tweet screenshot from Kate Kelly
Bailey Zelena; @Kate_Kelly_Esq/Twitter

You know that sinking feeling when you’re filling out an online job application and it suddenly asks for your desired salary requirements? And if it has the dreaded “field required” asterisk? Even worse.

A lawyer and author, Kate Kelly recently ran into this exact situation, but she had an advantage: The salary was listed in the job description, which signaled to her that this number was the start of a good faith salary negotiation. Taking that into account, she gave her salary requirements based on her experience and skills. But what she got back was astounding enough that she took to Twitter: 

So this company doesn’t negotiate salaries—then why did they ask applicants to type in a number of their own? Further in the thread, Kelly shows a screenshot of the application field where they asked for salary—with that “required” asterisk in full view.

So did the employer expect applicants to copy/paste the salary from the job description? (Really bringing “upload your resume, then enter all the same info to this form” to the next level, guys.)

With pay transparency laws in places like New York City increasingly forcing companies to post salaries or salary ranges on their job descriptions, there have been some shenanigans. But posting one number and refusing to budge from it sure is…a tactic? 

Kelly, author of Ordinary Equality: The Fearless Women and Queer People Who Shaped the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment, succinctly summed up the fundamental problem with the company’s reasoning in her next tweet:

Not only is this company putting a stop to salary negotiation completely—they’re saying they did it because certain groups had more luck with it than others.

But who has control over the outcomes of salary negotiations? Those with decision making power!

via GIPHY

If the results are unfair, they’re the ones choosing (consciously or unconsciously) to reinforce pre-existing biases and inequities. So to the unnamed employer, no, salary negotiation doesn’t disproportionately benefit people with privilege, you do.

OK, yes, the company is technically correct that salary negotiations disproportionately benefit those with privilege—even when all gender and racial groups attempt to negotiate at the same rate. But that doesn’t mean that the practice of salary negotiation is the problem, it means employers need to evaluate why certain groups are having more luck than others—and buck the trend.

Stopping all salary negotiations means that the decision makers at a given company are now the only people with any input on salary. And history has shown us time and time again what groups are most likely to benefit from that. Personally, I once worked for a company that said they didn’t do negotiations when I was hired—and then I found out a male coworker in the same exact job was offered more than I was upfront. Of course, that’s just one anecdote, but research shows there are many factors beyond negotiation that contribute to the racial and gender pay gaps.

This company claims to care about equality (not equity, mind you), but what they’re actually doing is hiding behind the language of those fighting for equality, like “privilege” and “disproportionately benefits,” while they ignore their part in perpetuating inequities and sidestep the work it would take to fix that. Rather than examining processes with unfair outcomes, they’re eliminating them.

So what can you do if you run into a similar situation during your job search? Well, in the words of the late, great Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” If a company has as much of a “my way or the highway” approach to the hiring process as the one in this tweet thread—what are they going to be like to work for? It’s one of a few red flags to look out for in job descriptions and application processes.

You can also check out some of our salary and pay gap advice on:

Updated 1/20/2023