Race Matters in Pay Negotiations

By: Keaton Fletcher

Within the United States, there exists a racial pay gap, such that a college-educated Black man can expect to earn about 80% of what a college-educated White man will earn, on average (Pew Research Center, 2016). A recent paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Hernandez, Avery, Volpone, & Kaiser, 2019) explored potential psychological explanations for why this might be the case. In the first of three studies, the authors presented participants with one of two identical resumes, along with an image of the supposed applicant (either a Black or White man). Participants were somewhat less likely to expect the Black man to negotiate for a higher salary if they reported higher levels of bias against Black individuals. In a second experiment, the authors had participants role play as job seekers or recruiters, negotiating the salary, vacation time, job location, and other aspects of the job. Black participants we seen as negotiating slightly more than White participants if their partner reported high levels of racial bias. Black, but not White, participants who were seen as negotiating more were penalized and received lower salaries. In their final study, participants engaged in an online negotiation with a computer that was represented by either a Black or White male avatar. In general, if a participant felt like their partner negotiated more, they were less likely to acquiesce to the request and provided lower salaries to the computer. This was not the case if the computer was represented by a White avatar, but was if the avatar was Black. More research is definitely needed on the nature of this phenomenon (i.e., is it more prevalent in certain fields) and ways to combat it (i.e., certain tactics Black individuals can use to negotiate without being penalized, steps companies can take to ensure fair and non-biased negotiation practices). Regardless, this is certainly an issue worth further discussing.

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