, and like all skills, you can get better at it if it's important to you.
There is no perfect fix to any problem it the workplace, including pay issues. Why? Because hiring, firing, promoting, and working are all done by humans and humans are fallible. Every last one of us.
That said, a company the size of Amazon has a dedicated compensation team that looks at things like gender differences all the time. And with hiring 100,000 new people, you can guarantee that a lot of jobs will be similar and, therefore, have similar salaries regardless of who fills the position. Amazon isn't a perfect company, and there are plenty of reasons to be wary, but this isn't one of them.
So, let's knock off the "oh no, women will suffer!" rhetoric. There's no evidence that Amazon intends to discriminate against women, and there's no evidence that they have in the past. They are complying with the law in several areas and going above and beyond in rolling this out nationwide. Good for them.