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Aon Compensation Project Updates

RISD engaged Aon, an independent third-party expert, to help us further modernize our staff compensation program to ensure that it is fair and equitable and enables us to recruit and retain employees. Aon’s work will also make certain that we are in compliance with compensation laws, including pay equity legislation that was recently passed in Rhode Island.

This project involves three phases, which collectively support RISD’s commitment to being an equitable workplace: 

  1. Conducting a comprehensive pay equity review (recently completed)
  2. Establishing a new salary grade system (in process)
  3. Developing career pathways that will inform career advancement (expected in 2024)

Phase 1: Conducting a comprehensive pay equity review (completed)

During Phase 1, Aon completed a pay equity review, which consisted of a rigorous analysis of all of our non-temporary staff positions. After completing their review, Aon recommended pay adjustments for 24 staff totaling approximately $46,000. RISD has already implemented those adjustments and communicated with the impacted employees accordingly.


In practice, pay equity means paying employees with similar job functions comparably similar wages, regardless of their identity. Pay equity looks at the wages of comparable internal positions that require substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility and ensures that differences in wages, if any, are based on permissible factors.

The state of Rhode Island recently passed legislation defining what those permissible factors may be. They include, among other factors, education, training and experience to the extent that such factors are job related and consistent with a business need, a merit system where pay increases are based on performance and a seniority system that looks at years of service with the employer.

If you have not been contacted, Aon confirmed that your pay is equitable in accordance with pay equity standards. 

College-wide studies, like the one Aon just completed in Phase 1 above, will occur every three to four years. In addition, when a new job description is created, a pay range will be determined for the role based on the external market and pay equity for comparable positions.

View the April 28th memo for more information about RISD’s comprehensive pay equity review.

Phase 2:  Establishing a new salary grade system (in process)

In Phase 2, Aon was engaged to replace RISD’s current salary grade system with a more modernized structure by completing a current market analysis of a significant percentage of our staff union and non-union positions. A salary grade system defines the pay ranges for groups of jobs and supports pay equity and transparency.

The new salary grade system has been drafted to include one exempt (salaried) and one non-exempt (hourly) grade structure, replacing the existing three grade structures. Two structures simplify the system while making it possible to display rates in the same increments that wages are typically quoted; the exempt grade structure is displayed in increments of annual base salary and the non-exempt grade structure is displayed in hourly rates of pay. Individual jobs have been mapped to a grade in the new system, and this summer, final grade assignments will be completed.

Once the new salary grade system is finalized in fall 2023, it will be shared with the campus community and published on the Human Resources website. HR will then hold open sessions where employees can learn more about the salary grade system and ask questions. All staff will be individually informed of their new grade and the accompanying salary range for their position.


A salary grade defines the pay range (lower and upper limits) for a group of jobs. Grades help to inform the pay for a position and foster pay transparency.

Salary grade structures are a collection of salary grades that visually display a framework of pay.

A position is assigned to a salary grade based on market data and internal equity.

Market data is external information on the salaries for a given type of work, often based on geographical area or industry. RISD obtains this information from market surveys that are refreshed regularly to ensure that data is current. These surveys provide pay data that can be filtered by industry, geography and organization type and size. The surveys also provide job summaries, which ensures that RISD’s job description duties, functions and requirements are in alignment with the survey job to which they are compared.

Internal equity is the identification and comparison of similar positions within an organization to ensure fair pay. Internal equity is determined by considering the pay for comparable internal RISD positions, or pay for those positions requiring substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility.

For a new role, managers work with Human Resources to create a description that captures a role's responsibilities and appropriate requirements.

For updates to existing job descriptions, managers work with HR to make needed adjustments with, when appropriate, the input of employees, who have first hand knowledge of the details of the work. If an employee feels their job description doesn’t reflect their current responsibilities, they should speak with their manager.

An individual’s job-related qualifications (such as their education, training or experience, to the extent that such factors are job related and operationally necessary, performance/merit and other permissible factors) may have bearing on the pay rate assigned.

Exempt employees are paid a set salary amount regardless of the number of hours worked. Non-exempt employees are compensated based on the specific number of hours they work in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. Because of those differences, rates of pay for exempt employees are described in terms of annualized base wages while non-exempt employees are quoted in terms of hourly rate of pay.

Implementing the new salary grade structures will not result in widespread pay changes for staff, meaning the vast majority's pay rates will not change.  There may be a few select positions which will require that an individual's pay be adjusted to align with the new grade structure.  Implementing the new grade structures will not result in any pay decreases.

View the New Salary Grade Review open session recording for more information.

Phase 3:  Developing career pathways that will inform career advancement (in process, completion expected in 2024)

In the third phase of the project, Aon was tasked with developing a career progression framework which will create clarity regarding the type and complexity of work at various points along the path. 

More information about this phase will be added as the project progresses.