Diversity, equity, and inclusion are key buzzwords for today’s organizations. However, as previously discussed on the blog, these terms are often lumped together. Grouping the terms prevents each concept from receiving the attention it deserves. This week’s post explains why organizations need a clear understanding of equity to build effective Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) plans.
What is Equity?
In the EDI context, equity and equality are not the same. To be sure, both terms ask whether people in an organization have been treated fairly. But the difference between the two lies in how each term defines fairness.
The Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Trends and Best Practices e-book defines equality as, “Treating everyone the same and relying on fair systems and individual effort and merit to distinguish the access, privileges, and rewards each person receives.” In America, equality generally means treating everyone the same under all circumstances. This notion of equality supports the common American belief that those in need should just “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” Equality, then, simply requires equal treatment for all.
By contrast, equity is a much broader concept. The EDI e-book defines equity as, “Making appropriate accommodations for people from underserved or historically marginalized groups to allow them full access to the rights and privileges enjoyed by the majority.” Though equality focuses on giving everyone the same things, it ignores the fact that everyone is not the same. Differences based on gender, race, sexual orientation, and other characteristics mean that some groups will need different tools to excel than others. Even when these groups get what everyone else has gotten, equity reminds us that if they haven’t gotten what they need, the process was not truly fair.
Unlike equality, equity focuses on historical barriers that have prevented groups from excelling. The illustration below demonstrates the difference between equality and equity. In the first panel, though each child is given a box to help her see over the fence, this equality of treatment is not helping two of the children. In the second panel, the boxes are distributed based on height, but the problem remains. However, in the third panel, the problem is solved. Finally, the real barrier – the fence – has been removed. Equity demands that we focus on the “fence” – the structural barriers to equality – rather than focusing on helping people see over it.
How Is Equity Different from Diversity? What’s the Difference Between Equity and Inclusion?
The relationships between equity, diversity, and inclusion are not always clear. The confusion likely stems from the fact that the concepts do overlap at times. Nevertheless, there are some important differences between the three terms.
Though equity and diversity focus on different issues, equity supports diversity. Ideally, as an organization takes steps toward equity, its efforts will recognize structural barriers that prevented diverse employees from being recruited, hired, retained, or promoted. As these barriers are noticed – or even eliminated – the pool of diverse candidates and employees will grow. So, equity strengthens diversity.
Similarly, equity boosts inclusion efforts. Like equity, inclusion asks decision-makers to highlight, rather than ignore, the many types of difference on their teams. Additionally, both equity and inclusion ask leaders to consider the sometimes painful history that people of color, women, LGBT persons, and others have experienced in this nation. An organization that takes steps to eliminate barriers that previously kept marginalized people from advancing is working toward equity. Additionally, this step will help the current employees feel more valued and included.
In short, if your organization is a sports stadium, diversity would ask, “Who is at the game?” Inclusion would ask, “Are everyone’s seats comfortable?” Finally, equity would ask, “Has anyone been left out of the park? If so, why?”
Though equity, diversity, and inclusion can all be challenging, equity poses some unique challenges. First, while inclusion focuses on what is happening in one organization, equity requires knowledge of the larger society. Moreover, while inclusion focuses on the present, equity forces organizations to face historical injustices as well as current biases. Organizations may find it difficult to quickly gather the information that they need.
Also, diversity and inclusion are both measurable. An organization can set hiring goals or diversity or incorporate inclusion into its strategic plan. However, because equity changes as society changes, it will often be a moving target. Moreover, because eliminating bias in the larger society is nearly impossible, an organization cannot put an end-date on its equity plans.
Despite these challenges, any organization can take concrete steps toward equity. Leaders should examine current and past hiring processes, evaluation procedures, and work assignments for structural bias. If any barriers are identified, plans should be put in place to remove them. The importance of humility to diversity and inclusion cannot be overstated. To learn more about equity, enroll in the Equity Toolkit e-courses. The Equity Toolkit is an interactive, four-course online series containing essential, research-based concepts on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.