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In the pursuit of career equity, you need a career framework

By Mariann Madden | March 14, 2023

Well defined career frameworks provide fair opportunities for workplace advancement and compensation, help address pay transparency laws and improve performance.
Inclusion-and-Diversity|Health and Benefits|Compensation Strategy & Design|Career Analysis and Design

The battle for career equity in the U.S. began in the aftermath of the Civil War. Myra Bradwell was the first woman to pass the Illinois bar exam in 1869 but was refused a license to practice law because she was a woman and could not enter into contracts without her husband’s consent. Bradwell took her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against her in April 1873. She finally received her law license in 1890 following the Illinois legislature’s passing of the 1872 state law opening all professions to women and the Illinois Supreme Court granting her the license.

A lot has changed since Bradwell’s fight for career equity. In 120 countries including the U.S., women are free to pursue any career. Yet even with laws protecting against gender discrimination at the federal, state and local levels, women still face career and pay gaps in the U.S. and across the globe. For example, to earn what the average U.S. man earns in a year, women in the U.S. have to work more than 70 additional days. This is what has become known as Equal Pay Day and this year the U.S. Equal Pay Day falls on March 14.

Let’s consider what you as an employer can do to provide fair opportunities for advancement and pay in the workplace so we can eliminate career, pay and wealth gaps.

The importance of career frameworks

The first and possibly the most important step you, as an employer, can take to improve career equity is to create a foundational career framework.

Career framework provides a robust definition of work in the organization. - description below

Career Framework organizes, visualizes and enables strategic integration or people and programs; built on a defined Work Architecture, which defines work within the organization.

It is comprised of three components – Leveling (the scope and impact of work) – Job Architecture (the groupings of work based on common knowledge) and Knowledge Architecture (the competencies or skills aligned to work).

Career framework provides a robust definition of work in the organization.

Career frameworks provide organizations with a systematic and consistent process to organize jobs and classify their varying contributions across the organization. Career frameworks make comparing roles across an organization easier and provides a way to identify the inputs needed to conduct a pay equity analysis. And you can use the framework to design or update your talent and total rewards programs.

Employees also benefit. You can use the framework to help them understand available opportunities across the organization. In organizations without a defined career framework, the definition of a promotion is often unclear. As a result, the pay grade is often the qualifier to determine a promotion. Using pay grade can cause inequities in career advancement, pay and the overall wealth accumulated over the course of a women’s career (see also wealth equity gap). In contrast, organizations with a career framework are able to use job levels as the basis for a promotion with a job change since job levels within the framework are based on well-defined leveling criteria.

Career frameworks help address pay transparency laws

A well-defined career framework makes complying with regulations to address career equity easier. Pay transparency laws are changing talent and pay management practices. For example, Colorado, New York City and New York State’s pay transparency laws require employers to post promotional job opportunities. These regulations are prodding organizations to:

  • Improve career and pay management and governance
  • Evaluate and refine their talent and pay management processes and practices
  • Plan, budget and share promotional job opportunities with employees

Bradwell was the first to challenge the courts regarding gender roles in an effort to pursue a career. While she was challenging social norms, you may need to challenge your organization’s cultural norms. If a shift in your culture is needed, it will be important that you set your ambitions and outline your roadmap for how you will achieve your commitments to pay and career equity. This can involve development, analysis, evaluation, change and monitoring of your career and total rewards programs, and is often a multi-disciplinary effort of your talent, total rewards and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) teams. But the payoff is enduring as it will create an objective and unbiased career framework on which to base your career and pay decisions.


North America Pay Equity Co-Lead
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