Does Ending Salary Negotiations Make Pay More Fair?

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Most lawyers I know hate the very concept of negotiating their salaries. Does it matter who names a number first? What types of compensation do they hold firm on? Where can they be flexible? What are the ramifications? 

Well, you'll be relieved to know there's quite a bit of angst about salary negotiation on the other side of the hiring table as well.

There's a lot of talk among employers about whether salary negotiations should be banned. The idea of the ban is routed in fairness: women and people of color are generally paid less and often socially punished for negotiations, and small pay discrepancies build over time. Plus, just because a person is a better salary negotiator doesn't mean he'll be a better employee (unless, of course, his job will be to negotiate salaries!). So ending salary negotiations should make compensation more fair across the board, right?

Not so fast.

Joanne Sammer's "Take It or Leave It: Should Salary Discussions Be a One-Way Street? Banning salary negotiations won’t necessarily level the playing field" in SHRM's HR Magazine takes a look at the arguments in favor and against salary negotiations. One thing Ken Abosch, compensation practice leader at Aon Hewitt, notes is that paying everyone the same may actually be bad for morale since it potentially reduces incentives to work harder.

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Ultimately, the experts interviewed recommended companies do four things:

  • Make the negotiation process more understandable and egalitarian
  • Communicate employer expectations
  • Treat people respectfully
  • Get transparent

Of course, it remains to be seen how many employers -- much less law firms and corporate legal departments -- implement these suggestions. In the meantime, every lawyer should build up salary negotiation skills.