Why Job Description Matters for Pay Equity

Written by Heather Bussing

February 14, 2022

Why Job Description Matters for Pay Equity

Pay equity is not just a good idea; it's the law.

The Equal Pay Act makes it illegal to pay people who do the same work differently based on gender. Title VII, the ADA, the ADEA and other laws prohibit discrimination based on other protected factors such as race, religion, disability and age, including discrimination in pay. Most states have similar discrimination laws.

Over 20 states and many cities also have laws designed to prevent pay disparities, such as prohibiting asking a candidate about past salary. This avoids perpetuating pay equity gaps at prior jobs.

Pay equity is also a really good idea. Getting pay right is an essential component of DE&I as well as recruiting, retention, and staying competitive in the talent market.

Why job descriptions are the key to pay equity

Pay equity is about figuring out whether people doing the same work are paid the same. Except, no two jobs are ever really the same. Even jobs with the same titles can look very different in action.

So, we look at whether the work is "comparable." Comparable work means the job functions require substantially equal skills, responsibilities, and effort.

  • Skill refers to the experience, ability, education, and training required to perform the job.
  • Effort means the amount of physical or mental exertion needed to perform the job.
  • Responsibility refers to the degree of accountability or duties required in performing the job.

Some states also look at whether the jobs have comparable working conditions, which includes the physical environment and exposure to hazards.

It's a lot to try to figure out, which is why having complete, accurate job descriptions can make a huge difference. If you have a reliable source of the skills, effort, and responsibilities for each job, determining pay equity becomes a lot less daunting.

Where to start

A job architecture, including job level, job family (type of work), job title and code provides a framework for organizing, aligning, and evaluating jobs within an organization. This gives you the general type of work and level of responsibility.

Then you need accurate detail on what is involved in the work. This includes:

  • knowledge, skills, abilities, effort needed
  • manager/supervisor responsibilities if any
  • interaction with others (internal and external)
  • machines and equipment used
  • special skills or license requirements
  • years of experience

Don't just copy whatever already exists in your system. It is likely a mashup of job ads, workers' compensation codes and physical requirements, the org chart, and assorted other pieces that get created along the way.

What you want is comprehensive, well organized, and consistent job descriptions that all use the same words for the same things so you can get accurate comparisons.

Job description software can streamline the process

You don't have to do all the work. There are great tools out there that can help you streamline getting your job descriptions in shape.

Job description management software will help you create new or edit existing job descriptions and organize them into levels or groups to determine comparable work. Good job description management software will have a library of job descriptions and suggestions for language to describe effort, skills, and responsibilities.

Compensation software will help you add pay into your job descriptions. You want to be able to compare internal jobs for pay equity and compare external pay to understand the market to stay competitive.

If you don't have in-house expertise, there are compensation consultants who are experts in establishing frameworks, conducting job leveling, and guiding you to evaluate comparable work across the organization.

Keep job descriptions up to date

Your teams, the work, and even jobs are not static. People leave, new people are hired at different salaries, the work changes, and new jobs are created. The job you have today may not have even existed the first time someone asked you what you want to be when you grow up.

So, monitoring pay equity gaps is a continual process that also depends on keeping your job descriptions up to date.

Having complete and accurate job descriptions is worth the initial effort. And having the right tools makes all the difference in being able to assess both pay equity and the right pay for the position.

How Job Architect can help's JobArchitect can help you update or create new inclusive job descriptions with a comprehensive job content library, job description templates, and Bias Check. These tools make it easy to quickly edit existing job descriptions, check for hidden bias, including race, gender, and age, and organize them by levels or groups.

Then you can analyze roles with side-by-side comparisons of skills, effort and responsibilities and easily update as roles evolve.'s CompAnalyst integrates with JobArchitect so you can build and compare pay ranges and create salary and job structures for each description. You're not just comparing titles; you are getting comprehensive analysis of both your internal pay equity and external compensation intelligence.

Learn more or get a demo of JobArchitect.

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about the author
Heather Bussing is a California employment lawyer and analyst in the HRTech industry. She writes regularly at and loves helping organizations prevent problems and build more human friendly workplaces. She also loves photography and posts a landscape every morning on twitter @heatherbussing.

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