Why It’s Important to Understand the Difference Between Equity and Equality

  • Culture
  • Diversity & Inclusion
by Rachelle Henderson, Communications Specialist | Oct 06, 2020

Why It’s Important to Understand the Difference Between Equity and Equality

Imagine a workplace policy where all projects must be completed within 72 hours. The nature and scope of the work isn’t considered. There’s no distinction between time allotted to complete a five-page quarterly report or a company-wide rollout of complex, new software. The rule is simple and fixed: all individuals and teams have 72 hours to complete projects. These parameters are equal, and, still, most of us would agree they aren’t fair, or in this context, equitable.

Therein lies a fundamental distinction between equity and equality. Principles of equity hold that we do not all start from the same place, nor do we all require the same strategies and tools to succeed. Principles of equality hold that we all deserve the same, fundamental opportunities (or chances) of success. Equity levels the playing field to ensure equal opportunity to become successful.

An equity-based approach to the above scenario would acknowledge differences among projects and then calculate a reasonable timeline. In evaluating what’s appropriate, project managers would consider scope, materials, and tools necessary to best equip the team to achieve a goal shared equally by all at the company: achieve success for the business.

It can be challenging to disentangle the difference between equity and equality, especially when considering what’s fair. In general, most people cling to a notion of equality that’s rooted in sameness. In theory, this might make sense. In practice, this undermines fairness and perpetuates inequality because we are not all the same, nor do we all start from the same place. Equity precedes equality – not the other way around.

The George Washington University Milken Institute of Public Health notes that equity is “a process” and equality is “an outcome of that process.” By understanding this relationship and acknowledging difference, companies can implement equitable practices that facilitate inclusion and diversity.

At Wabash National, one way we’ve done this is through our Flexible Work Arrangement Policy, which allows employees autonomy over where and how they work. The policy is just one way we’re supporting and acknowledging difference. Equitable practices and policies create inclusive and diverse cultures.

As U.S. demographics continue to shift, companies must create and maintain inclusive workplace environments. It’s non-negotiable. Diverse and inclusive work environments are imperative to revolutionary innovation, and this begins with equity-based policies and practices. Equity allows us to bridge gaps between opportunity and success by acknowledging and embracing difference, rather than turning away from it.

Check out these illustrations to understand the difference between equity and equality.

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