The 2023 theme for IWD #EmbraceEquity kindled an important issue that seeks to help forge worldwide conversation about its impact. Why do we need to focus on equity rather than equality more than ever before?
To answer this question, we need to understand that diversity exists in this world.
We all collectively acknowledge that gender inequality exists in this world, and it is generally women who are disadvantaged in decision making, access to economic and social resources.
This principally brings the question of what equity is and how it is different from equality. I see a lot of my friends/ colleagues use it interchangeably. The term equity refers to fairness and justice and is distinguished from equality, whereas equality means providing the same to all.
A simple way to explain is between symbol “=” vs. “%”. Equal (=) opportunities are provided but in an ideal world does it equate to the “%” we are after. We still have imbalances at all levels in organisations. Equity ensures we are recognising that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and adjust imbalances.
When an individual or group of people enjoy similar opportunities, there is a perception of equality. However, it is evident that women have been disadvantaged over the years and we need to introduce equitable opportunities to close the gap and minimise the historical imbalance in society.
A critical aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives.
Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances, and provides opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Gender equity strives to bring all the genders to an equal playing field.
Equity-based solution considers diverse life experiences of individuals and communities; it adapts services and policies according to these differences.
In the first image it is assumed that everyone will benefit from the same supports. Each one is being given a stepping stand so that they can see the game. They are being treated equally. This however is not working as the person in a wheelchair cannot see at all. Or rather, cannot even get on the stepping stand.
In the second image, the individuals are being given different supports to make it possible for them to have equal access to the game. The person in the wheelchair has a ramp so that he can see the game and enjoy it just like the tall person. And the shorter girl who now has two stepping stands. They are being treated equitably.
To explain the concept of equity and equality, I was looking for some examples from our history. Interestingly, equity is not an alien concept to India. We have been practising it without using/ saying the word.
Queen Ahilyabai Holkar is acclaimed as an early social reformer who fought for the rights of women, for their education, in administration and power.
The flagship Mid-Day Meal Scheme which serves free lunches on working days for children in government primary and upper primary schools is a classic example of equity leading to equality. The scheme has been looked at through various lenses in the past. However, never has it been seen as a scheme which has promoted equity in the schools. Let me explain..
The teacher in a government school has a mission to educate children and help them progress. Their objective is to provide all the necessary resources in the form of books, pencils and education. By providing resources fairly to each child the teacher is being equitable in a legitimate way in their progression. However, the challenge here is that it fails to acknowledge that not every child who walks into the school is fed. A hungry child who has no access to food cannot compete with a well-nourished kid. It therefore is not a level playing field anymore. Fairness of treatment for all kids according to their respective needs is what equity is about. It strives to bring all the kids, irrespective of their background, to an equal playing field.
While the actual reason for launching a mid-day meal scheme may be different, it seems to have addressed the equity aspect well. With students well fed, they are being treated equitably.
Equity can be complicated to demonstrate in the workplace. This is because what constitutes fair and equitable treatment is often subjective and unique to the experiences of every employee.
There’s no surefire method for accurately measuring equity in the workplace, which makes it challenging to know the impact of your efforts. A common tactic for understanding the state of equity in your organisation is through employee satisfaction surveys or net promoter scores (NPS).
Here are seven examples of how you can enable an equitable working environment.
- Make job descriptions accessible
This means having transparency around the wage range for different positions, as well as providing a variety of avenues through which talent may access application materials (including non-web-based channels).
- Skills-based hiring
Not everyone has access to higher education and this shouldn’t debar them from opportunities for work if they have the skills necessary to do the job. Instead of focusing on specific degree requirements in your hiring process, emphasise skills and previous work experience. If you have an existing workforce education programme in place, your business has the unique opportunity to provide employees without a degree with the tools and support they need to earn one.
- Provide inclusive incentives
Event-based incentives which centre around alcohol or formal dress codes have the potential to alienate some employees. Financial or recognition-based incentives are a better way to reward top-performing team members and avoid exclusion.
- Provide equitable access for all employees
This not only means access to resources and opportunities, but also physical spaces and materials. It is important to consider whether your meeting room is wheelchair-friendly, whether you have accurate closed captions on a video presentation, and if your office space has adequate accommodation for employees with sensory sensitivities.
- Empower your employees
Even if you have all the best resources in place, it’s up to your employees to take advantage of them. For you, this means making sure your employees know about the resources, know how to access them and feel comfortable and safe doing so.
- Ensure equitable benefits
Spousal health insurance should be available to non-traditional families as well as straight couples. Additionally, parental leave should extend to fathers and mothers equally.
- Re-evaluate your equity practices
Everyone makes mistakes and as we continue to act against a problematic status quo, it can be difficult to know what’s right. Organisations should continue to analyse and update their equity practices as new information is given.
Equity isn’t just nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. Equity is a long-term, sustainable proposal that will aim to address imbalance in society. A focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA.
For International Women’s Day and beyond, let’s all fully #EmbraceEquity.
(The author is Country Service Line Leader, Automotive & Mobility, Ipsos India & India Lead, Gender Balance Network.)