• Dr. Dallas Dance

Defining Equity

Now more than ever, I am hearing leaders openly discuss equity in the workplace. I am hearing everything from we are leading the way to we are at crossroad to we are nowhere near where we want to be. I am encouraged because the conversations are happening. But, equity must be clearly defined and move from conversation to action.

Equity in the workplace provides opportunity and access for everyone to succeed. This includes employees and stakeholders as well as customers. It is one of the most efficient ways to achieve collaborative success. Mistakenly, many leaders do not make understanding and advocating for equity a priority. Why? While this answer may vary depending on the individual and the organization, let us just say that many individuals subscribe to the belief that smart, witty, and driven professionals are self-sufficient and outside factors do not determine their success. Many individuals also subscribe to the belief that systemic issues involving racial, gender, and sexual discrimination, just to name a few, do not exist. And, to be brutally honest, some people do not want equity to exist. However, in the United States where by the year 2045 the majority of our population will be non-White and where today, the majority of students enrolled in our public schools are students of color, not striving toward equity through a clearly defined equity agenda is extremely short-sighted.


Clearly, equity does matter, and it is not something that develops on its own or works itself out. If you are not intentionally creating a work culture that advocates, establishes, and maintains equity for all, you are missing a critical opportunity. But, it is never too late!


Equity IS NOT:

Equity is not just about diversity and inclusion. Although inclusion is a necessary step towards the progression of equity, a person can be included but not experience equity. It is also not a free pass to the weak links within the organization giving everyone the same praise or compensation regardless of their contributions or lack there of. It is not a quota or affirmative action. It cannot be something that is studied in a workshop and never addressed again. It is progressive and ongoing. Equity is not equality. Equality means equal amounts of something is available regardless of one’s specific needs.


Equity IS:

Equity is an ethical concept. Equity acknowledges workplace advantages and disadvantages and keeps prestige and hierarchies obsolete. The conversation of equity is spreading vastly amongst organizations in ALL industries, particularly philanthropic circles. You would struggle to find a conference or event that did not at least mention equity and discuss potential ways to address. Equity is one of those vague terms that most of us understand the concept of; yet, we struggle to agree on its true and authentic definition and objective and ultimately we struggle to implement it. So, let’s be clear; the technical (Merriam-Webster’s) simple definition of equity is fairness or justice in the way people are treated. In a deeper more complex definition as described by Stanford’s University Social Innovation Review, equity is about each of us getting what we need to survive or succeed. This includes but is not limited to, access to opportunity, networks, support, and valuable resources based on where we currently are and where we want to go. For example, if David gets a promotion at work and now makes $100,000 yearly salary, equity does not mean the entire office gets a promotion and now makes 6 figures. Equity asks Michael, who works in the mailroom, what his career goals are? And, the same level of support and opportunity as well as access that was provided to David is also provided to Michael. In short, equity creates a path for everyone to reach their full potential.


3 ways to establish equity in the workplace:

Once we understand the fundamentals of equity, we can begin moving toward implementing equity structures within our organizations and across all aspects of the organization.


1. Career Goal Evaluation

Most workplaces offer a quarterly or yearly employee evaluation. These evaluations typically cover performance, raises, expectations, and the overall tone is a discussion centered on the value that the employee brings to the company. There is definitely a use as well as a time and place for such evaluations. However, an evaluation where a team member’s short- and long-term career goals are discussed is a much more beneficial evaluation. Career goal evaluation will empower a team member, provide a path to success, and increase employee retention. Key questions to ask during this evaluation are:

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • What obstacles do you feel keep you from advancing to your desired career level?

  • Do you feel safe at work? Not just physically but also professionally safe, which requires the freedom to feel like one can solve problems, provide feedback, and grow into a better person.

  • Do you feel respected at work?

  • What can your management team do to understand your goals more and support you toward the attainment of those goals?

2. Continuous Development Opportunities

Having an onsite training team or access to coaches, mentors, and upper level executives to steer your team towards progression and sharpen their skills will make them a better asset to the organization and make them feel valued at the same time. The goal is that they not only understand their role, but they also understand how to be leaders in their field and within their respective space. Create passionate leaders! The secondary goal is that they understand, and capacity is built within them allowing them to advance in the current role, have every resource available to do so, and be prepared for the next level with the access and opportunity to get there.


3. Develop a Company Mandated Equity Plan

Equity doesn’t happen overnight or evolve from thoughtful conversations. A specific and direct plan must be created and enforced within every organization implemented through every level that desires to establish principles of equity with bold action steps toward ensuring implementation and accountability. A plan of equity lays out:

  • A thorough and comprehensive review of policies and practices that exacerbate issues of equity and systemic equity issues;

  • Schedule and contents of career objective evaluations;

  • Plan for a diverse and inclusive staff and talent pipeline;

  • Executive team member sensitivity training;

  • The company’s establish view and definition of equity;

  • The goal of equity explained in staffing and coach materials; and

  • A plan of equity accountability and enforcement.

Once the above is established and you identify what equity means in your organization and what your implantation goals are now the test is enforcing it and holding all individuals accountable by creating a culture of inclusivity through equity. Engaging all colleagues in equity centered activities and training throughout the year every year will help keep equity a priority and create a positive, powerful, and dynamic work culture that is mutually beneficial for all that genuinely thrives to ensure all means all and everyone gets what they need to grow and succeed.