As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government has often tried to lead the charge for greater workplace diversity and equity. This has led to many changes over the years. Recently, it has led to a mixed reception for a new job posting with the Justice Department.
As the Government Executive reports, the Justice Department recently listed its Chief Diversity Officer position. The position exists to support the federal government’s efforts to promote greater diversity. However, as some have already noted, the listing uses a tactic linked to discrimination.
The problem with the Chief Diversity Officer job listing
In one sense, the job posting marks a step forward. The Justice Department created the position to promote greater diversity. This brings the Justice Department toward compliance with a recent executive order. In another sense, the job posting suggests the Justice Department might not be trying as hard as it could. The same executive order that called for the creation of the Chief Diversity Officer position also pushed the OPM to consider banning salary histories from job listings. Yet, the Justice Department’s job listing asks applicants to list their salary histories.
Job listings that ask for salary histories often promote discrimination. This is something researchers have known for a long time, and when federal agencies or other businesses ask for them, they promote continued pay gaps.
The problem, as American Progress notes, is that employers often use the information from the salary history to start negotiating their wage offers. As a result, employees may not get what they’re worth. They may only get the fraction of what they’re worth that corresponds with their race or gender. Compared to Caucasian men, other workers often earn significantly less.
For every dollar a white man earns:
- Women earn $0.82
- Hispanic men earn $0.91
- Black men earn $0.87
- Black women earn $0.63
- Hispanic women earn $0.55
These are the values that American Progress and the Society for Human Resource Management cite for workers of equivalent skill. You can see how they perpetuate wage gaps by forcing some people to start salary negotiations from a much weaker position.
Yes, wage gaps are discrimination in action
Discrimination in the workplace takes all forms. It’s not just about hiring and firing. Promotions, demotions, work assignments, punitive measures and salary adjustments can all be forms of discrimination. The key is whether any of these target a protected class, such as race, gender, disability or religious background.
Wage gaps exist because of long-standing, structural discrimination. That’s why the current administration asked the OPM to ban agencies from asking for salary histories. Salary histories can perpetuate wage gaps. And that’s why it is sad and ironic that the Justice Department decided to have applicants for its Chief Diversity Officer position list their salary histories.