While Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs are cornerstones of modern workplaces, the “equity” piece is often overlooked and one of the most complicated to address.

Equity Versus Equality

Equity and equality are not the same. A commitment to equality leads workplaces to provide an equal set of rules and privileges to maintain a neutral stance toward all its employees. While this is important for all sorts of legal reasons, it assumes we all come to the table with the same privileges, backstory, and needs.

Equity digs deeper and recognizes that employees require different things to be on equal footing at work. Fairness requires that employers differentiate support rather than ignore differences. Conversations can be challenging when providing these supports requires some investment. Challengers of equity programs call these investments “accommodations.” However, the label of accommodations explicitly stigmatizes the very differences that are, in fact, positive. Giving people what they need to be on equal footing is not an accommodation, it’s good business sense.

The Measurable Value of Equity

One of the primary benefits of workplace equity is increasing the available talent pool. Studies show that groups with greater diversity produce more new viewpoints, generate greater critical inquiry and innovation and ultimately lead to higher returns than a company would otherwise have. You would really limit your company’s potential if you only hired people who lived in a specific geographic area, were within a certain height range, or listened to the same music as you. Anytime you restrict your potential workforce you are obscuring more of the world from your field of view. Reduced awareness shrinks the set of possible solutions to market problems and eventually impacts your addressable market.

Equitable principles also create greater efficiency and improve retention. When retention goes up, recruiting and retraining costs go down. And retaining institutional knowledge is critical for start-ups that are scaling fast.

Another example is flexible working arrangements, including work from home, to attract and retain staff from a broad geographic area. This enables us to grow quickly and be nimble as we develop and refine our products for different markets and industries.  Further, we are more likely to be able to support our global clients in their native time zone. These practices also enable people to more efficiently balance their work and personal responsibilities, ultimately improving productivity. It also reduces stress and improves mental health when an employee knows they can bring their whole self to work and be accepted for it.

Equitable Practices Offer a Steady Return

Employers who assert and establish principles of equity in their culture get a steady return over time. Encouraging people to discuss what support would help them succeed, and helping managers provide it, improves communication, empathy, and respect across teams. More open dialogue fuels a continuous process of identifying and refining strong equity practices. 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programming often either rejects difference in service of equality, or protects differences in service of anti-discrimination. The world requires more—modern equitable practices that celebrate and strategically leverage differences in every part of the organization. The result is greater capacity to innovate, create, and develop individual success that feeds organizational competitive advantages.

Acknowledging the reality of a modern population is not an accommodation, it’s strategic thinking.