people sitting near a laptop that says progression framework

Eliminate Pay Gaps with a Progression Framework

Align engineers, clarify growth opportunities, eliminate pay gaps

Resource download:

PDF IconDownload this PDF file to get an example progression framework for full-stack software engineers.

Many engineering groups have a process around progression and promotion that is relatively opaque. They do not have a concept of levels, and team members never quite know exactly where they stand. In this model, the expectation is that leadership is supposed to “do the right thing” in a system that relies on trust.

Workplace Rights

All people deserve to know where they stand and how they can grow. They want to develop new skills that are valued by their employer and the market in general.

Most importantly, people demand equal pay for equal work.

Equity Without Uniform Assessment?

As a manager, I can say that if you aren’t using a progression framework and haven’t leveled your team members, then you are almost definitely not treating your team fairly. Women and people of color tend to get lower pay for the same work, even in organizations that appear very progressive.[1]

Imagine a two-member engineering team with a woman paid $120k per year and a man earning $140k. Is this equitable? Are they performing similar work at the same level of expertise? Without a clear concept of leveling, it is somewhat unknowable. Typically, over time, team members share their salary details, and any gaps lead to mistrust in leadership and eroded morale.

Another scenario: a person starts with little experience but has progressed significantly over time. If they aren’t a strong advocate for themselves, will they get a raise? Sometimes the least likely team members to request an increase are the most deserving.


If you are creating a progression framework (career framework, engineering ladder, etc.) I have a few recommendations:

  • Start with a spreadsheet — you may not need a dedicated website or paid service to get this done.
  • Get rid of terms like junior/senior in favor of something simplistic like I, II, III, IV.
  • It’s easiest if your team is full-stack, and you don’t have to create separate leveling for front-end/back-end.
  • Make a row for every concept, and explain how it applies (or doesn’t) to each level.
  • Build into the framework lessons that you’ve learned from managing your team. For example, near the top of mine, I have “works on front-end and back-end tasks as needed” because I don’t want people to be surprised when they get asked to work outside of their comfort zone.
  • Circulate to your team and incorporate their feedback. You will achieve more buy-in if people feel that they can have some ownership of this criteria and process.
  • Launch with something reasonable and expect to iterate over time.

Surprise Benefits

With the progression framework established, a lot of other things will fall into place as well. For example, it is easier to create job descriptions and structured interview questions when you’ve gone through the process of creating a progression framework.


  1. Sheth, S., Gal, S., Hoff, M (2020), Business Insider. 7 charts that show the glaring gap between men's and women's salaries in the US.

About the Author

Ryan's FaceRyan Mahoney is the director of technology for the customer-facing technology department of state of Massachusetts’ public transportation agency. He has spent the past two decades leading engineering teams as a founder, director, manager, and tech lead working with brilliant engineers that make positive impacts with their work.

More Posts in Management