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‘Equity’ and ‘Equality’: What’s The Difference and Why Does It Matter?

‘Equity’ and ‘equality’ are terms that are front and centre of diversity and inclusion policies; but the subtle differences between the two can often get lost in the noise, and it’s important to understand they represent distinct, separate concepts with profound implications. While both seek to address disparities and promote fairness, their approaches are fundamentally different. Let’s explore the differences between equity and equality, and how they’re essential in fostering a more inclusive workplace and fairer society for us all. 

The Nuances of Equity and Equality

In its simplest form, equality means treating everyone the same. While this might sound like the best route to a fair society – it also means treating everyone the same irrespective of their individual circumstances, abilities, or needs. When we consider the individual differences and abilities we all have, focusing on diversity and inclusion for everyone, we can see that achieving true inclusivity might be a little more complicated. 

Equity, on the other hand, takes into account the unique circumstances, disadvantages, and challenges faced by individuals or communities. It recognises the diversity of communities, that people have different starting points and may require different resources or opportunities to achieve the same outcome as others. It means actively addressing the barriers that some individuals face due to their socioeconomic status, disability, or other factors that affect their ability to succeed and stand in the way of community inclusion.

Equity goes beyond the passive notion of levelling the playing field; it involves actively removing obstacles and providing tailored support to individuals and groups facing disadvantage. In this way, equity strives to ensure that everyone has an equitable chance to succeed, regardless of their starting point or circumstances. Sounds much better, right?  It might help to think of this graphic from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to understand the difference between equity and equality:

This image demonstrates how giving everyone exactly the same resource – or enacting an action of equality – may give everyone a bike, but it doesn’t mean everyone can ride that bike with the same ability, comfort, or confidence. Instead, enacting an equitable action – giving everyone a bike that meets their needs – enables everyone to cycle with ease. 

Why Does Equity Matter?

So, it makes sense – but why does equity matter? In recognising the nuanced diversity of our communities, implementing equity allows us to create workplaces of true inclusion by dismantling systems that perpetuate disadvantage. Equity seeks to close the gap between the most and least privileged by intentionally reallocating resources and opportunities to support inclusion and respect diversity. 

Equity recognises that simply treating everyone the same does not rectify deeply ingrained disparities and helps us create healthier workplaces and happier communities. 

Seeking expert consultancy advice and diversity training can be a great first step towards a more equitable workplace. Reviewing workplace policies through a lens of DE&I, and exploring possibilities to offer mentorship opportunities to those underrepresented in your industry can help develop further progression. To create healthier workplaces and a more just and inclusive society overall, we have to make concerted efforts to actively address systemic inequalities and provide the necessary resources and opportunities for everyone to thrive.

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