Fate of Diversity and Inclusion Without Equity: Why Equity Matters

Nikita Agnihotri

- June 30, 2020

There is a growing recognition of the issue surrounding inequitable behavior. But it seems that its meaning is not clearly understood. Equity at work is said to exist when all employees have equal opportunities and access to resources to succeed. However, thinking about equity, issues around compensation readily comes to our mind. While it is one of the factors of an equitable workplace, this is not the only component for understanding equity holistically. Essentially, equity makes us accountable to look at everyone with a unique lens. It involves acknowledging that not everyone has the same kind of experiences and opportunities. 

Because of many barriers that exist in our society not everyone starts from the same place. It recognizes that individuals from marginalized groups have limited access to resources and aims to address these imbalances.  Organizations must conquer the battle of balancing employee perceptions related to workplace equity.  Some of these perceptions will be tangible, such as salary, while others will be intangible, such as recognition. When employees compare themselves to other employees and find that they are under-rewarded, anger and tension develop (Chinomona & Chinomona, 2013). The perception about pay inequity can lead to employee dissatisfaction. It can trigger an action to achieve equity or at least move away from the inequity (Bell & Martin, 2012). These actions could take the form of reduced engagement, higher leaves and ultimately leaving the workplace.  

Diversity, Inclusion and Equity taken together

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts are complementary to each other. One cannot thrive and flourish without the other. Fundamentally, achieving equity can only be possible if diverse and inclusive ecosystem exists. Diversity acknowledges and encourages individual differences that exist in any given setting. Inclusive goals pursue that each person is valued, welcomed and respected for their individual differences. The last component in this continuum is Equity. This ensures that D&I is achieved by identifying barriers and creating opportunities accessible in an equitable manner to everyone regardless of their background. Therefore, equity is more of a state than a step per say. 

Equity is about looking at a person’s situation and not just one size fits all kind of an approach. We need to be having a different paint brush for people

Pooja Bajpai, Equity and Inclusion Specialist

Equity at work and the New Normal.

An inclusive culture with its backbone of DEI values is on the path to making our utopian dream come true. It is challenging but imperative to give significant thought in devising equitable practices. Especially when there is limited employee visibility owing to the pandemic and subsequent virtual transition of the workplace. 

Companies must be cognizant of how remote work can have differential impacts on individuals. It can pose varied challenges for the workforce. Employees with extra responsibilities at home (say living with children, elderly, limited space) will effectively transition to a virtual workplace.

Organizations must incorporate a critical understanding of how multiple identities of an individual intersects and shape their world. This will help leaders understand, celebrate, and utilize the strengths and differences that make their teams unique.

Not to our surprise, even with an intent to create an  inclusive culture, many organizations fail to see real results in their efforts.

Meritocracy in absence of Equity at work.

Fortunately, organizations have begun to understand that the meritocracy does not guarantee an equitable environment. Meritocracy can not be achieved without equity. Because it ends up giving access to people who are already on the path to success. Most of the diversity initiatives we need today are to resolve these issues of inequity. Its basis is in longstanding and flawed historical structural systems.

We need Equity because both D&I do not really have the component that equity does which is about correcting some imbalances. I do not know any society or any organization that is truly a meritocracy, because people are starting from different starting points, so the idea of equity for me is to see if we can somehow bring those starting points together…

Aarti Shyamsunder PhD., Organizational Psychologist

Where Do Organizations Hit a Roadblock?

In my effort to uncover challenges current organizations face, I interviewed a couple of DEI experts in the industry and tried to connect the dots for the gap that exists from devising policy to implementation of equitable norms:

Following a quick fix approach; doing just enough to look good

At times initiatives taken by organizations are just ticking a box in the checklist rather than addressing the root problem. Using equity goals as a look-good service and employing it as a buzzword can create frustration and have more negative outcomes than doing any good.

So, rather than looking at DEI policies as a matter of creating a workplace that “looks like ” an equitable organization, it should create an ecosystem that fixes the structural barriers, supports their DEI programs, and builds trust amongst all stakeholders.

Not communicating the need for equitable policies

Managers and organizations together need to communicate the vision behind creating diversity goals. Employees should feel comfortable expressing any concerns, especially if they have reservations regarding “special treatment” due to gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, or other factors. How the vision behind policies devised are disseminated within an organization will determine whether it will be received with an open mind and have the desired results. 

Not accounting for policy implementation issues

As new policies are implemented and significant changes are made to organizational structure, there may be those who are resistant to the changes happening. It can harm both the employee who is on the receiving end of the change (e.g. Extending maternity leave for women) and as well as others who may feel like they do not belong. A team that does not develop the connections in such scenarios among their members faces an uphill battle.

To make this situation even worse, at times such policies backfire: for instance, managers of small companies may hesitate in hiring more women belonging to a specific age-group because they cannot afford benefits such as paid maternity leave

Misconstrued intentions behind equitable initiatives

Even with the right intent to incorporate every individual, initiatives for equitable practices are instead seen as a favor done to the marginalized group. The idea that if a diversity position exists in an organization, it will favor (unfairly) a specific group is a failure to achieve its goals. Let me give you an example: companies now strive to have women representation in their board committee.  The main idea behind such initiatives is not to benefit women themselves, but how it will add value for other stakeholders, corporates, investors, and the wider economic environment (Dawson et al. 2014, Wagner 2011). Women leaders do not want to get a seat at the table because of their gender rather they want others to recognize the value their presence will bring to the board.

Ignoring intersectionality and focusing on gender diversity alone

There is a growing need to look at our workplaces in the broadest context of diversity. Understanding what inclusive culture means is beyond just maintaining gender balance at work. Initiatives with an intent to have fair play will have to tackle challenges associated with other demographics such as age, physical disability, religion, culture, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, parental status, gender identity etc.

As individuals, we all exhibit a different variation of all these identities. In a corporate workplace, creating equitable opportunities really depends on incorporating the amalgamation of varied unique identities the workforce brings with them. Organizations wish to be inclusive and claim to incorporate differences while at the same time refusing to adopt an intersectional approach which is imperative to recognize discrimination and inequality linked to these multiple identities.

Blurred vision for adapting to the new normal

Given the current virtual workplace scenario, organizations need to develop strategies on how they will accommodate those returning to work. Issues need to be addressed about infrastructural changes (for instance, arranging a cab pickup, sanitization of the workplace), harnessing mental and emotional wellbeing etc.

With the rising difficulties in each domain of people’s lives, employers will have to reinforce their message about committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We must level the playing field and create equity-inspired design that blooms in the organization’s culture. Next part of this series will look at a few strategies on how these issues can be addressed. 

More information

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Serein Inc is an end to end service partner for the implementation of gender awareness, diversity, inclusion and Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) legal compliance. We partner with companies on case redressal and policies to proactively build an inclusive and safer work cultures and diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias trainings face-to-face or virtually. For more details on diversity, inclusion and prevention of sexual harassment (POSH )training (in India, South East Asia and the US) reach out to

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Elina Tiliba

Workshops Facilitator

Elina is a certified coach who works with leaders, entrepreneurs and business teams from over 30 countries. At Serein, she facilitates sensitisation sessions for clients across the globe.

Her passion lies in empowering individuals to maximise their personal and professional potential, enabling them to achieve both success and fulfilment.

With a commitment to the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) Coaching Core Competencies and Code of Ethics, Elina brings over 1000 hours of individual coaching and 400 hours of team facilitation, workshops, and coaching groups to her coaching practice. 

Rishab Prasad

DEI Specialist

Rishab is passionate about creating long-term partnerships with Serein’s customers. He is responsible for marketing, operations, customer onboarding, contract writing, and relationship building. Rishab uses his directing and filmmaking skills to design engaging content for Serein’s social media platforms.

Rishab holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with Honours from CHRIST University, Bangalore. He has directed more than nine short films on topics like stigmas of menstruation, widowhood, and adoption.

Dr. Ishani Roy

Founder and CEO

Ishani founded Serein to provide a data and research-based approach to solving DEI challenges at the workplace. She advises company leaders, startup founders, and venture capital firms on industry best practices to increase diversity and design a DEI roadmap.

Ishani is a recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award 2023 for the global impact of her work in the DEI space.

Before founding Serein, Ishani was a scientist at GE Research working in the Aerospace Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University on developing mathematical models to solve Astrophysics problems. She did her Post-doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and St. Thomas Hospital in Biomathematics.

Chryslynn D’Costa

Co-founder and CPO |

Chryslynn leads the product development of Serein’s DEI SaaS tool. She designs learning content and strategic insights for companies to measure their DEI growth, and achieve bias-free recruitment and psychological safety.

Chryslynn is a regular columnist with publications like ‘LiveMint’ and ‘The Hindu’ where she writes about unconscious bias, prevention of sexual harassment, and company culture.

Before Serein, she was a Gandhi Fellow working in rural Rajasthan to address educational leadership and gender equity in government schools. She graduated from Azim Premji University in Bangalore with a Master’s in Education where she specialised in gender and sexuality education.

Bianca D’Costa

Head of PoSH: India, Global

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Before Serein, Bianca worked in hospitality for 5 years with Emirates Airlines. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai. She is presently pursuing a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality in Global Politics from SOAS University of London.

Aparna Pandurangan

Head of Operations

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Faakirah Irfan

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She has 150+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace. Her legal research at Serein includes policy analysis, human rights, women’s rights, and document drafting.

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Rhea D’Silva


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Before Serein, Bhavini worked as an archivist at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and as an editorial assistant for IIT Bombay’s PR and Alumni Associations department.

She has a Master’s degree in Education from Azim Premji University where she worked extensively with the management on anti-sexual harassment legal implementation. Her work involved the interpretation of the law in a university as a workplace and an educational institution for adults. 

Kirtika N

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She has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Montfort College, Bengaluru, and has experience working as a trainee counselor.

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Nithya R

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Abhishek Ghattamaneni

Head of Financial Strategies

Abhishek heads Financial Strategies at Serein. He is responsible for overseeing finance, Corporate Secretarial (CS) related work, and compliance among other things. He is a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in finance and corporate governance. With over 15 years of expertise as a qualified Company Secretary, he has made significant contributions to the finance departments of companies within the real estate and startup sectors.

Having worked with organisations operating across multiple countries, Abhishek brings a deep understanding of international taxation to the table. Notably, he achieved an impressive 42nd rank in 12th grade under the AP Education Board, demonstrating a strong academic foundation to complement his professional achievements.

Kaushik Mazumdar

Engineering and Platform Consultant

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He looks after the technology and education segment of Krishworks, and has built Ed-Tech products to improve English Literacy in rural areas of India with QR coded books, Smart Classrooms, Teacher Trainings and increased involvement of parents.

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Balaji P

Design Consultant

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Subhajit Roy

Engineering and Platform Consultant

Subhajit is the Co-Founder of Krishworks Technology and Research Labs Pvt Ltd. He is a social entrepreneur who uses technology to promote rural literacy and upskill rural teachers. 

At Serein, Subhajit and his team has helped develop the e-learning platform and DEI SaaS Tool. He also oversees its maintenance and development.  

He is an incubatee at IIM Calcutta Innovation Park and an alumni of ISB Dlabs. Along with his co-founders, he is recognised with the Leaders of Tomorrow Award by Times Now. During the early days of his career, he worked as an Embedded System Designer, and was involved in various projects related to National Defence (DRDO) and health care research. Some of the products designed by him have been used by Apollo Hospitals, Govt of India, got patented and also received FDA approval.

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