Credit: Adam Jones

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed legislation last week that will prohibit employers from asking for any record of an applicant’s salary at past jobs, making Philadelphia the first city in the nation with a wage history discrimination law. The bill previously faced opposition from the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which identifies the University of Pennsylvania as one of seven “sustaining investors.”

“By basing your salary on a past salary, you’re in a sense perpetuating the inequity of women and minorities being paid less,” City Councilman Bill Greenlee, the bill’s sponsor, told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “That’s unfair in my opinion. At least give the person a chance.”

Penn sociology professor Janice Madden agreed with Greenlee. Madden has conducted extensive research on sex discrimination in different labor markets throughout the country and has found that much of the pay gap exists because women’s starting salaries are kept low by employers’ inquiries into their wage history.

“I think [the law] will be effective, very much so,” Madden said. “I think a lot of [the gender pay gap] comes from that employers think they don’t have to pay women as much, and when they have the difference in starting salary right in front of them, it really confirms that expectation.”

College freshman and Interior Chair of the Penn Association for Gender Equity Tanya Jain helps advise female students on how to secure fairer workplace treatment and said that policy like the new wage discrimination law is a crucial part of that process.

“A lot of PAGE’s constituents are pre-professional clubs, so we worked with them in the past, talking with women specifically about how to lean in and make room for themselves at the table,” Jain said. “But this is important that [actions like passing the law] are done, because it’s not only about what women can do to get themselves a better place at the table, it’s about what institutions can do.”

This gendered wage gap has even been found to exist among Penn’s faculty.

A February report filed by the University’s Senate Committee on Economic Status of the Faculty, showed a “persistent gender gap in faculty salaries at Penn.” The report found that female full professors are being paid approximately 9 percent less than their male counterparts of equal rank. They are also paid a “distressing” 2 to 3 percent less than their male counterparts of equal rank in the same field.

When asked if the new law would help address Penn’s pay inequality, Madden was cautiously optimistic. She speculated that much of Penn’s inequality was rooted in inquiries about salary history.

“I worked on a case at one of our competitor universities where women at the school were suing [over pay discrimination]. And what was a strong explainer of why they had lower salaries, was the salaries they had at their previous jobs,” Madden said. “So that could well be the case at Penn.”

In an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Vice President for Human Resources Jack Heuer detailed what steps the University would take to implement the law into its employment practices.

“Penn’s Human Resource Division will modify our online application system to be in compliance,” Heuer said. “We will also conduct training and communicate revised procedures to hiring throughout the University.”

Before the law was signed, Vice President Heuer noted that Penn was “steadfast in its dedication to an equitable workplace” in an earlier emailed statement. He also explained how wage history was useful for all parties in the application process.

“When an applicant volunteers their salary history, it is a useful tool for determining where a candidate falls within the University’s established salary ranges,” Heuer previously said. “[Wage history] helps manage the expectations of both the applicant and the hiring manager.”

Councilman Greenlee was not convinced by this argument.

“I still disagree with what your folks at Penn said,” Greenlee said in response to Heuer’s statement. “[The bill] doesn’t stop negotiation or discussion in any sense. It just doesn’t allow what we fear is an unfair start to that conversation.”

Madden acknowledged that businesses may be inconvenienced by the new law. However, she felt that the strides it makes in promoting equality are more important.

“It may have a negative effect on local business,” Madden said. “But the effect the law will have on equity for women will be much stronger.”

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