Chances are if you’ve spent any amount of time researching the meaning of equity, or equality, you’ve come across an image similar to the one below — the image is commonly used as a way to compare the difference between the two. A meaningful discussion is happening around their differences, and I believe that equity at work is about providing the resources that individuals need to thrive within an organization.
As a diversity, equity, and inclusion scholar, I did what any researcher would do — search for academic pieces that would help me define equality and equity. Don’t worry, this is not a jargon-filled post about theory or data, but during my search, I found a piece that provides practical definitions for each. A 2015 study explained, equality as “providing equal opportunities or access to all people, accepting them, and valuing the differences between people equally.” Whereas Equity means everyone has access to the same opportunity, but everyone is not able to take advantage of that opportunity in the same way. The study further explained that equity,
“aims to level the playing field by providing what is needed on an individual level to make the final result for each person the same”.
This representation is powerful. If equity is successfully implemented in organizations, it will result in everyone being able to take advantage of opportunities in a way that suits their specific abilities.
The difficult part about equity is that in order to create a level playing field; we need to decrease the amount of access that certain people have to opportunities. This limitation may seem unfair to those who have always had ample access to opportunities, but reducing this access is often a necessary step to creating equitable workplaces. One of my professors taught me a valuable lesson. Equity in the workplace may mean hiring less White people for specific roles while employing more talent from marginalized communities. Let me be clear that hiring more people from marginalized communities does not mean that less qualified individuals will then get recruited. Maintaining standards remains the same.
My dissertation research specifically looked at the underrepresentation of Black women in intercollegiate athletic administration. During this work, I outlined what may continue to happen if we don’t take the considerations of equity seriously. One of the women in my study shared a time when after having already given a stellar work performance, she asked for a promotion at her job. It was only after documenting all of the ways her scope of work had expanded, the value she added, and advocating for herself that she received a promotion. However, in the same swoop, four White men were given an equal opportunity. Thinking about the equity image we have been discussing throughout, she was given one box to reach the chalkboard. Unfortunately, four White men (who could already reach the chalkboard) received boxes they did not need. The additional promotions created a situation for uneven opportunities.
Flexability aims to push equity a step further. Yes, everyone should be provided with what they need to thrive within the workplace. But this alone is not enough, and additional steps need to be taken to provide opportunities for those who have not always had access. Equity needs to be built into the fabric of an organization, and work to dismantle barriers in general needs to happen. Tying back to the image one last time, the barriers that prevent equal access to persons with various backgrounds and abilities must be eradicated.