DEI in the workplace: Equality and Equity- What is the difference?

Diversity and Inclusion , , , , , , , , ,

What does the E mean in DEI, and what is the difference between the two terms.

In the workplace, the concepts of equality and equity are important in ensuring that all employees are treated fairly, and have access to the same opportunities for professional development and advancement- but I often get asked what’s the difference?

Simply put, equality means treating everyone the same, while equity means treating everyone fairly based on their needs.

For example, imagine you and your friend want to watch a movie, but you’re much taller than your friend and can see the screen easily from any seat, but your friend can’t see the screen very well from the back row. If you both sit in the same row, that would be equal, but not equitable (so fair) because your friend can’t see the movie properly. However, if you let your friend sit in the front row, that would be equitable because it gives them a fair chance to see the movie just like you can.

So, equality means treating everyone the same, while equity means treating everyone fairly based on their individual needs.

Applying this to the workplace means that for equality all employees are treated fairly and have equal access to the same opportunities, benefits, and resources, regardless of their race, gender, age, religion, or other personal characteristics. This means that policies and practices are in place to prevent discrimination and bias, and ensure that everyone is treated fairly.

Equity in the workplace goes a step further by recognising that different employees may have different needs and require different levels of support to achieve the same outcomes. This means that policies and practices are in place to address the specific needs of underrepresented or marginalized groups – and ensure that they have equal access to opportunities and resources.

HR can play a key role in promoting both equality and equity in the workplace by developing and implementing policies and practices that promote fairness and inclusion. Some ways HR can help include:

  1. Developing and enforcing policies that promote equality and prevent discrimination, such as equal pay policies, anti-harassment policies, and inclusive hiring and promotion practices.
  2. Providing training and education to employees and managers on topics such as diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias, and cultural sensitivity.
  3. Conducting regular diversity audits to identify areas where the organisation may be falling short in promoting equality and equity and developing strategies to address these issues.
  4. Supporting employee resource groups and other initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  5. Providing support and accommodations to employees who may require additional resources or assistance to succeed in their roles, such as employees with disabilities or employees from underrepresented groups.

In our experience of working with hundreds of organisations, we have seen and witnessed that on the whole they are good at promoting equality in the workplace, but they have a long way to go in promoting equity. HR can help create a more inclusive and fairer workplace where all employees have the opportunity to succeed and thrive, by leaning a lot more into equity over the next few years.

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