Five years ago, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to bar employers from asking a job applicant's salary history before offering them a job.
The historic step toward closing the wage gap that exists between men and women, and people of color, was part of an overhaul of the state's pay equity laws. The change took effect in July 2018, and was intended to ensure that lower salaries historically paid to women and minorities did not follow those workers their entire career as they changed jobs.
However, the question of how much an applicant earned at their old job has been replaced by a new inquiry from prospective employers, according to experts: What is your expectation for compensation?
"If you don't know what the job pays, you don't know what to ask for," said Nina Kimball, the immediate past chair of the Commission on the Status of Women.
The Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development heard testimony Tuesday from lawmakers and fair labor advocates about legislation (H 1950 / S 1208) that would would require employers to disclose the pay scale for a position to a job applicant or an employee who currently holds the position, if they request it.
The bills have been filed this session by the committee's co-chairs, Rep. Josh Cutler and Sen. Patricia Jehlen.
A similar piece of legislation advanced through the same committee last session, but stalled after the pandemic arrived. The newest version is being pitched as even more important now at time when many women, particularly women of color, are looking to reenter the workforce after being forced to leave jobs and careers during the COVID-19 pandemic to tend to child care and other responsibilities.
"What we need is an equitable way for them to reenter the workforce," Kimball said.
Megan Driscoll, the founder and former CEO of PharmaLogics Recruitment, told the committee about a client she once worked with who was interviewing for a job in the life sciences in Boston, attempting to make a move from upstate New York where she was earning $55,000 a year.
The client asked Driscoll if she thought it would be acceptable to request $65,000 from her new prospective employer. Driscoll told her to wait, and when she was ultimately offered the job it came with a salary of $145,000.
"The expectations candidates give are varied and often unrealistic," Driscoll said, telling lawmakers that men tend to be better at "shooting for the moon" in salary negotiations.
Driscoll said job seekers wouldn't be the only ones to benefit from the bill. Employers will also waste less time interviewing job candidates who turn down offers late in the process when salaries don't meet their expectations, she said.
The Cutler-Jehlen bill is backed by a host of organizations, including the Women's Bar Association, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts and chambers of commerce in Quincy, Springfield and Plymouth.
Nevada and Connecticut in recent weeks have both passed laws requiring employers to provide salary ranges to prospective employees at different stages in the interview process.
Quincy Chamber of Commerce President Tim Cahill, the former treasurer of Massachusetts, said it's important that existing employees have access to the same information as well.
"That is the number one challenge that our businesses face today. Hiring employees, but also keeping those that they have and my members and I believe this is away to do that," Cahill said.
Samuel Gebru, director of policy and public affairs for the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, said he supports the bill, and has been encouraged by the "growing trend" of employers adding salary ranges to job descriptions.
"Not doing so, frankly, is an archaic practice," Gebru said.
Karen Yee, a research and program manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said improving wage transparency will not only help to bring equity to the workplace, but increase job satisfaction and stop qualified employees from leaving.
Yee is a past president of the Massachusetts Association of Women in Science, and she said it took her several jobs and offers before she felt comfortable negotiating her salary, a trend that can hold women back since pay raises are often calculated based on a percentage of current salary.
Driscoll said one reason businesses might have for not wanting to disclose salary ranges for a position at their company is because they feel it would put them at a disadvantage to a competitor that is not disclosing salaries being paid for similar work.
This bill, she said, would put all employers on equal footing.
Attorney General Maura Healey also testified Tuesday in support of a Sen. Paul Feeney bill (S 1196) that would seek to address wage gaps by requiring employers with 100 or more full-time employees to annually report wage data to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, including breakdowns of employee earning by gender and race and the companies 10 highest earners. The data would be public, under the bill.
Healey said that at the current rate the gender wage gap won't be closed in Massachusetts until 2059, and it will take longer for women of color to achieve parity with white men.
"If we're going to build an equitable economy we have to begin by closing racial and ethnic wage gaps," Healey said, adding, "We cannot fix what you don't measure."