New York City Is Banning Employers From Asking For Your Past Salary & It Could Crush The Gender Pay Gap

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Good news for activists and advocacy groups seeking to eradicate the gender wage gap — on Tuesday, New York City will ban asking about salary history as a question during hiring processes. By doing so, the Big Apple will become the first jurisdiction in the entire United States of America to actively enforce the law. To better understand the inspiration behind the legislation, how it will be enforced, and what it aims to do on a cultural level, Bustle spoke with New York's First Lady Chirlane McCray, commissioner and chair of the New York City Commission on Human Rights Carmelyn Malalis, and public advocate Letitia James who introduced the legislation.

It is only natural that we would turn our attention to closing the wage gap and leveling the playing field for New Yorkers ...

According to Malalis, who will be partly responsible for enforcing the law, questions about pay history go hand-in-hand with the gender wage gap in ways you may not have realized. In fact, Malalis says such inquiries can work "like an albatross around their neck" by allowing employers to focus on pay precedents, as opposed to qualifications and skill sets. In other words, if a woman made less than a man doing the same work at her old job, that wage gap she experienced will be perpetuated. By banning the question altogether though, New York hopes to disrupt the crushing trend.

And as McCray explains, it was only a matter of time before the bill, introduced as "Intro. 1253" back in May, became law. "This is New York City. We have a history of fighting for equality in every arena," she says. "For too long, women and people of color have been underpaid and undervalued in the workplace. It is only natural that we would turn our attention to closing the wage gap and leveling the playing field for New Yorkers at this time when so many women and people of color are in such severe economic strain."

"There is no time like the present to address such a huge disparity in income for women."

Of all states, New York has the lowest wage gap. But even then, according to research carried out by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, New York women make only 87 percent of what their male peers do. And in a city where living costs are incredibly high, any wage disparity whatsoever can push women into poorer living conditions with fewer opportunities. Once again, this puts them behind men in terms of progress.

Furthermore, an analysis conducted by The Institute for Women's Policy Research and The New York Women's Foundation estimated that it would take until 2049 for the state's racial and gender wage gap to close. To put things into perspective, research conducted by The National Partnership For Women and Families claims that women in New York have already lost nearly $54 billion as a result of the wage gap.

"It's time for a real change in our culture where we just assume that the worth of a person is, more or less, based on their skin color or gender."

Women literally can't afford to wait for the gender wage gap to close in the next decade or two. It needs to happen as quickly as possible. "There is no time like the present to address such a huge disparity in income for women. This legislation is going to go a long way, in closing the gap" New York City's first lady says. "We want a 50/50 city. This is only natural that we do this."

But with the enforcement of any kind of law, there is always the inevitable situation of someone violating it, or more insidiously, using loopholes to get around it. As was evident in data scientist and mathematician Cathy O'Neil's book, Weapons of Math Destruction, employers can use proxy questions about salary or look at credit card data and other personal information accrued by third party vendors.

Malalis, however, has made it clear that she won't tolerate that. "The commission has been pretty aggressive about working with different business and employer advocates in the months leading up to the effective date," she says, promising to hold businesses accountable. "Even if [businesses] are getting from that third party vendor or credit check company ... [it] would be against the law to use that information."

And for those business owners who fear the new law will make the hiring process more difficult, Malalis ensures the city isn't trying to apply "gotcha-like tactics" that undermine business profits. Rather, it's trying to work in collaboration with businesses and instill a cultural shift that helps both employers and workers.

"[There are] well-meaning employers and well-meaning businesses who do desire to be paying their employees fairly and equally but may be inheriting what has already been an unfair pay differential," Malalis explains. "This [law] helps to course-correct that."

In fact, the law could help to foster more meaningful conversation between the employer and applicant during the interview process. "I think it really encourages and empowers employers and employees to be thinking about negotiation: what they should be demanding for their skill sets and their labor, how they should engage in negotiation, how they should be putting out there what their expectations are because of their skill sets," Malalis adds.

McCray, Malalis, and James encourage New Yorkers to make full use of the NYC Human Rights Commission to report any kind of bias during hiring processes and salary history questions. And each of them is confident that the law will serve as precedent for other states and cities. "[Now] it's going to be up to states and municipalities to pass progressive legislation," James says. "New York City has always led the way and once this [law] goes into effect, I'm confident other jurisdictions will do the same."

And James is right when it comes to relying on state and city governments as opposed to the federal government. In July, for example, San Francisco joined the national conversation of gender equality by introducing a law in favor of equal pay.

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"It is my hope that women and people of color will view themselves differently. They will think about their worth and value differently, and that employers will also think about the value of their employees differently going forward," New York City's first lady explains. "It's time for a real change in our culture where we just assume that the worth of a person is, more or less, based on their skin color or gender."