Entertainment and social networking site Reddit has a controversial answer to the problem of institutional gender bias: Banning salary negotiations altogether.

The company, which is headed up by interim CEO Ellen Pao, hopes that the decision will lessen the gender pay gap and ultimately increase its diversity: "Men negotiate harder than women do and sometimes women get penalized when they do negotiate. So as part of our recruiting process we don't negotiate with candidates," Pao told the Wall Street Journal in a Q&A on Monday. (The company has yet to formally disclose its demographic data.)

The decision comes on the heels of Pao's widely-publicized court loss to her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, over gender discrimination allegations.

It's no secret that women have it worse than men in the workplace: Consider that women today earn just 78 cents for every male dollar, according to the Department of Labor. Pao says she sees salary negotiations as inherently perpetuating that gender bias, given that women are often too intimidated to ask for more. 

The women's professional support network Levo recently found that 63 percent of women accept job offers without negotiating their salaries, and another 66 percent don't know how to bring up the topic. A recent UC Berkeley study also found that women who do ask for more are often lied to by their superiors.

Levo, for its part, recently launched its annual 'Ask4More' campaign, encouraging women to negotiate their salaries, and featuring high-profile women leaders like Chelsea Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg chime in on the importance of demanding equal pay.

It's worth noting that Reddit's anti-negotiation policy, while well-intentioned, does have its flaws: If the salary offered is based on the applicant's previous salary--which may or may not have been negotiated or fair--it could actually be worsening the pay gap.

And while Reddit told CNN Money that it "provides fair market salaries" to all employees, skeptics point out that most companies will make this claim to employees, who are generally forced to take them at their word. 

Pao told the Wall Street Journal that Reddit allows its hires negotiate other factors, for example, if they want to convert cash to equity. But Vaibhav Mallya, who heads up a startup that trains engineers and tech workers to negotiate effectively, noted that this also poses problems: "How much? How little? It doesn't say. This itself is a kind of negotiation," he told CNN Money. 

Ultimately, experts say that transparency is necessary in order to tackle the continued pay gap. Only time will tell if the tech company's new policy is effective, and if its Silicon Valley brethren decide to follow suit. But it seems like a step in the right direction, even if only to increase the visibility of workplace gender bias. 

Published on: Apr 8, 2015