Use Your Privilege for Good [As a Job Seeker]

This post will apply most directly to the non-profit field, but I have a feeling it will also be relevant to many other sorts of work.

Some organizations and companies like to play little power games when they post job openings, and the Recession and the desperation caused by high unemployment rates has only emboldened them in their unethical behavior. My biggest beef at the moment is with information about pay. How many of you job seekers have noticed that many employers don’t list any salary/wage information in their job postings? And of course if you inquire about that information up front, you’re automatically discarded as a trouble-maker.

Employers weaponize pay by creating information asymmetry: they refuse to provide any information, but then state that they will only consider applicants to divulge pay history or pay requirements in their initial applications. That way, they have all the cards in their hands and you have none. They can, in secret and from the outset, only consider applicants who grossly undervalue themselves. Of course, employers know that in these tough times, there will always be at least one, if not several applicants who are willing to undersell themselves out of simple desperation.

Employers who do this are unethical and have control issues. To job seekers, job postings that set up this information asymmetry should serve as red flags indicating work places where secrecy, hierarchy, disrespect of workers, and other poor management behaviors are probably present.

However, sometimes you are desperate and have to accept a job even if your human dignity won’t be respected. I get that.

Do a little personal assessment here. Does your identity, or people’s perception of your identity, provide you with societal privileges? Are you light-skinned? Male? Able-bodied? Hetero? And etc. If you have identities which are privileged in society, here’s what you can do as a job seeker. You can hold the line. You can refuse to play the employers’ game. You can give your real pay history. You can state an appropriate pay requirement in your cover letter. You can even proactively write to employers who engage in this behavior and say, “I noticed that you omitted the salary range you are offering for this position. Would you be able to post that or share that information with me so that I can assess whether this job is a good fit?”

People with marginalized and oppressed identities are already at a disadvantage in the job market, and will be extremely loathe to add to their disadvantages by being bold on this issue. But people with privileged identities can use their advantage for the good of all job seekers by calling out this employer behavior and refusing to undervalue their labor.

If you are currently employed and have any decision-making power around hiring practices, you can help out by stopping this practice. Encourage your company or organization to demonstrate transparency and good faith by publicly posting pay information with any job listing. And remember, paying a living wage is a human rights obligation!


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