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Equity vs. Equality

Similar to the terms “diversity” and “inclusion”, “equity” and “equality” are often conflated and confused for one another, but they are very different terms with far reaching implications in the workplace. A quick search for equity will usually bring up articles about VCs and startups or information about compensation, but equity means so much more in the context of workplace culture.

Definitions and Examples

When we examine equity vs equality, it’s important to have a solid definition and context for each. Equality is simply ensuring that everyone has the same access to the same resources – if one person gets an iPad to help them with schoolwork, everyone gets an iPad to help them with schoolwork – that’s equal. Equity, on the other hand, requires us to fully understand and give people what they need to be successful – we can give everyone in class an iPad, but what if some individuals don’t have access to the internet outside of school? What if some students have never used technology as advanced as an iPad and don’t have the understanding to utilize the iPad fully? Equity would require us to ensure that everyone has a stable connection to WIFI at home, that everyone is familiar with how to use the iPad, and then that everyone gets an iPad. Equality is important, but fairness and justice can only be achieved through equality if everyone is starting from the same place – in the real world, this is never the case. Every individual has a unique background and set of privileges that makes it impossible for us all to have the same starting point. Equity allows us to provide different resources to individuals in order to get us all to the same end point.

Relating to Diversity & Inclusion

So how are equity and equality connected to diversity and inclusion? A Forbes article on “The Difference Between Workplace Equity and Equality and Why it Matters” states that “on a fundamental level, equity and equality are both points along a longer continuum of diversity and inclusion” and that “equity is more of a state than a step”. If the first “step” in the process is diversity - having equal and appropriate representation across all backgrounds at every level of the organization, the next step is inclusion – making sure all employees feel valued, safe, and comfortable at work. Part of inclusion is examining policies and procedures that relate to equity and equality. With equality, we could say, every person has access to a parking pass for our company garage and be done with it. But just because something is equal doesn’t mean it’s inclusive, and that is where equity comes in. If any employee doesn’t have a car, what good is a garage pass? A more equitable solution might be to offer to cover the cost of a garage pass, a bus pass, and/or provide ridesharing services for those employees who don’t have a car.

Creating and maintaining an equitable environment is an ongoing and iterative process that first requires us to have a diverse and inclusive culture, it can be hard to know if you’ve achieved equity. Forbes recommends working backwards to create an equitable culture and recommends starting by “considering what’s important to your workforce and what equity would look like to them”. You will need to examine all existing practices to determine where efforts toward achieving equity may be falling short – a few good places to start include examining pay structures (including base salaries and bonus opportunities), processes for determining who gets promoted, whether benefits coverage is inclusive, if facilities are accessible for all, and how employees feel about the company culture.

To understand employee sentiment, Level D&I Solutions can execute a targeted cultural survey which will give you greater insights as to how employees feel about and perceive various programs and practices across the organization and will highlight top areas with room for equity improvement. Contact us today for a custom quote!

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