You may have gone to many International Women’s Day events this month. It was certainly a busy one for the legal profession. I was pleased to see many events that celebrated the achievements of our female colleagues.
It was reassuring to see many companies recognise that International Women’s Day is an opportunity, or catalyst, for everyone to reflect on the challenges that women continue to face – including gender-based discrimination, violence, and unequal opportunities – and to continue the discussions of how these challenges can be remedied.
This year’s theme was DigitAll – innovation and technology for gender equality – and it made me think about the differences between “equity” and “equality”. Often, “equity” and “equality” are used interchangeably. However, they each have distinct meanings, especially when you consider how they apply to our working environment.
Let’s start with equality. Equality refers to treating everyone the same, regardless of their background, abilities, or circumstances. It assumes that everyone starts from the same point and has the same needs and resources. Equality is certainly a noble ideal, but it may not always lead to fairness or justice in practice, especially when we consider the unequal starting points and systemic barriers that many people face.
This is where equity comes in. Equity is about recognising and addressing the unequal distribution of power, resources, and opportunities among different groups. It acknowledges that some people may need more support or accommodations to achieve the same outcomes as others. Equity is not about treating each person the same, but rather about treating people fairly and according to their needs and circumstances.
So how does this translate into our workplace?
When it comes to the workplace, equity seeks to achieve an equality of outcome by creating an inclusive environment where each person has an equal chance to succeed, regardless of their race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or other characteristics. It means recognising and addressing the unconscious biases, stereotypes, and systemic barriers that may prevent some employees from reaching their full potential.
During an event I attended last week, it was promising to see organisations shift their focus to questions such as, are our colleagues who work flexibly, due to care requirements, inadvertently not considered for promotions and opportunities because they were not “seen” in the office? Or are organisations hiring for merit only, or to achieve a diversity-based quota, or both? Whereas an employer who provides the same training opportunities to all employees without considering their different learning styles or language abilities may unintentionally exclude some employees from advancing their skills and careers.
Therefore, a workplace that focuses only on equality may inadvertently perpetuate inequities by ignoring the different needs and circumstances of its employees.
While equality and equity are both important values, they have different implications in the workplace. In my view, by prioritising equity, we can create a more just, inclusive, and productive workplace where everyone can thrive. And importantly, International Women’s Day serves as a strong reminder that it’s about far more than cupcakes and a single day effort. #embraceequity
As published in Lawyers Weekly.
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