Not too long ago, there was a huge drive for equality. Everyone was talking about the need to treat people equally. So it’s not surprising that, as the conversation shifted to equity, people have been sidling up to me at events and workshops and quietly whispering, “What’s the difference?!”

So if you’re confused about the difference between equality and equity, and why we seem to have abandoned the drive to treat everyone equally, read on!

What is the difference between equality and equity?

In a nutshell:

Equality means treating everyone in the same way

Equity means understanding the specific needs of individuals and tailoring support and resources accordingly, in order to provide everyone with a level playing field of opportunity

What’s wrong with equality?

Treating everyone equally sounded like a great idea, on the face of it. But do we really want to treat everyone in the same way?

If you ask two members of staff to deliver a presentation via Zoom, and one has excellent, high-speed WiFi at home and the other one has an ancient laptop and poor internet connection, one presentation is likely to be far more successful than the other, regardless of the skills of the employees.

People are not the same. They all have different strengths, different challenges, different needs and different identities. So if we want to get the best out of our teams, treating all these richly different people in the same way isn’t going to cut it.

What does equity mean for your workplace?

If you’ve been reading content on this site for any length of time, you’ll already know how much more innovative, productive, effective, successful and profitable diverse teams are. Gathering as many varied people in your teams provides you with a wealth of perspectives and ideas that can strengthen your organisation. To benefit from all of those different people, you need to understand what they need in order to excel.

To create a more equitable workplace you can:

  • Encourage managers to spend time with each member of their team, understanding what specific support would be useful for them – creating a coaching culture can be a valuable tool to help leaders identify the needs of their staff
  • Help staff to identify their own needs – analysing our own individual styles of working, learning and communicating can be incredibly enlightening and help to strengthen our working relationships, as well as allowing us to understand our personal needs
  • Analyse data to understand the gaps – if staff from a particular background, demographic or identity are on lower salaries, receiving fewer promotions or leaving your organisation in greater numbers, for example, then it’s likely there is something important missing
  • Challenge your assumptions – when you’re asking for outcomes from staff, try to consider what assumptions you might have made about how they will reach these outcomes (for example, that they all have shiny new laptops, great WiFi and quiet spaces in which to work at home), and then identify any provisions you could make available for staff that might need them

If you want to talk more about how you can increase equity in your workplace, or you’re interested in developing your learning further in this area, email and let’s talk about how we can help.