Is Salary Negotiation Inherently Inequitable?

May 12, 2022 | By Dana Nordyke, Ph.D.

silhouette of chess piece being placed on chess board

TAGS: best practices, career development, compensation, member voices, salaries, talent acquisition,

When a candidate is put in a situation to name a salary or negotiate a salary provided by the employer, the candidate is not being paid based on their merit and skills but rather on how well they handle a negotiation discussion. However, not everyone has resources to understand they should attempt to negotiate, which leads to many candidates accepting an initial offer that may be lower because many employers expect candidates to negotiate. This can have long-term ramifications for the employee, as well, because a lower starting wage means every time there is a percentage increase granted in pay, those who negotiated higher initially will increase more over time. The equity gap then continues to grow wider throughout the tenure in the position.

Given the power imbalance and specific skillset needed, the process of salary negotiation can be tricky for job seekers and typically benefits the employer. In fact, over the course of my time in career services, I have witnessed great candidates with strong skillsets—including introverts and those with less experience—shy away from the negotiation process for a variety of reasons. Some candidates are not comfortable leading such a conversation with a new employer before they are even in the role, or it may go against a candidate’s cultural norms to face others in a negotiation.

Many employers start the guessing game early in the process, expecting candidates to state a salary in the application or early in the interview process. However, many candidates may not want to be discounted before they are considered for their skills and merit, so they may aim lower than the market value for the position with the hopes of being considered, while others may simply not respond well to those questions, which can impact the hiring decision.

This all leads to an inherently inequitable hiring process. Addressing changes to ensure an equitable hiring process should include a discussion about salary negotiation. Why should a candidate be forced to guess at where to start in a negotiation when the employer knows the budget for the position and what number they need to bring a candidate in at in order to be equitable with existing employees and/or the market value for a position? Can we normalize including a real salary in the job posting rather than a number or range? “Competitive” is not a starting salary.

The resources for researching salaries vary (and candidates need to have access to the resources and know they exist), and not all candidates have access to the same resources that employers use to determine the market value of a position. There is also some confusion about whether a candidate should provide an exact number or a salary range; many employers add to the confusion by not making this clear during the salary discussion.

Many candidates also may not understand negotiations can potentially extend beyond just the salary and include anything from start date to hours and modality of work to continuing education expenses. Everything a candidate “in-the-know” negotiates for that another candidate doesn’t even know to ask for is inequitable, and it goes far beyond the salary.

Candidates are demanding more of employers. As educators, we have worked to try to inform our students about the salary negotiation process, but we cannot possibly reach them all. What about other job seekers without campus resources to rely on? As career services and human resource professionals, is it time to take a stand against salary negotiation? There is a reason buying vehicles online is a huge trend. The amount the vehicle costs is clearly stated, and a buyer knows they will pay that amount. They do not have to negotiate for a fair price. When will position postings include a real salary that does not require knowledge of or expertise in negotiation in order to have a fair and equitable starting wage?

Dana Nordyke, Ph.D., joined the Washburn University Career Services advising staff in August 2019 after 10 years in career services at Kansas State University (K-State). She recently completed a Ph.D. in counseling and student development from K-State. Dana has been active in the Kansas Association of Colleges and Employers (KACE), serving on the board of directors and as president. She has presented at local, regional, and national conferences. In her free time, she enjoys college football and basketball games, boating, traveling, and being with family and friends. You can connect with Dana on LinkedIn at