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  • Tamara Makoni

Let's decode... equity

DE&I. Most of us know that the D and I stand for ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. But is it E for equity or E for equality?



The E stands for equity. And though equality and equity have relatively similar meanings, the difference between the two concepts is important.

  • Equality means everybody having the same thing

  • Equity means everybody having what they need

Equality of outcome is a key goal of many DE&I initiatives. But, as we'll see, in order to really level the playing field we need to focus on creating equitable solutions.


Focus on equity if your goal is equality


Here’s an example to bring the difference to life: Imagine your friend’s two children ask you for some fruit. You reach into the fruit bowl for apples, but suddenly remember one of the kids has an allergy. So you grab an apple and a banana and hand these to the children.


Giving each child a piece of fruit is fair and equal. Going the extra step to make sure each child has a piece of fruit that suits their dietary needs? That’s equity.


Equality is obviously very important, but treating everyone exactly the same regardless of nuance ignores the diversity within the human population and factors like historic systemic oppression. Individuals and communities have different experiences which give rise to very different needs. Equity is about giving everyone the tools they need to be successful according to their specific situation, not just applying a blanket solution.


Without equity, you may have handed over two apples. In that scenario both kids ostensibly have the means to quench their hunger although realistically only one can actually do this. The child who’s allergic to apples can’t eat what they’ve been given without harming themselves. They can't succeed in this situation.


But since you focused on equity and gave them both the right kind of food, you actually got what you were aiming for: equality.


Apples and bananas are all good... but what does this look like in the workplace?


Imagine that you manage a team of sales agents, and you set them a revenue target each month. You want to be fair, so you've set all team members the same target and linked it to their take-home pay and promotion prospects.


Some do well, but others repeatedly fail to hit that target.


Is this failure due to poor performance? Perhaps. But the system could also be stacked against some individuals while favouring others. Within your team some work full-time, others part-time. Some have worked in sales for years, others are new to the field. Is it really fair to expect a new joiner who works part-time to produce the same results as a full-time employee with years of relevant experience?


In this instance your employees have equality, but they don't have equity.


Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

This image above highlights how equality and equity differ. In the equity image everyone has a cycle AND their cycle has been matched to their needs.


The result? Unlike in the equality image, nobody is left out. Nobody has to contort or overexert themselves to deal with a cycle that’s too big or too small. Everyone can progress together in a fair manner because there’s a truly level playing field.