There’s a lot of talk in HR and recruitment circles about the importance of diversity and inclusion. And with good reason. D&I is an integral part of any modern, high-performance organization. What’s often left out of this conversation, however, is equal weight that should be given to equity into the workplace.
Equity differs from diversity and inclusion, but it’s part of a three-pronged pillar that you can use to ensure that your workplace is representative of the world around you, and supportive of all employees, regardless of background.
This article will serve as your introduction to equity in the workplace, and offer advice on how to promote it at your organization.
What is equity in the workplace?
Creating equity in the workplace is a process that aims to ensure that every employee within an organization works on the same playing field, regardless of their ethnic background, country of origin, physical or mental ability, or gender or sexual orientation.
Equity is not the same as equality (we’ll get to that in a second). Instead, it aims to provide fair opportunities to all employees based on their individual needs and aspirations. This might mean providing more resources and support to some employees to ensure that they are not left behind.
At its core, equity in the workplace is all about empowering employees to be their best, and ensuring that everyone within the organization is treated fairly. Everyone expects and receives the same treatment in terms of opportunity, consequences, and rewards.
As mentioned, equity does not equal equality. But it does mean equal opportunity.
Equity versus equality: what’s the difference?
It’s easy to get equity and equality mixed up. First off, they look very similar in writing. And they also aim to tackle similar issues. That is, the fact that some demographics within an organization are not given the same treatment and opportunities as others.
The primary difference between the two lies in how each concept approaches and addresses this issue.
Equality means treating everyone in the organization the same, without discrimination. Under law in most countries, employers must treat every employee with the same degree of respect and dignity, regardless of gender, race, ethic background, sexuality, or disability status.
Taken a step further, equality in the workplace also seeks to provide employees with the same money, resources, and opportunities between all workers at a similar level.
While striving for equality is important, it often doesn’t address deeper seated issues like under representation, unique needs, and an unfair status quo.
Rather than addressing the unique needs of individuals within an organization, equality actions are likely to offer a blanket set of solutions to a nuanced problem. These solutions often fail to identify the specific needs of individuals and minority groups within an organization.
In other words, equality initiatives risk assuming that the needs of one employee - which is often identified based on the needs of the majority - equal the needs of all employees.
This, ultimately, may lead to an even more unfair work environment, where only some employees receive the support they need, while others don’t receive enough or the right kind.
Equity, by comparison, seeks to identify and address those nuances needs between individuals. While equality means equal opportunities for all, equity means proportional representation for the same opportunities. Or, a leveling of the playing field.
This is accomplished by identifying the specific needs and requirements informed by demographic traits within the organization. Those needs are then addressed by offering targeted support to those demographic groups that bridges any opportunity gaps that exist between minority and majority groups at the company.
Equity is only possible if leadership and human resources is committed to identifying and providing the support that each individual within an organization needs to be successful.
Why should you focus on equity?
Equity should be a part of any diversity and inclusion program at your organization. Without it, you aren’t able to ensure that all employees are receiving the support and resources they need to thrive.
The importance of diversity, inclusion, and equity is well documented. Not only does it improve the quality of life and satisfaction of your employees, it also directly benefits the company’s bottom line.
Studies have shown a direct link between diversity and company success. A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams are likely to bring in 19% higher revenues and better innovate than those without one.
How do you ensure that your management team is both diverse and full of people with in-depth knowledge of your company and industry? You grow them from within your company by providing equitable opportunities for development.
Equity gives a larger pool of employees equal opportunity to grow into leadership positions, ultimately leading to greater cognitive diversity in leadership positions. This, in turn, makes the company more agile and resilient to market changes and opportunities.
Benefits of equity in the workplace
In addition to ensuring diversity in leadership, equity programs offer a wide range of other benefits, including:
- Enabling targeted upskilling. Without equity programs in place, the exact same L&D plan would apply to all employees within the organization. This risks not giving employees what they really need to succeed by assuming that everyone has the same knowledge and experiences from the start. Equity-focussed training helps make all employees future-ready by identifying and addressing their unique needs.
- Boosting engagement, and reducing employee turnover. Because training and development can be tailored to specific employees, the impact of that effort is more meaningful and significant. Onboarding, communication, recognition, and development can all be tailored to the unique needs of your employees, helping them develop a sense of belonging and loyalty to your company. As we all know, satisfaction and loyalty boost employee engagement and reduce turnover.
- Strengthening your employer brand. Equitable organizations are sought after in today’s competitive talent landscape. By making equity a commitment - and sharing that commitment publicly - you can signal to diverse candidates that your company is a great place to work.
Of course, saying that you’re committed to equity in the workplace is one thing. Actually implementing the steps needed to get there is a different challenge entirely.
How to promote equity in the workplace
Creating equity in the workplace is an ongoing process that involves both a dedicated effort from senior leadership, and an ongoing commitment from everyone within the organization.
There’s no silver bullet for creating an equitable workplace, but it does help to understand the common steps and requirements that go into the process.
Here are ten of them.
1. Understand and promote the importance of equity
The first step in creating an equitable workforce is knowing the history, background, and importance of this concept. Collect data to support the need for equity measures, and talk to experts in the field.
Present the importance of this initiative to your management team to secure buy-in and resources. Then, start a conversation within your organization to set the stage for your future equity strategy.
2. Evaluate and improve your equity practices
Once you’ve secured buy-in and started a conversation around equity, the next step is to form a representative committee of employees from across your organization to evaluate existing practices and needs.
As a group, identify areas of improvement, and pull data from your HCM platforms to determine where you stand currently in terms of diversity and development.
Ask for feedback from everyone within your organization using employee surveys to collect qualitative and quantitative data you can use to benchmark your current status.
Once all of this data is collected, determine your starting benchmarks and establish goals. This should focus on areas like recruitment, training, promotion, attrition, and engagement.
Once goals have been established, come up with a list of short- and long-term activities you will implement to incrementally improve your workplace equity. Monitor results, and continue to solicit feedback.
3. Communicate your targets and share progress
As you create and implement your equity targets and improvement strategies, make sure that you communicate progress to the company. Internal communication is very important to this process, as it keeps you and your team accountable to your results.
Beyond that, it’s possible that minority groups within your organization will feel skeptical that these efforts will lead to any significant change. By communicating goals and progress, you show an ongoing commitment to equity, which in turn helps to drive continued buy-in and participation from across the organization.
Instead of focusing on traditional communication channels like email, try using a more handy communication platform. Many small and mid-sized businesses use business phone services for a detailed and clear yet quick chat with their teammates. There are also other communication channels, i.e., Slack and Microsoft Teams, that can help to connect with the entire team at one place.
4. Make wage equity a priority
One very important component to establishing equity at an organization is to address wage gaps. It’s not possible to truly even the playing field for employees if people are being paid drastically different wages for the same jobs.
Take steps to remove the taboo around talking about salary. Encourage transparent conversations around wages to ensure that everyone is being fairly compensated for the work that they do.
By doing so, you can have open and honest conversations about correlations between employee performance, development, seniority, and pay. This creates an honest foundation for providing targeted support to specific demographics within your organization.
5. Prioritize equitable representation
Ensuring diversity in senior leadership should be a priority for any organization. This starts with ensuring that equity initiatives are in place to give everyone, regardless of background, equal opportunity to grow into senior leadership positions.
As such, you should actively find ways to support diverse employees toward promotions and more senior positions. The best candidate should always get the job, but everyone should be given equal opportunity to grow into positions of leadership.
6. Think about equity recruitment
Equity isn’t just for employees. You should also consider how you can even the playing field in your recruitment processes to ensure that diverse candidates are given equal opportunity to be hired.
This could mean auditing your job descriptions and recruitment ads to make them more accessible and more widely relevant. You might also consider switching from credentials-based to skills-based hiring to attract candidates who didn’t necessarily go to the best schools.
You should also strive to remove bias from the recruitment process as much as possible to ensure that personal opinions don’t cloud judgment. This can be accomplished through the use of structured interviews, blind short listing, and collaborative hiring.
7. Review and upgrade your onboarding
Onboarding is another key area for equity improvement. Often, onboarding will be standardized for all employees, especially in the first few days or weeks. While it’s great to ensure everyone is receiving the same information, this doesn’t account for specific needs that employees from different backgrounds may need.
Instead, you can consider creating an early and late stage onboarding process. Early stage onboarding can be standardized to ensure that all new hires receive the same experience. Late stage onboarding, on the other hand, can be tailored to the specific candidate to ensure that their needs are addressed.
8. Create targeted incentive programs
Not all employees will respond to your incentives in the same way. People prioritize different things, and find motivation from different incentives.
As such, it’s important that you find ways to reward all of your employees in a way that resonates with them personally. That might mean offering a wider set of possible incentives, or even allowing employees to choose their reward for strong performance.
9. Make you resources accessible
Equitable access to resources is critical to level the playing field for all employees. That means providing a combination of targeted resources for specific demographics and roles, but also ensuring that all employees are able to access the same development material.
Create processes and central repositories of information that all employees can access as needed. Encourage feedback and suggestions for how to make the resource library better.
10. Create a mentorship program
Lastly, you should strongly consider creating a mentorship program at your organization that pairs employees together based on their goals and areas of focus.
Mentorship programs offer a variety of benefits. First, they provide opportunities for minority employees to match with more senior leaders who may share their background or experiences. In these cases, the mentee can learn from that leader’s experiences in a context that resonates with them.
Second, they provide a highly tailored learning experience for mentees, allowing them to learn and grow in a way that is directly relevant to their goals and needs.