Although there is a growing recognition of the issue surrounding inequitable behavior, it seems that its meaning is not clearly understood. In general, 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, 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 and 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 and the last component in this continuum is Equity which ensures that diversity and inclusion 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 or individual’s situation and circumstances 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 and pose varied challenges for the workforce. For instance, employees with extra responsibilities at home (say living with children, elderly, limited space) will be more susceptible to effectively transitioning to a virtual workplace. Organizations must incorporate a critical understanding of how multiple identities (language, culture, gender, and socio-economic status) 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 with its basis 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org