Equity and equality are often used interchangeably when they actually mean very different things, especially in the context of an organization. While workplace equity is often associated with equal hiring practices and compensation, it definitely goes beyond just that. The short version is: equality and an inclusive workforce is the end goal, but equity is the means to get there.
Equality refers to giving all individuals fair treatment and equal rights to opportunities. In the workplace, it means that the same blanket of privileges, rules, and opportunities are applied to all employees. Although at first glance this may seem like a good inclusion strategy, companies must realize that not all employees start from the same starting point. By treating everyone the same, employee-specific needs are not taken into account. This aggregates inequality that is already present rather than eliminating unconscious bias and other biases and creating a company culture of inclusivity.
Equity on the other hand refers to fairness and equality in outcomes and not just support and resources. With workplace equity, companies look to identify and acknowledge specific needs related to demographics such as ethnicity, race, gender and gender identity, disabilities, and more. The needs and struggles faced by certain individuals are taken into account in decision-making relating to inclusion efforts and workplace diversity. In the state of equity, all employees are empowered to perform to their very best and they should feel that they are fully supported to succeed within an inclusive workplace.
Why it Matters
As mentioned above, equality is about giving everyone the exact same resources whereas equity is about distributing those resources based on individual needs. An example of an organization where equality may be present but equity is not is if the representation of women is equal to men but their empowerment and ability to reach higher ranks are lacking. From this, we see that the ability to listen and empathize with employees is more important than simply creating diverse teams and throwing the same blanket of resources over all employees. This of course is what makes building a culture of equity within a diverse workforce so much more complicated, as it requires c-suite executives to make better decisions that are thoughtful and intentional.
Steps to Transition from Equality to Equity
- Look at the Data and Set Targets
The first step is to understand where your company stands before tackling inclusion initiatives and plans to achieve greater diversity. This involves taking a deep dive into your current state and collecting relevant diversity measures such as demographic data on ethnicity and race, national origin, gender diversity and sexual orientation, veteran status, and more. As D&I is a complex and evolving space that can be difficult to measure, it is good to bring in external resources and tools ⎯ , especially when your senior leaders lack the resources and expertise to do so internally. There are tools developed by teams dedicated to improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace, which make use of advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence.
Diversio, for example, has a variety of services that track D&I metrics and provide unique recommendations tailored to your company’s specific problem areas. These recommendations include detailed implementation plans and a roster of helpful resources to help you execute them. They are also able to benchmark your company against the rest of your industry in various areas such as fair management, safe work environment, and inclusive culture.
2. Diversity in Leadership
This does not simply mean having your hiring managers hire diverse teams. It means having representation at the leadership and C-suite level. Change that happens from the top is essential for the best employee experience and profitability. Employees may feel that they aren’t represented and supported if leadership lacks people with similar backgrounds or characteristics as them. As such, a diverse leadership team is equitable, but beyond that, it also signals to employees that they have a viable career path into higher leadership positions in the organization and creates a sense of belonging.
3. Making a Space for Everyone
Simply having employee resource groups (ERGs) does not automatically make you an inclusive and diverse company. You need to actually support employees of different backgrounds so that they have an equal opportunity to succeed. The key to this lies in actively listening to employees and understanding their needs. Afterwards, it is about coming up with solutions and programs to address and accommodate those needs, whether through mentorship, continuing education opportunities, or policies that support diverse employee situations.
Although workplace equity is a challenging task to tackle, it is a worthwhile investment that leads to many benefits including increased innovation, employee engagement and retention, and financial performance, contributing to the bottom line. The catch is that, in order to reap the full benefits, companies cannot just be equitable on paper. They need to dedicate time and effort to understanding the needs and challenges of certain employee groups and work to bridge those gaps while aligning their business goals. Only then can companies creating an equitable and inclusive environment that attracts diverse talent and brings out the true potential in each employee.