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Michelle Palasek has 20 years in the staffing industry working in sales and marketing operations. She currently serves as a Sr. Marketing Communications Specialist at SGA.

What Is the Difference Between Equity and Equality in Terms of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)?

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More and more businesses seek to widen the pool of qualified applicants for a given position.

Research has shown that diverse workplaces tend to be more successful and profitable, particularly when policies and organizational goals are integrated and managed effectively.

However, it’s not enough to hire workers from diverse backgrounds and circumstances; the workplace must be designed to support all employees and provide everyone the best opportunities for success. This is where equity and equality enter the picture.

What’s the difference between equity and equality, and how does each element contribute to a workplace that observes the modern principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?

What Is DEI?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are a set of interconnected values that represent a company’s commitment to embracing and supporting workers of different ages, races, ethnicities, religions, creeds, genders, gender identities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, neurodiversities, and abilities.

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace where employees feel invested and engaged has been linked to improved employee performance and higher profits.

When DEI is implemented effectively, it can also help companies retain talent, connect with a more diverse consumer base, and make more informed decisions due to the range of unique and valuable perspectives in the workforce.

Developing a supportive workplace for a diverse staff means implementing policies that create a comfortable and inclusive environment. Businesses must consider the benefits of equity vs. equality and how they contribute to an effective DEI workplace.

The Fallacy of Equality

The idea of equality is noble, if inherently flawed. In the workplace setting, equal treatment means that all workers are provided the same resources in an effort to be fair. Unfortunately, this system fails to account for individual differences.

Every person has unique talents, skills, and circumstances that impact where they start from and how they reach their goals. When you recognize that the playing field is not level, you can clearly see that equality is not always fair.

How Equality Works

In a perfect world, equality should work hand in hand with equity. When companies view equality policies and procedures as a way to promote diversity and inclusion and to ensure that every employee has a voice and feels supported and empowered to use it, they’re doing it right. However, equality cannot replace equity.

Suppose, for example, that every employee is given the exact same desk and chair. From a purchasing standpoint, this level of uniformity makes sense, and it upholds the principle of equal treatment for every employee.

However, not every employee is the same size. For some, this setup may work perfectly, but others may find that their feet don’t quite touch the floor or that their knees bump the underside of the desk. In other words, these employees are receiving equal treatment but suffering discomfort because of the inherent limitations of the system.

Now, consider that some people are at a disadvantage in the workplace because of their age, race, gender, or abilities. A focus on equality does not take these factors into account and, in a practical sense, punishes people for differences they have no control over.

When it comes to equity vs. equality in the workplace, the best policy to ensure happy and productive employees is to treat people as the individuals they are and provide resources that help ensure their success.

What Does Equity Look Like in the Workplace?

The difference between equity and equality is subtle but important. While equality involves striving to treat everyone the same, equity calls for recognizing that individuals have unique circumstances that require adjustments to support equal outcomes.

An inclusive workplace helps every employee feel seen and supported. What does this look like in practical terms? Providing continuing education opportunities for all employees is a step toward equality. Offering remote options for employees with mobility issues makes these opportunities equitable.

Equality is ensuring that people in the same positions with the same qualifications earn the same wage. Equity is ensuring that one group doesn’t dominate the highest-paid positions.

Making all internships unpaid ensures equal treatment, but an equitable mindset recognizes that interns who can afford to work for nothing enjoy some level of privilege.

Implementing DEI Initiatives in Your Workplace

Creating an effective DEI workplace requires understanding the differences between concepts like equality and equity and determining the best ways to include both. Ideally, businesses should offer equal opportunity to all employees but observe equitable practices that help to level the playing field and promote equal outcomes.

DEI policies should permeate every aspect of an organization, whether in recruitment and hiring practices, products and services, daily operations, public image, or customer satisfaction. When businesses take a comprehensive approach to equality and equity in the workplace, they stand to enjoy a range of benefits as a result.