Life, Liberty, & Equity for All!

On July 4th, 1776, the founding fathers wrote “All men are created equal” in a powerful statement, demanding liberty and justice for all.

As we talk about the 4th of July, I want to bring to you a quote from a speech written by Frederick Douglass:

“The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

This was written in 1852. The year is now 2021; why does this resonate with me? The United States is independent of Great Britain, slavery was made illegal, and the Civil Rights Movement made progress toward an equal society. But with the events of 2020, it has become more and more evident that not all are equal, and that liberty and justice is not a right that all are guaranteed.

It’s not enough to be equal. We need to talk about equity too.

When we talk about “DEI,” we talk a lot about creating a diverse workforce and increasing inclusive behaviors, but the “E” often slips under the radar. What does equity mean in the workplace? Why does equity matter? How can you go about increasing equity at your place of work?

Equality and equity may sound alike, but are very different concepts. Equality means providing the exact same resources, allowances, rules, etc. Everyone is treated exactly the same regardless of their needs. On the other hand, equity means providing what is needed for each employee. For example, suppose you had two employees. One employee has a chronic illness that makes it difficult for them to come into the office every day. The other employee is a single mother with a 3 year old child who can only afford daycare three out of the five work days. You, as the manager, need to come up with a solution so that both can complete their work to the same standard. An equal solution might be that both employees need to come to the office three days out of the week. An equitable solution might be that the employee with a chronic illness has more flexibility to telework when they need to, while the mother works in the office three days out of the week and then teleworks the other two days.

Equity is like a step to equality. Equity in the workplace means giving each employee the resources to perform at their best. Not everyone needs the same resources and it may be wasteful to provide everyone the same. But if you give employees the resources they need to succeed and encourage them to use those resources, they are more likely to be more engaged at work and fewer turnover intentions (Kaiser et al., 2020).

At first, it might seem strange that equity is roped in with diversity and inclusion. But equity is inherently tied to diversity and inclusion. Diversity is recognizing that we have different backgrounds and have different needs. Diversity is not just race - it also includes things like veteran status, education and training, age, parental status, neurodiversity, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc. For example, minority groups are often more receptive to work/family benefits, perhaps because of an emphasis on familial responsibilities (Parker & Allen, 2001). Equity means putting into play a way for individuals to fulfill their specific needs. Equity is a type of organizational inclusion. Creating equitable benefits that cater to employees’ needs sends a big message: You care about your employees wellbeing!

Equity can look a lot of ways at work. Equity can mean offering accommodations such as automatic doors, ramps, or flexible work days, it can be addressing racial biases and disparities at your place of work, or designing a hiring process that assesses a wide variety of experiences and skills, not just what you might expect from a majority.

This Fourth of July, take a few minutes to think about how your organization can go beyond equality and into equity. Recently, the Harvard Business Review published a list of questions to reflect on equity at your organization. We won’t reinvent the wheel, but here are some of the questions that made us think a little bit:

  • How can we rethink the way we assess candidates to minimize bias?

  • How can we adjust our professional development systems to consider the diversity of experiences and educational backgrounds of all employees, and support the variety of development needs?

  • What specific practices can we adopt to fight bias, and advance equity — as individuals, as teams, and as an organization?

When you haven’t really thought about equity at your company, it can be a lot. Promoting equity in the workplace takes a lot of research - research into histories, backgrounds, and contexts that you may not even know where to start. Step 1 is understanding the knowledge you are missing. From there, you might start looking at your own organizations’ data - where do you stand now? Our DEI Diagnostics can tell you what changes will have the most impact. With a data driven approach, you can make decisions that have real influence. What changes can you make?