The world is continuing to take steps towards equality, however, being fair and equal is not always so simple. Sometimes, people need different, more personalized treatment to make their opportunities the same as others. This is called equity. If you’re confusing equality and equity, don’t worry, people often do so. And although both promote fairness, equality makes this possible by treating everyone the same regardless of their needs, while equity achieves fairness through treating people differently DEPENDENT on their needs. Nevertheless, this different treatment may still hold the key to reaching true equality.
Equality and Equity
In other words, equality ensures everyone has the same opportunities and gets the same treatment and support. Equity is about giving people precisely what they need to make things fair. Equity is giving more to people who need it, proportionate to their circumstances, to ensure everyone has the same opportunities. A good example can be providing more support to disadvantaged students so they can reach their full potential. If we follow this example, fairness through equality would mean providing all students with the same level of support, while achieving fairness through equity would mean providing disadvantaged students with extra support so they can have equal opportunities for success. This doesn’t mean that some students will get less, but simply that others, who need more support, will receive it.
Another good example is gender equity. Gender equity is when we treat men and women fairly based on their needs. This may include equal or different treatment, but it is still considered equivalent in terms of rights, opportunities, benefits, and obligations. Equity plays an important role in reaching gender equality because the current inequalities mean we have to provide more to ensure all genders have equal opportunities. For instance, women are seriously underrepresented in the STEM workforce. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), only 21% of engineering majors are women, and only 19% of computer and information science majors are women. This suggests that women may need more encouragement and support to enter this industry and that we must take action to make it as accessible to women as it is to their male counterparts. To put it simply, give more support for equal opportunity.
Equity in the Workplace
Organizations committed to positive change are slowly but steadily taking actionable steps toward better diversity, inclusion, equity, and Access (IDEA). Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are already known concepts to forward-thinking organizations and institutions. But in recent years, increased awareness of social exclusions faced by marginalized groups has pushed the term ‘equity’ to the forefront of conversations around diversity and inclusion.
As leaders continue to work out ways to foster a culture of belonging in their organizations, they must add the idea of equity in the workplace to their leadership toolkit. Workplace equity refers to giving everyone fair opportunities based on their individual needs. Although it can be challenging to demonstrate equity in the workplace, since what constitutes fair and equitable treatment can be subjective, organizations can at least start by recognizing it as reality. Fostering workplace equity begins with cultivating a safe environment that allows for understanding and open discussion. So, how can well-meaning organizations implement equity in their environment?
Equity is about leveling the playing field, so to say, and providing every employee with the unique resources they need to access opportunities at any organization. Here are a couple of examples of how you can implement a practice of workplace equity within your organization:
- Prioritize wage equality. Being transparent about wages and openly discussing correlations between employee position, performance, and pay rate is crucial to ensuring fair compensation.
- Ensure diverse representation. Many organizations tend to hire for diversity (mostly as lip service) but fail to provide equitable opportunities for advancement to their diverse workforce. When this happens, we can see high diversity in low-paying and low-authority roles and the over-representation of one demographic in management and leadership. A solution for this is empowering diverse employees by providing equitable promotions and upholding diverse representation in higher executive positions.
- Implement an employee education program. Systemic barriers prevent people of color and disabled individuals from accessing important education. The lack of access inevitably creates a massive diversity deficit in many organizations. Investing in an employee education program can provide your marginalized workers with a life-changing resource that allows them to advance their careers and grow with your organization. Fair education is crucial to an equitable future in any workplace.
Examples of Companies That Follow Through Their Equity Goals
Many companies around the world are making real progress when it comes to advancing the IDEA. While it will take years for the number of diverse employees in organizations to increase to where we want it to be, it is still good to showcase the extensive work some companies do to foster truly equitable and inclusive cultures that welcome people of all races, genders, and backgrounds.
For example, the multinational consumer products company Colgate-Palmolive uses a data dashboard to identify opportunities to make an actual difference in advancing the recruitment, promotion, and retention of diverse employees by monitoring which groups (by gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) are going up or down, and the diversity of candidate slates for every role (with a set target of 50% diversity for every slate).
In order to promote equal pay, some companies are adopting transparency policies and publicly disclosing their pay data, divided by categories such as race, gender, and ethnicity. One example of such a company is Glassdoor, which is deeply committed to paying transparency to drive racial equity. In 2020, Glassdoor publicly released its annual pay gap audit and senior executive salaries. With its actions, Glassdoor is illuminating how pay transparency can form institutional incentives to fight against unexplained pay gaps.
Equity, the practice of meeting the individual needs of every employee, should be a vital concept for modern organizations. Implementing equitable actions at your company can have the potential to change the lives of people who work for you and affect positive change in the wider world, which is something every leader should strive for.