This is why women and men can’t negotiate salary the same way

“What did you make at your previous job?” This salary negotiation question is a minefield for every candidate, but it’s a question that disproportionally hurts women, a new study has found.

In PayScale’s survey of 15,000 full-time workers, about half of the participants said they’d been asked this question. While men who refused to disclose what they earned were rewarded with 1.2% higher salaries, women who did the same suffered. Women who didn’t disclose their salaries saw a 1.8% decrease in their final offers compared to men.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Research has proven time and again that disclosing your salary particularly hurts women and minorities. Millennial women already start their careers at a disadvantage, earning about 90 cents on average for every millennial man’s dollar. Critics of the salary question have argued that basing future earnings on past salaries will only exacerbate this cycle, and ensure that this disparity will follow women throughout their careers.

Because it perpetuates pay inequity, the state of Massachusetts and the cities of New York City and Philadelphia have even instituted laws that forbid employers from asking about employers’ current or past salaries.

But until this movement catches on to the rest of the nation, the burden will fall unfairly to the individual, who is getting conflicting advice on all sides.

The PayScale study proves that the previous advice of not disclosing hurts women just as much as disclosing. In general, women who use the same negotiation tactics as men are negatively perceived as “pushy” or “assertive.” PayScale suggested that this negative perception follows women into salary negotiations. PayScale’s Lydia Frank told Bloomberg that PayScale believes recruiters think women who don’t disclose salary numbers are being non-collaborative or are proving that they make low figures.

Women can dodge answering the question directly by offering a salary range or countering that their previous job is not comparable to the job they’re applying for. But the ultimate solution that will help women is a fair unbiased hiring process. And for that to happen, employers need to stop asking.