The difference between equity and equality

Quite often, the terms ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ are used interchangeably, however there are subtle yet important differences that are useful to understand as we – as individuals and as organisations – seek to attract and retain talented people, and advance as employers of choice.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines equity as ‘the situation in which everyone is treated fairly according to their needs and no group of people is given special treatment’.

Equity recognises that each employee has unique needs and challenges and seeks to provide them with the necessary support to succeed. This means providing employees with the resources they need to perform their jobs effectively, as well as creating policies and practices that recognise and accommodate the diverse needs of the workforce. For example, a company that provides flexible work arrangements or childcare assistance acknowledges the fact that some employees may have caregiving responsibilities outside of work and may need support to balance work and personal life.

On the other hand, the Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘equality’ as ‘the right for different groups of people to have a similar social position and receive the same treatment’.

In the workplace, equality involves treating everyone the same and providing them with the same opportunities and resources regardless of their individual circumstances. This approach can be problematic because it does not take into account the unique challenges and needs of each individual employee. For example, if a company provides the same benefits package to all employees, regardless of whether they have dependents or not, employees with dependents may not be able to make full use of the benefits. This can lead to feelings of frustration and inequality.

International Women’s Day provides us all the opportunity to pause and reflect on how we might improve our engagement with our people to gain a deeper understanding of their needs at work. This understanding will provide a strong foundation for designing the strategies and support structures required to foster an equitable and vibrant corporate culture, helping us to grow as individuals, businesses and communities.

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