Designing a Comparable Worth Based Job Evaluation System: Failure of an a Priori Approach

By Tompkins, Jonathan; Brown, Joyce et al. | Public Personnel Management, Spring 1990 | Go to article overview

Designing a Comparable Worth Based Job Evaluation System: Failure of an a Priori Approach


Tompkins, Jonathan, Brown, Joyce, McEwen, John H., Public Personnel Management


Designing a Comparable Worth Based Job Evaluation System: Failure of an a priori Approach

The State of Montana recently embarked on a project to develop a new job evaluation system explicitly embracing recommendations emerging from the comparable worth literature. The State's experience shows that while establishing a single, point-factor job evaluation system using an a priori approach may make sense from a pay equity perspective, such a system will not necessarily serve an organization's political and administrative objectives. A policy-capturing approach corrected to remove gender bias may prove a better means of pursuing the goal of pay equity.

Many public sector employers are reexamining their job evaluation and pay practices in response to recently expressed concerns regarding pay equity. Job evaluation plans are at the center of attention both because they have been found to contain gender biases and because they remain the principal means for establishing the comparability of jobs in order to achieve greater pay equity.(1)

A study by the National Academy of Sciences(2) identified several impediments to the use of job evaluation as a means of promoting pay equity. First, most employers use a different job evaluation plan for each major job category. This practice makes it difficult to compare all jobs in the workforce for purposes of assuring pay equity. Second, the selection of factors and factor weights in most plans is designed to reflect market wage relationships. As a result, the use of such factors and factor weights will serve to institutionalize any gender biases contained in prevailing market rates. Finally, job evaluations are highly subjective in their application and gender biases may be introduced at any number of steps in the process. Faced with these impediments, some comparable worth proponents advocate designing a single system that would allow evaluation of all jobs in a given workforce, selecting factors and factor weights employing an a priori approach rather than a policy-capturing approach, and analyzing each step in the design and implementation of the job evaluation system for evidence of gender bias.(3)

In an interesting example of how policy research can influence government decisions, Montana recently embarked on a project to develop a new job evaluation system explicitly embracing recommendations emerging from the comparable worth literature. This article focuses on efforts in Montana to develop a single, point-factor job evaluation system for state employees using an a priori approach. It reviews the steps in the development of the system and analyzes problems encountered. A principal theme developed here is that while establishing a single, point-factor job evaluation system using an a priori approach may make sense from a pay equity perspective, in the final analysis such a system may not serve the organization's political and administrative objectives.

The a priori and Policy Capturing Approaches

The terms "a priori" and "policy capturing" refer to different approaches for selecting factors and factor weights. Because the National Academy of Sciences study[4] identified this part of the job evaluation process as an important potential source of gender bias, much discussion has centered on how best to select factors and their weights. In general terms, an a priori approach involves designing a job evaluation plan from scratch or purchasing a consultant's system in which factors and factor weights are set in advance without any reference to the employer's existing wage rates. A policy-capturing approach, by contrast, involves deriving factors and factor weights from statistical analysis of the employer's current wage structure to assure that the job hierarchy produced by the new system will not deviate greatly from the current job hierarchy. An a priori approach is preferred by many comparable worth advocates who believe prevailing wage rates contain gender biases that may become institutionalized if a policy-capturing approach is employed. …

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