From equality to equity – the changing face of EDI

From equality to equity – the changing face of EDI

Have you noticed that there’s been a shift in language over the last couple of years? We’re hearing less about DE&I – Diversity, Equality and Inclusion – and more about EDI – Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. It this just semantics, or is there more behind the change?

We’ve seen a concerted effort by many organisations over the last decade – in particular since the death of George Floyd in 2020 – to work towards a diverse and inclusive workforce. One which is representative of a wide variety of ages, genders, cultures, races, religions, sexual orientations, and abilities. One where everyone feels respected, free to be themselves, and where everyone benefits from equal opportunities.

But there’s also been a realisation that this effort has not always delivered the expected benefits of increased engagement, creativity, innovation and productivity that should ultimately lead to better talent retention and higher financial returns.

So, is the case for DE&I flawed? Have the promised benefits been overblown? Sadly, some believe so. There are reports of a backlash resulting in major companies scrapping DE&I programmes, and returning to a focus on performance culture to deliver shareholder return, growth, and profit.  Earlier this year, diversity officers from Disney, Warner Bros, and Netflix were all let go of or lost, and both Google and Meta have made similar cuts.

There is overwhelming evidence, however, that a diverse, equitable and inclusive organisation is healthier, happier and more successful – and companies of any stature ignore this at their peril. The world of work has changed significantly over the last few years and today’s upcoming talent expect inclusive performance cultures and diverse teams as standard. So, if the principles are sound, could there be something wrong with the way we are approaching it?

Many companies have been heavily focused on diversity and are making visible progress on that front. Others have worked hard to create a workplace culture where all employees feel valued, respected, and included. But just because you hire a diverse team and make them feel included, it doesn’t mean you are necessarily giving every member of that team the same chance to succeed and do their best. If individuals have the same resources or opportunities for growth as their peers, but their situation or starting point is different, then even the most diverse and inclusive culture may not help them or your business thrive.

It seems that the equality part of the equation could be where the problem lies. Just because your employees have equal rights, doesn’t mean your work place is equitable. It’s why we’re seeing a shift from talking about Diversity, Equality & Inclusion to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. It’s both a change of language and a change of emphasis.  While equality means everyone is given the same resources or opportunities, the idea of equity recognises that we are all a product of different circumstances and so aims to give individuals the specific resources and opportunities they need to reach an equal outcome and thrive. It’s about removing barriers to success and creating a level playing field.

Bill Schaninger, McKinsey senior partner and talent expert, recently gave a simple example of the implications of equity for sourcing talent: “There’s a real difference between equal and equitable. Suppose we said, ‘All interns are created equal. We pay them nothing.’ The people who can afford an entire summer without getting paid are likely already coming from a position of privilege.”

Equity is not about giving everyone the identical resources and support because not everyone is the same. The goal of equity is to change the systems and structures that get in the way of people’s ability to succeed. It needs to lead the way to achieving a better culture for all.

You may have heard the descriptor coined by diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers:

“Diversity is being invited to the party. But inclusion is being asked to dance.”

It’s a helpful image, but employers who are committed to reaping the full benefits of EDI need to go one step further. They need to remove the barriers to dancing. What if your employees want to dance, but don’t know the steps? What if they have never had the opportunity to dance before, or simply aren’t able to get on the dance floor as it stands? Diversity and inclusion on their own don’t necessarily empower people to do their best unless they are led and empowered by equity.

Time for a rethink? At Lucent we work with organisations to help them deliver on equity, diversity and inclusion for happier, healthier and more successful businesses. Why not get in touch to see how we can help you?