How many times have you seen a job ad for a role that looks interesting, might be relevant to your skills and experience, but then you get to the “salary” section and all it says is “competitive”?

What do you do at that point? A lot of people will simply not bother applying – after all, wanting to increase their salary is the reason 70% of people are looking to leave their current role, so they want to know what salary a potential new employer is offering. Applying for jobs is pretty much a full-time job in itself, so who can blame anyone for not wanting to waste their time on a role that might be paying nowhere near what they’re looking for.

For those that do go ahead and apply, the “competitive salary” listing poses a problem. At some point in the process, they will be asked what salary they are looking for, or they will be made an offer. What to do then? Try to find out what other people at the same level are being paid at that organisation? Negotiate to try to get the best salary they can? Or accept the offer and potentially find out later that they are being paid less than colleagues?

The issue is that negotiation is not a level playing field. Research shows that, when a white man negotiates on his salary, he is viewed positively – hiring teams describe him as assertive, dynamic, having leadership qualities, etc. This has led to all manner of content created on how women, people of colour and other underrepresented groups can be more assertive and hone their negotiation skills.

But it’s not that simple.

Research shows that when women or people of colour negotiate on their salary, they are viewed negatively – in these cases, hiring teams use words like aggressive, pushy, money-focused, and so on. Underrepresented groups are in a no-win situation. Keep quiet and accept a lower salary, or negotiate and maybe lose the job altogether.

Falling through the gaps

The gender pay gap in the UK currently stands at 15.4% – an increase from 14.9% in 2020.

The ethnicity pay gap is 4.1% for UK-born people from ethnic minority backgrounds, rising to 10.4% for those born outside the UK. In London, the ethnicity pay gap rises to 20%.

Not listing the salary on job ads gives employers a way to get talented people on the cheap, and allows them to pay some staff members less than their peers. And it’s serving to widen pay gaps, as the dominant groups are able to negotiate, but those already at a disadvantage when it comes to earnings cannot.

This isn’t helping everyone.

Salary secrecy is bad for business

It might be tempting to try to save a bit of money – why advertise that you can pay £40,000 p/a when you might be able to get a qualified candidate to agree to £35,000 p/a? The answer is, because that £5,000 really isn’t worth it.

If you’re not persuaded by the argument that inequality is wrong, here are some reasons why salary secrecy is hurting your recruitment process:

1. You won’t get the best candidates applying.

96% of LinkedIn users said that a salary listing was essential on job ads – this is something that really bothers job hunters. Those that have the skills and experience to go for the best jobs will focus on the ads that are most attractive – and that means the ones that show the salary and list the benefits.

2. You will create tension within your team.

Eventually, your staff are going to find out that they’re not being paid equally. If you think they don’t talk, you’re kidding yourself. The more you try to prevent them talking about their salaries, the more obvious you make it that you have something to hide (and it’s illegal, so don’t do it anyway). When the truth comes out, or even if there’s just a suspicion of unfairness in the air, then an atmosphere of resentment will start to fester. Your team are hardly going to be motivated to do their best for you, or support their colleagues. Productivity and quality are going to go waaaayyyy down.

3. You will increase staff churn

Remember how many people are leaving their current job because of low salary? If your staff feel unfairly paid, they’re not going to stick around. That means you’re going to have to recruit again (which costs money), you’re going to have to train their replacement (more money and time), and you’re going to lose all the knowledge that person has accumulated while they’ve been with you.

Be more than a number

But here’s the good news – salary isn’t actually the most important thing to most people. Despite the fact that plenty are looking to increase their salary, and no one wants to be paid unfairly, most people would actually rather their employer focused on other things.

Various studies have shown that people are prepared to take a pay cut to get:

  • Flexible working
  • Remote working
  • An employer that aligns with their values
  • A diverse and inclusive working environment
  • Benefits like health insurance, dental cover, gym memberships, etc. that benefit their health and wellbeing
  • More holiday
  • Better parental/carer leave and support

By focusing on your values and the type of organisation you want to be, you can create a far more attractive working environment to attract the best candidates than one where everyone feels pitted against each other over money.

And whilst research shows that underrepresented groups are viewed badly when they negotiate for an unlisted salary, the same research shows that if a salary band is stated and the job ad expressly mentions that negotiation is welcome, then that penalty for underrepresented groups disappears. Everyone is able to negotiate freely.


Have we convinced you? Salary secrecy is bad for everyone – let’s put a stop to it!

If you’re ready to put salaries, or salary bands, on your job ads and be transparent about what you’re offering, join our campaign and pledge to #SayThePay.

We will send you a badge to proudly display on your website, our guide to Inclusive Recruitment to help you attract and welcome a wider variety of people and we will list you on our website as a salary transparent employer.

You can also sign our petition to ask the government to make it a legal requirement for salaries to be listed on job ads.

Join the movement for a more equal workplace.