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Congress to Consider Landmark Bill to Help Close the Gender Wage Gap

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton plans to introduce a bill to help close the gender wage gap by forbidding employers from asking the salary history of job candidates.

by Candace Bryan
Sep 1 2016, 8:21pm

Image of US Congress via Wikimedia Commons

In a landmark move to close the gender wage gap on a federal level, Democratic Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton has plans to introduce a new bill to Congress that would forbid employers from asking the salary history of job candidates.

The bill is co-sponsored Representatives Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Jerrold Nadler of New York and is scheduled to be introduced when Congress returns from its recess. Bills like Norton's have been already introduced in a few states —a bill banning salary histories was passed in Massachusetts this August, and one was introduced to the New York City Council in the same month — but this will be the first bill of its kind at a federal level.

Read more: The Solution to the Gender Wage Gap Isn't Hiring Female Executives

The idea behind the bill is that marginalized groups like women and people of color tend to enter the workforce at lower salaries. This can ultimately impact entire careers because when employers hear of a lower salary history, they will typically match with a lower offer. But if employers cannot legally ask job applicants to share their salary history, hiring managers may be more inclined to provide a salary that fits the company's needs and more accurately reflects the value of the work provided.

What we know about wage gap is that it starts small and gets bigger over the course of a career.

"What we know about wage gap is that it starts small and gets bigger over the course of a career," Emily Martin, vice president of Workplace Justice at the National Women's Law Center, tells Broadly. "[This bill] is trying to disrupt that and make sure what starts as a small gap doesn't grow and compound."

Martin calls the bill a "great step" but adds that it's not a silver bullet. "Other things are necessary—it's important to pass other bills. For example, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has come close to being passed by Congress a couple of times, would update and modernize the Equal Pay Act and make sure employers have incentive to give fair salaries and that employees can't be punished for talking about their salaries, and it would tighten other loopholes."

Martin argues that another way to help close the gap is to raise the minimum wage. "Women are overrepresented in lower wage occupations and underrepresented in higher wage occupations. So raising them minimum wage is one way to close the wage gap. Roughly two thirds of minimum wage workers are women, so when you raise the minimum wage, you're raising women's wages."

She also notes the importance of eliminating the barriers that keep women out of higher paying jobs, and points to adding protections against harassment, increasing education opportunities for women, and welcoming women to fields where they are typically left out, such as engineering and other STEM jobs.

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The new bill wouldn't prevent job applicants from disclosing their previous salaries, says Martin, and men who had made higher salaries in the past could still bring up their salary history to negotiate for a higher offer. "Employers should be looking closely at how they set salaries to make sure it's tied to business needs and job requirements, not relying too much on negotiation, which can lead to unjustified disparities," she says.

"Solving wage gap has a lot of different pieces, and a basket of solutions is required. However, this bill is an important piece of the puzzle."