“Equality” and “equity” are common buzzwords in the business and nonprofit world. They’re a key part of diversity and inclusion initiatives that seek to make workplaces more diverse and more productive, innovative, and competitive. D&I goes further than that, as well, and comes with many advantages that benefit every part of a business or nonprofit. Without an understanding and commitment to equality and equity, D&I strategies are much less likely to succeed. How are equality and equity defined? What do they look like in a work setting?
How equality and equity fit together
Workplaces shouldn’t just be diverse; they must also be more inclusive. All employees should feel valued and empowered. This is equality. Everyone feels supported, respected, and on equal standing within their department. Opportunities like further education, training, and promotions must be equally available for anyone qualified. Those qualifications, as well as company rules, must apply equally across the board. Everyone understands what’s expected of them and how they will be recognized. If a company has done this groundwork and equality is part of their culture, equity is most likely already present, but not necessarily. What is equity exactly? How is it different from equality?
Equity levels the playing field, which means addressing discrepancies and ensuring all employees have what they need to succeed. Employees have different needs. If a company treats everyone the same without realizing that certain teams or demographics need specific support or resources, there will be inequality. Equity requires organizations to be adaptable and willing to work with their employees to ensure everyone’s success. Equity is the pathway to true equality.
Examples of equality and equity
Now that the goals of equality and equity are a bit clearer, let’s examine how they can be integrated into the workplace. We’re going to look at equality and equity within three contexts: the recruiting/hiring process, salaries, and accommodations.
The recruiting/hiring process
When a company begins the search for a job candidate and cares about diversity, a strategy is important. The first task is determining who is going to be in charge of picking the candidates. Everyone selected for the hiring team should be given equal input during the process. Everyone should feel like their opinion is valued. Ideally, the search/hiring team should be diverse, but if the company is currently in a transitional phase and not that diverse yet, this may not be easy. It’s an important consideration nonetheless. At the very least, everyone should be trained on the structural and implicit biases that disenfranchise certain groups. As an example, resumes with “white-sounding” names on them (“Tom,” “Jennifer”) get more attention than similar resumes with foreign or Black-sounding names. It’s vital for hiring teams to recognize these trends, examine their own biases, and actively fight against discrimination during the recruitment process. This kind of intentionality on diversity hiring helps lay the foundation for a more equitable working environment.
Equal pay and equitable pay are often confused, but they have some key differences. When a company examines whether salaries are equal, investigators look for discrepancies within the same (or very similar) jobs. As an example, are a man and woman both working as office administrators paid differently? Pay equality’s goal is equal pay for equal work. Everyone who does the same job should get the same salary. An audit of a company’s compensation plan will reveal gaps.
Pay equity is a bit more complex. A company might have equal salaries for the same jobs. However, a closer look reveals that white people hold the highest-paying positions while POC employees fill out the lower-paying jobs. That’s not an equitable workplace. Pay equity looks at systemic issues and the multiple factors that affect pay gaps between groups, such as racial and gender discrimination. What factors are keeping certain groups from getting hired at jobs with higher salaries? Is certain work valued less than other work simply because of who tends to have those jobs? Companies interested in addressing pay equity will need to collect data on each employee, examine their workforce representation, and work with experts.
“Reasonable accommodations,” which are accommodations necessary to level the playing field for employees, are required by law in some countries. For companies that value equality, accommodations are a must-have even if they’re not legally required. People with disabilities, mental health conditions, or language barriers often need accommodations. Equality is simply making accommodations available to those who qualify. Equity refers to the specific things each person needs to succeed. As an example, a person might ask to work from home a few days a week because of a medical condition. Providing the option to work remotely allows them to fulfill their full potential at their job. Not everyone will require the same accommodations while some may need more than others. Equity is based on specific, individual needs, but equality is the desired outcome.
Equality and equity: a vision for the workplace
Equality and equity are two sides of the same coin. A workplace can’t truly be a fair, inclusive environment unless both are present. Making workplaces equal and equitable requires time, resources, and strategy. It’s a long process that’s constantly evolving, but it’s worth it. Employees are happier, more productive, and loyal. Everyone benefits.