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What’s the Difference Between Equity and Equality?

Equality image
Photo by Matteo Paganelli | Unsplash

Your employees are your most valuable asset, and you want to give them all the resources they need to succeed. After all, their success is your company’s success.

As a leader, your goal is to lead with empathy and create an inclusive workplace, whether that means offering flexible work options, career development or providing subsidized meals. In terms of your hiring practices, your company is also open to qualified applicants regardless of their age, ethnicity and gender.

While you may think that with these benefits and policies in place, you’ve got equality and equity covered, it’s important to make a clear distinction between the two. By knowing the difference between equity and equality, you’ll know what you need to do to not only keep your employees but also ensure they thrive in your company as individuals.

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Equality entails providing fair treatment to employees and giving them equal access to opportunities in the workplace, but it "implies treating everyone as if their experiences are exactly the same". Equity, on the other hand, is about giving employees fair opportunities based on their individual requirements and goals, which means "acknowledging and addressing structural inequalities — historic and current — that advantage some and disadvantage others."

Based on the above, we can say that the application of equality is generalized while equity considers the individual circumstances of every employee.

What is an Example of Equity in the Workplace?

To understand the subtle differences between equity and equality, providing examples of equality and equity in the workplace could help.

A simple example of equality in the workplace is when the employer provides all office employees with the supplies they need to do their job regardless of rank. Newly onboarded office staff may be given a cubicle with a computer, telephone, chair, filing cabinet, office stationery, and so on — just like the rest.

When it comes to equity, a good example would be hiring people for a job based on their skills and qualifications, not their personal attributes, like ethnicity, gender or age.

This also means offering the same salary and benefits regardless of whether the successful applicant is a woman, man or a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or whether they are Black, Asian, Caucasian, Latino or belong to some other ethnic group. In such companies, a person’s physical or mental handicap also won’t make a difference as long as they are deemed suitable for the role.

Colleagues brainstorming
From Wix Media

How Can I Make My Workplace More Equitable?

While achieving equality in the workplace is an important first step, the ultimate goal should be creating an equitable workplace where everyone can thrive.

To do this, there are certain steps you’ll need to take:

1. Establish equity as a core value in your company.

When you prioritize equity, you set it as a goal your company can work towards or continue to enhance. Everyone — from the board of directors to the lowest-ranking employee — should have a full understanding of what equity is, its importance to their organization and the benefits it offers to all employees.

2. Evaluate existing practices and needs.

Ideally, you should set up a committee or get a consultant to assess your equity practices, collect data and identify gaps and needs. With the right information in your hands, you can make fact-based decisions involving your short- and long-term goals to achieve or improve workplace equity.

3. Communicate progress and results.

After implementing programs designed to enhance equity in the workplace, it’s important to keep track of their progress and real-world results. Ensure you share these internally not only to show how serious and committed you are to creating an equitable workplace but also to promote transparency and encourage everyone to participate.

4. Offer individualized benefits and targeted incentives.

Some simple ways of practicing equity include offering employees individualized benefits and targeted incentives. For example, as part of the benefits you offer, employees have the option to work on-site or from home. Employees who drive to work can take advantage of fuel cards, while those who commute can use transport travel cards provided by the company.

When it comes to incentives, giving high-performing employees the option to choose from different rewards is a good practice. For example, they can choose to have a company-sponsored (all expenses paid) three-day local holiday for two, an additional seven paid leave days or a cash incentive.

What are the Challenges for Equity in Education?

Equity in education is crucial as the support children receive in their schooling — especially during early education — can affect their life chances significantly.

While equality in education would have schools accepting students regardless of their background and financial standing — as in the case of government or state-funded educational institutions — equity considers individual challenges and providing support based on those.

Let’s say, for example, as part of their equality practice, a public school provides tablets for all learners. However, this practice assumes that all students have internet connectivity at home — which may not be the case for everyone.

To be equitable, learners without Wi-Fi at home may be given the option to have free data connectivity so they can use their tablets for learning even outside the classroom. However, to ensure each child uses the tablet and data for educational purposes requires some form of monitoring — unless the government has an endless source of funds.

Equity in education remains a challenge, however, since different students have their own issues to contend with — usually related to poverty — including:

  • Domestic issues

  • Mental health problems

  • Malnutrition or hunger

  • Homelessness

  • Unequal level of English language mastery

While recognizing the need for equity in education is a critical initial step, programs to promote equity require adequate funding for research, support and implementation. Not to mention, if these young folks learn throughout their education the emotional and cultural intelligence needed to thrive in our multicultural society, many of the corporate initiatives we need to pour a lot of energy into currently, would be in theory, not needed as direly.

Of course, the rewards of achieving equity in school outweigh the investment. With equity in education, children can perform better in school, enjoy good health and have overall better social engagement and economic prospects.

Help Promote Equity in Your Workplace

The argument concerning equity vs equality in diversity need not exist when you have diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies in place. The difference remains are you committed to addressing the actual issues affecting the individuals who make up your company, no matter how uncomfortable?

If so, Tough Convos can help you jump-start new or realign existing DEI initiatives.

Let’s talk. Book a call with us today!


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