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Understanding Equality vs Equity

Wednesday, July 12, 2023 - Dignify

Equality is, on the surface, ideal. The concept that everyone should be treated equally regardless of who they are, what they look like, what they do, how they operate, and so on is an aspirational and core value of people, governments, and businesses all over the world. In many cases, practicing equality is a great approach to leveling the playing field in groups of people. However, in many cases, what people might actually be after is “equity.” Let’s dive into the terms, establish what they mean, and how they are different.

Harvard professor Alford Young, PhD gives a very simple way to define equality and equity. He defines equality as “the access to and distribution of a set of resources evenly across individuals,” while defining equity as “the access to or distribution of resources according to need” (Murphy). Both of these approaches are similar in that they are often meant to seek equal outcomes as a result of their application. However, when looking deeper, we can find that they have very distinct optimal use cases.

As mentioned before, an equal, fair outcome distributed among a group of people is often the end goal. With an equality-based approach, resources are distributed evenly among each person – individuality is not considered, as each person receives the same treatment. For example, let’s say that every employee, regardless of their size, all receive the same size uniform. Would that be fair? What about the people who are too big or too small to fit in it? The uniform might fit for some people, maybe even most people, but some are bound to be extremely uncomfortable in that uniform.

Equality-based approaches do not always create equal outcomes. This is where an equity-based approach comes in. Equity is a major part of the modern business environment – without a doubt, you’ve been hammered home on the idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion. If the above scenario were handled with an equity-based approach, each person would have had their size measurements considered individually and been given uniform in accordance with their height and weight – all three would have been able to work comfortably.

Equity is, more often than not, the more effective approach to creating an equal outcome. Take, for example, the idea of health equity. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health equity as “when everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible” (Milken Institute School of Public Health). Sadly, in reality, not everyone has this opportunity.

Demographic factors such as income, location, and education play into one’s ability to access good healthcare, nutritious foods, and time to exercise. Historically, minority groups have faced greater systemic and structural pressures that restricted their ability to improve their income, move to better neighborhoods, and acquire an education. Therefore, they have suffered more from lack of access to healthcare. Regina Davis Moss, PhD, MPH explains that equity-based approaches force us to consider these demographic disparities and factor them into our approach to healthcare (Murphy). The pro-equity argument would be that those groups that have suffered more from lack of access to healthcare (and adjacent elements like nutritious foods, time for exercise, etc.) should be given the level of support needed so that they can access it and live healthily like everyone else, even if that level of support required is disproportionate to other groups. Thus, a higher likelihood of an equal outcome is created.

DeRay Mckesson, an African American civil rights activist, says, “The difference between equity and equality is that equality is everyone get the same thing and equity is everyone get the things they deserve.”

Hopefully, this gives you a clearer idea on the idea of equity, what it means, and the arguments for equity-based approaches on a micro and macro scale. In the next article, we will discuss how equity applies to the workplace and why you might want to get after building it.

“Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference?” [Article]. 5 November, 2020. Milken Institute School of Public Health/George Washington University Online Public Health. https://onlinepublichealth.gwu.edu/resources/equity-vs-equality/ [Accessed June 13, 2023]

Murphy, Colleen (2023). “Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference?” [Article]. 11 January, 2023. Health. https://www.health.com/mind-body/health-diversity-inclusion/equity-vs-equality [Accessed June 13, 2023]

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