Management · April 01, 2021

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Why Companies Should Lead With Equity

When it comes to transforming culture, companies all over the world are looking to support and enhance their diversity, equity and inclusion programs. However, if your company isn't leading those programs with a focus on equity, you might be hampering your chances to create a truly diverse and inclusive company.


Understanding equity and equality

Equity and equality are often used interchangeably—but in practice, they're two very different things.

Equity in the workplace means that everyone in your company has a level playing field. Regardless of a person's gender, sexual orientation, race, physical ability, socioeconomic background or place of birth, equity means that everyone gets access to proportionate resources and opportunities.

Equality, on the other hand, means that everyone in the company has access to the same resources and opportunities, regardless of their unique identity, background or circumstance. According to an equality mindset, everyone has the same opportunities, and therefore, everyone has the same potential to succeed.

Equity and equality in action

Think of a company meeting in an auditorium. Everyone's allowed into the auditorium at the same time, but the company has deaf employees who might need special assistance to fully benefit from the program.

An equitable company would ensure their deaf employees had equal access to the program's content. This might look like priority seating in areas where it's easy to read a speaker's lips or even a designated seating area with an American Sign Language, or ASL, interpreter.

Meanwhile, a company following equality principles might say that everyone has access to the presentation but make no proportional adjustment or accommodation to ensure that deaf employees could fully access the content.

Companies focused on equity identify and appreciate the differences between majority and minority groups and then develop resources that bridge the gap between the two. The outcome is a level—that is, equitable—playing field.

Equity in the workplace

Equity in practice within your diversity, equity and inclusion programs can look like the following:

  • Vendor diversification: Truly equitable vendor selection processes could involve active outreach to minority- and women-owned suppliers, as well as allocating a certain percentage of procurement to these companies. Consider creating a designated helpline for these vendors to walk them through the bidding process and offer assistance.
  • Company holidays: Equitable companies build holiday schedules that appreciate the diversity of cultural and religious backgrounds among their team members. This might look like a set of shared days off, designated by date, for all employees and a flexible PTO schedule where employees can feel free to take time off for religious and cultural observances in addition to personal days.
  • Flexible workdays: Equitable companies acknowledge that both personal and professional responsibilities can be met when offering flexible workdays. Consider programs that allow for flex time and remote work, then create meeting policies that respect those flexible work schedules instead of penalizing them.

How your company can promote equity

There are several steps you can take to help foster equality in your company. Use these suggestions to guide your equity efforts and provide a check on the diversity, equity and inclusion principles you already have in action.

  • Don't slouch on research and education: Be sure to engage in ongoing bias training, elicit feedback on your current practices and bring training into the workplace on a regular basis to keep conversations going company-wide all year long.
  • Focus on pay equity: By having a fully transparent system for pay levels, merit-based raises and a documentation system for leadership to follow to ensure that any missed opportunities for advancement can be addressed through learning and development programs.
  • Create adaptive learning and development programs: When you implement flexible learning and development programs that can adapt to different employee skill levels and backgrounds, you can truly walk the equity talk. Adaptive learning programs can help marginalized and underrepresented employees in your company gain the skills necessary to rise through the ranks, both driving retention and further promoting pay equity.
  • Rethink hiring: You can't expect that diverse candidates will come to you—you have to seek them out. Consider partnering with new publications, historically Black colleges and universities, and advocacy groups when you have a job posting so that you're truly reaching diverse candidates. Don't forget to build interviewing practices that adapt to each group's unique needs, such as job fairs at bus-accessible locations, choosing locations with ADA-compliant building access, and offering both ASL and foreign-language interpreters.

It's impossible to have a truly diverse company without equity at the forefront. By focusing on equity first, you'll create policies that ripple throughout your company culture and business strategy while supporting the diverse fabric of employees. You'll also let everyone—from vendors to team members—know they're seen, valued and respected for their differences.

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