Government & Politics

Kansas City Council takes on gender pay gap, bars employers from asking wage history

Photo illustration showing a gender gap and inequality in salary.
Photo illustration showing a gender gap and inequality in salary. Bigstock

Starting this fall, Kansas City employers will be barred from asking about a job applicant’s salary history under a city ordinance approved Thursday that sponsors hope will help narrow the gender pay gap.

Kansas City women, according to the measure passed by the City Council, make just over 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. That’s wider than the average pay gap nationwide and puts Kansas City behind most large U.S. metros for pay equity.

“We cannot accept this,” said Alice Kitchen, of the Women’s Equality Coalition. “So our reasons for posing this is that it is just, it is fair, it is the right thing to do. This will end disparity in the future hires, and this will reduce legal liability.”

Barring employers from asking for salary history, according to supporters, would help narrow that pay gap. Hiring managers, Kitchen said, are unconsciously tempted to set new employees’ salaries based on their previous ones. The phenomenon, which she called “anchoring,” means women who are underpaid at one job are then continuously underpaid because new jobs tie their salaries to previous rates.

“The impact is to reduce disparities at the front end,” Kitchen said. “By not asking the question, you’re not creating forthcoming disparity.”

The ordinance, sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, 1st District at-large, passed the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee unanimously Thursday morning and sailed through a 12-0 council vote. Councilman Kevin McManus, 6th District, was absent.

Like the “ban the box” prohibition against employers asking about criminal history,which the council passed last year, this proposal is intended to give applicants a better shot at employment and pay equity.

Wagner told the committee barring the question would ensure salaries are based on market demand and skill, not previous salaries. He noted employers often ask job candidates about their salary histories.

“And it is the position that we’re taking today through this ordinance that when you do so, you basically negotiate against yourself almost from the very beginning,” Wagner said.

Kendall Seal, vice president of research and policy and general counsel for the Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation, said women also suffer when they return to the workforce after taking time off to take care of children or other family members.

Kate Heinen said requesting salary information “contributes to the cycle of poverty” and “kick-starts the trajectory” of a person’s lifetime earnings. She said her profession is also affected by salary history collection.

“As a social worker or even as a nonprofit worker, my profession falls into what’s commonly called the pink collar sector of care-giving roles, like nurses and teachers,” Heinen said. “And we are also often disproportionately impacted by low-wage earnings and therefore biases based on salary history collection.”

The council passed a resolution last year barring the city from asking for salary history information in its own employment process. Now, it’s enacting the policy city-wide for all employers.

According to the American Association of University Women, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, Puerto Rico and Vermont bar all employers in the state from collecting salary information. Other states have enacted policies that don’t allow state agencies to do so but don’t affect private employers.

Several counties in New York, New York City, San Francisco and Philadelphia prohibit employers city-wide from asking about salary, although Philadelphia’s ban is tied up in court.

At the same time, the city is preparing to conduct a study of gender pay equity within its rank and file. Well over a year after the proponents first approached the council, the city has a contract with Segal Waters Consulting, which will begin work June 1, according to city spokesman Chris Hernandez.

This story has been updated to reflect that Heinen was speaking for herself and not as representative of an organization.

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