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  • Writer's pictureTrish Driver

Equity vs Equality - how organisations can level the playing field in an unequal world

Equity vs Equality

The words 'equity' and 'equality' are often used interchangeably (probably because they sound so similar), however, the words have distinctly different meanings.

Equity is giving individuals different resources according to their differing circumstances so that everyone can reach an equal outcome.

Equality is giving everyone the same resources or opportunities, regardless of circumstance.

An excellent example of equity is prescription glasses. If Individual A needs glasses, and Individual B does not, giving glasses to Individual A does not give them an unfair advantage. It simply means the two are now equal.

Why organisations must intervene to establish equity at work

We're always really clear that when it comes to EDI, the E (Equity) and the I (Inclusion) pieces are by far and away the most important areas of focus. The D (Diversity) is a natural by-product if you really get this right. A huge part of creating an equitable working environment is recognising that societal structures have not been designed to equally benefit everyone. That's why a child's socio-economic future is pretty much determined by the time they are two years old; it's why black women are so much more likely to die during childbirth; it's why our trans siblings are so much more likely to be on the receiving end of hate crime and violence; it's why in every piece of research we've ever seen, employees who have a disability have a less positive experience at work than those without. These same societal norms are the reason why women are much more likely than men to take on unpaid caring responsibilities. It's why we have a gender pay gap. It's why FTSE 100 companies in the UK are more likely to have a CEO called John or David than one who is a woman.

The Cost of Caring

I met up with one of my oldest friends recently (as in, we've been friends since we were 11, not that she is elderly); we're both working parents, with young kids, and parents who are starting to need some more support from us.

I'm what we call a 'sandwich carer', with a lovely mum to take care of whilst working and also raising small humans. My friend and I accepted that world-class juggling in our lives seems to be a fixture, and we're always adding more and more balls to the equation, simply hoping that nothing drops.

I then had a conversation with a new contact, the wonderful Georgie Rudd, whose repertoire includes (amongst many other things) Parental Coaching. We had an amazing conversation, both waxing lyrical about the magic powers of coaching, and how much difference it can make. The crux of the matter comes down to demonstrating the value to business of this kind of intervention. We see this value conversation cropping up a lot when it comes to interventions that are designed to minimise the impact of systemic inequality. And that makes sense to us. We talk a lot in our work about the bubble of context that surrounds each of us - our gender, upbringing, education, race, religion etc. All these things not only shape us, but also how we see the world. So if you're someone who has risen to the top in a system that was probably designed for you, then your bubble is probably going to mean that you assume everyone else can do it the way you did.

How can we level the playing field for women?

If we can recognise that the systems and structures within our society are skewed in a way which means that women are much more likely to be in this "care sandwich" of looking after elderly relatives and young children AS WELL AS WORKING, then it stands to reason that employers who want to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce need to put in place some interventions to support their employees with this. After all - recognising the value that difference brings isn't much use if those who bring some kind of difference don't have an equality of voice, or equal access to opportunities, because they are carrying the mental load of three jobs (elder care, childcare and their paid work!) in one. With the best will in the world, companies are not going to be able to change overnight the structures in society which means that women carry out around 60% more unpaid work than men (cooking, cleaning, caring). So what are some of the practical steps that organisations can take to ensure that they are providing equity in the working environment?

Steps that organisations can take to practice equity

1. Recognise difference

Different people need different things to be successful, and what goes on outside of work for your people will bring a difference of perspective which is super-valuable, IF it is acknowledged and supported.

2. Think about how your policies and processes encourage equity

Statutory maternity and paternity benefits are skewed, financially incentivising women to stay home with their babies, rather than men. Whilst shared parental leave has been available in the UK since 2015, uptake has been sluggish - largely because organisations tend to uplift maternity leave, but not shared parental leave, thus incentivising families to go with the better financial option.

3. Recognise institutional prejudice

Understand that if individuals are impacted by societal structures and culture (gender norms, systemic racism, ableism), they are not starting from the same place in their careers or their working days as their colleagues who aren't impacted. Adjustments need to be made to ensure equality of access.

4. Change the narrative

Where we see organisations experiencing pain when it comes to inclusion at work, it's often because the focus is all on the "D" - a constant focus on diversity, rather than equity and inclusion. Ensuring that everyone in the organisation is clear about why inclusion is important makes it much easier to talk about equity, and why programmes like the ones Georgie runs are so important.

5. Make this part of everyone's job

We believe there's not much in the world that can't be improved by having a breadth of perspectives feeding into work on a challenge. Without inclusion and equity, we're missing a trick. So whether you are a software engineer looking at accessibility for the tool you're building, a publisher telling more diverse stories, or a food company thinking about how to diversify its marketing, bringing more perspectives to bear makes business sense.


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