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Interviewing Candidates is a Matter of Justice.

1 September 2015

I am now deep into the hiring process for my position here at MECMC. This is the first time that I’ve been in a position to offer variable compensation for a job. That is, I get to decide (within bounds) what the person working for me is going to earn. the few times I’ve hired student interns for pay, I suppose that’s been basically true, but it’s been at the level of, “I have $2000, please give me 10 hours a week for 12 weeks.” Now, I’m hiring for a position where I’m going to be presumably furnishing a person’s entire livelihood.

That means I have some incentives. Currently, I don’t have autonomous budgetary control. Meaning, my department head is the one who has signing authority for what a person is going to make, but we’re working on establishing my own budget for my own activities and reports, and that means that however much I pay someone is less money for my laboratory. My budget will have to cover software, supplies, travel, publications, etc., in addition to personnel. So if I pay someone $5,000 more, that’s a conference we can’t go to.

As this is my first time hiring, and I’ve only gotten to the point where I’ve found a couple of candidates worth interviewing, hereafter we are in the realm of anecdote, rather than evidence. But my anecdote seems to align cleanly with the evidence I’ve been informed of regarding the differences in men’s and women’s salary requests.

Candidate X is male, qualified, confident, and represents himself well. He asked for a salary right in line with what I am expecting to offer. His upper end is a little toward my high side, his lower end a little toward my low side. If I make him an offer, I’ll offer just above his floor and give him room to negotiate. Candidate Y is female, qualified, and comes across as tentative but professional. She asked for a salary more than $25,000 less than my absolute floor, set by my institution, for the minimum I’m allowed to offer.

Whether or not I end up offering her the job, I’m going to tell her that when interviewing for jobs like this one, she needs to double her asking price. There’s a lot of research around why women tend to make less than men for the same job. While the gap between men’s and women’s salaries for the same job and same qualifications has narrowed considerably in the past decades, it persists. One reason (among many) is that women tend to ask for much less money.

Given the incentives that any employer has, it’s hard to say that employers should pay people more than they ask for, as a general rule. But that’s sort of what employers do: hiring men at higher salaries than women who are equally qualified but ask for less money. Which is kind of perplexing to me. From a strictly financial point of view, shouldn’t the employer hire the woman at a low wage rather than the man at the higher one? It’s really easy to find equally qualified men and women these days. If the women are less costly, why not go with an all-female workforce?

Then there’s the issue that I work for a wealthy, prestigious institution. While my own department’s budget is strict, I see no reason to fight for the lowest possible salary in a new hire. MECMC will be just fine; we’re not a small business struggling to make ends meet. I don’t mind taking a little bit less in the way of conference and publication money if it means that I can pay my people well. And I don’t doubt my ability to advocate for conference and publication funds from my institution when they see the value I bring for them.

So, I’m still in the interview process. But I feel that justice demands I let this young woman know that she’s severely compromising her future earnings by setting such a low floor for herself. She’s undervaluing her ability to contribute. I hope that doesn’t make me just another man with (some) power telling a woman what to do.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. scitrigrrl permalink
    1 September 2015 08:05

    IMO that makes you someone giving extremely valuable feedback in a situation that we almost never get feedback from. If I got turned down for a job, and someone said something like “by the way you were a strong candidate and you are extremely undervaluing your skills – you should be asking for higher salary, this is the range I’d expect for this type of job” I’d be surprised, but I would definitely remember that and ask for more in the future..

  2. 1 September 2015 13:58

    It is commendable that you are happy to pay people higher salaries in exchange for missing a few conferences, as you put it. Get back to us about how you feel when your decision is between paying people higher salaries and laying people off/hiring fewer people. It’s a lot tougher!

    • 1 September 2015 14:11

      As of now, that’s not on the horizon, nor is it likely to be. When on hard money instead of soft, I can’t simply decide to hire more people at a lower reimbursement rate, even if the budget has flexibility. Each FTE has to be approved individually, regardless of salary. Budgets for FTEs are just done completely differently.

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