The Essential Role of Equity
Many organizations have adopted or renamed their diversity and inclusion programs as “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” In this sense, equity addresses the disparities that historically marginalized and/or minority groups have experienced in society and that can carry over into the workplace or even arise in the workplace. This addition of “equity” to the broader concept reflects the important effect that social equity can have on organizations. In this context, “equity“ can refer to, for example, the following:
- Social justice – Fairness and equality for all
- Equal employment opportunity – Freedom from discrimination based on a personal characteristic, often defined by law
- Fairness in employment conditions – Impartial and just treatment in the workplace
These concepts may be partly addressed by, for instance, an organization’s non-discrimination, equal employment opportunity, and/or affirmative action employment programs. Still, these programs may not respond to non-discrimination or equal opportunity for the range of diversity characteristics, especially where the law is silent.
These programs also may not focus on a hidden dimension (that we will discuss shortly) that continues to create inequity, such as personal and structural biases that continue to limit individuals from historically marginalized or minority groups. Nor might these programs address other issues of workplace equity. The fact that society continues to reveal new insights in how inequity manifests, especially with respect to these historically marginalized or minority groups, indicates that this is a continuing challenge, both for society and for organizations. For these reasons, “equity” fulfills an important role in the DE&I triad.
Many organizations incorporate “equity” objectives and elements to advance and support other DE&I program goals.
An organization’s equity-related goals can include efforts to:
- Help address broader social equity as a means to: (i) Improve and expand an organization’s labor pool; and (ii) Improve employees’ own social conditions to lessen outside distractions that would otherwise reduce their focus and effectiveness at work.
- Improve workplace fairness that can carry over from outside social equity issues. For instance, leaders who wince at news events on social issues may be unconsciously influenced in how they respond to related issues at work.
- Exhibit an organization’s commitment to social equity as part of its broader commitment to customers and other constituents. For instance, consumers and communities increasingly expect that companies they buy from or host broadly reflect their demographic makeup.
The Critical Role of Inclusion
Attracting and hiring a more diverse workforce only is effective if individuals are included in the organization’s activities. Once a broader diversity of staff are hired, the organization must find ways to include everyone (respective of roles and positions) in business activities to garner the benefit of the diverse experiences and perspectives that this staff brings. This inclusion of a more diverse staff means that projects, processes, and related decisions are infused with a stronger spirit of creativity and innovation due to a greater disparity of ideas and solutions.
One challenge that an organization likely will face is the tension between attracting and integrating individuals with diverse characteristics into the organization’s unique culture. This effort to bring in “outside” perspectives while still reinforcing an existing culture that has led to the organization’s success creates a seeming dichotomy unless the effort is deftly handled. The most straightforward approach is to recognize the need for all workplace cultures to evolve as they integrate a wider range of perspectives, while still holding true to their essential principles.
To learn more about this important topic, including the essential role of Diversity in DE&I, we recommend our core course, Diversity and Inclusion: Valuing Differences for Mutual Success, and the new Essential Guide to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion whitepaper.
About the Author
Jason Lunday is the Chief Compliance Officer at Syntrio, a global leader in governance, risk, compliance, and human resource solutions that help organizations manage risks, empower culture and accelerate performance.