5 Reasons to Focus on Workplace Equity Alongside Diversity and Inclusion.
Seat Time: 12 min
Does every employee in your organization have a level playing field? This is what the concept of workplace equity tries to address. In this article, we discuss:
The difference between equity and equality
Five reasons to prioritize equity alongside diversity and inclusion
Exclusive insights from Avalara’s senior director, Amelia Ransom
When we talk about diversity and inclusion (D&I), one key concept that’s often left out is equity. Equity refers to a state where everyone – regardless of their ethnic background, country of origin, age, physical ability/disability, or gender – has a level playing field. When diversity, inclusion, and equity go together, your workforce is empowered to bring their best to work.
Multiple studies have investigated the direct correlation between diversity and company success. A Boston Consulting Group study noted that companies with more diverse management teams are likely to bring in 19% higher revenues owing to greater innovation.
But you can’t unlock these benefits unless every employee group has the opportunity to join management teams in the first place! And that’s exactly what workplace equity tries to address.
Underscoring the importance of this concept, a group of 100+ investors representing $1.7 trillion in assets recently signed the Workplace Equity Disclosure Statement asking companies seeking investment to disclose their equity data.
As we move toward a more actionable definition of diversity and inclusion, equity must take centerstage. To explore its importance, we spoke to Amelia Ransom, senior director of engagement and diversity at Avalara, a company that provides automated tax software.
Equity Isn’t Synonymous with
Companies that strive for workplace equality (treating everyone the same, without discrimination) may not factor in the need for equity. The entire workforce comes under the same blanket of rules, privileges, and employee experience design, without an eye on unique, demographic-related needs. This may lead to an unfair work environment.
Ransom explains this pitfall with a simple example: “Equality is providing the same meal full of meat for everybody, knowing that you have vegans and vegetarians in the group.”
Equity, on the other hand, attempts to identify the specific needs and requirements informed by demographic traits such as ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, etc. It then tries to address the differing needs of each group by bridging the gap between minority and majority groups. This makes equity central to the genuine empowerment of minority groups (and not just theoretical equality).
Continuing her example, Ransom says, “Equity is providing vegan and vegetarian options along with the meat meal so that everybody has something that they can eat. To have equity in your organization, there needs to be an understanding of what each person needs and wants to be successful in the workplace.”
In other words, a diversity and inclusion program that also covers equity hinges on an acute awareness of varying employee needs. Why is this so necessary?
Why Equity Should Be a Priority Alongside Diversity and Inclusion
Companies that invest in equity can benefit in several ways. Here are five reasons why equity should be at the heart of your diversity and inclusion strategy.
1. Equity encourages cognitive diversity in decision-making
Without equity, even the most diverse company will have a one-dimensional leadership team in charge of making decisions. Consider recent reports by the World Health Organization (WHO), which found that women comprise 70% of the global healthcare workforce, but there are “too few women” making decisions and leading the work.
In other words, while the representation of women may be equal, their empowerment in terms of reaching leadership ranks through mentorships or male ally programs, for example, maybe missing.
As a result, leadership teams do not have access to cognitive diversity, which enables varied problem-solving approaches. By taking measures toward workplace equity, you can ensure that a diverse team is responsible for the company’s strategic direction, making it more agile and resilient.
2. Equity enables targeted upskilling for a diverse workforce
In a large workforce, you are bound to have varying levels of education, with employees coming from privileged, disadvantaged, and multiple other socioeconomic backgrounds.
Without a strong focus on equity, the same learning and development (L&D) plan would apply to all employees. It is likely that, as a result, several talented individuals would fail to reach their full potential.
“When we give everybody the same thing, we not only risk boredom, but we also risk not giving everybody what they really need,” says Ransom.
This is why the Center for American Progress introduced a framework titled Workforce Redesign for Quality Training and Employment in 2019, which aims to be “design for workforce equity.” The paper mentions that women and people of color at all education levels make up the majority of the low-wage workforce segment, “regardless of suitability or earning potential.”
Equity-focused training – bridging skill gaps caused by a disability, socioeconomic background, incarceration, non-English native origins, etc. – can make every worker future-ready and financially stable. The framework even calls employers of a specific size to contribute to a national Workforce Equity Trust Fund (WETF).
Coupling equity with diversity and inclusion lets you identify skill requirements (like a digital literacy gap) and equip every individual with the skills they require to do their job optimally.
3. Equity drives engagement for specific employee demographics
The ideal employee experience will vary across employee groups and demographics.
To take a simple example, a single mother may want to work remotely for at least three out of five days. This doesn’t mean that remote working is a must-have policy for the rest of your organization. It just indicates that you are capable of giving an employee the facilities they need to do their jobs well.
Elements like the onboarding experience, communication, recognition, among others, can be tailored to unique employee needs, ensuring that everyone achieves a level playing field.
4. Equity prevents dissatisfaction, and ultimately employee attrition
When companies don’t prioritize equity alongside diversity and inclusion, the quality of experience for minority groups suffers hugely. Everyone might be receiving the same experience – but certain groups do not derive the same level of satisfaction, owing to multiple demographic factors.
Consider a 2019 survey of 850 employees in tech. Only 10% of men said that their voices were sometimes subdued. In contrast, 20% of all respondents felt “actively subdued” in meetings, and all individuals falling in this 20% identified as Asian, Black or African American, Latinx, or Mixed Race.
By working towards equity – for instance, asking different individuals from different groups to spearhead meetings – dissatisfaction could be curbed, ultimately bringing down employee attrition.
As Ransom notes, “Equity is harder because it requires more work from the organization and its leaders, but the cost of turnover is higher than the cost to drive great equity.”
5. Equity equips the entire company to contribute to a shared mission
The diversity-inclusion-equity trio aims to help every employee contribute to a shared company vision.
Let’s say achieving “50% of women in leadership” is part of your mission statement for the next fiscal year. By proactively taking steps towards equity, companies would have a better chance of reaching this goal.
Hiring managers would focus on recruiting female leaders, L&D professionals could outline leadership development tracks for women, and you could redesign your benefits package to support women across their career trajectory. This boosts your chances of reaching that 50% mark, ultimately gaining from the professional contributions of these women in the workplace.
“Organizations need to be open to trying different practices to reach outcomes. We shouldn’t see it as a negative if somebody needs more skill development than others,” suggests Ransom.
Paving the Way Toward Equity at Your Company
Several companies are now taking concrete steps toward achieving equity in addition to diversity and inclusion. Medical device company Medtronic releases an annual Citizen Report that includes equity data. In 2019, the company announced that it achieved 99% of gender pay equity globally. At HubSpot, equity is part of the company’s D&I mission.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are an excellent way to raise awareness around differing employee needs, which is integral to equity. “ERGs can enable equity by providing the space to discuss issues and create solutions among their peers and allies, which can be useful to empower them to voice their needs to the leadership team,” says Ransom.
For companies looking to extend their diversity, inclusion, and equity benchmarks in 2020, we recommend using people analytics to initiate data analysis into the workforce composition.
You could consider platforms like Visier, which has a demographic analysis capability, tracking progress over a period of time. Oracle’s Human Capital Management is also an excellent alternative. It lets you filter workforce data by age, gender, and minority group, studying frontline workers as well as leadership.
Complement this demographic data with regular surveys on employees’ unique needs – and the gaps – they experience in the workplace. This combination will help you achieve results based on which you can build real workplace equity strategies.
By taking proactive measures based on the results, you can turn your vision for equity into the norm at your organization.