Ideal Outcomes

Cultivating a Culture of Equity vs. Equality

by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs have recently crashed into a wave of controversy with high-profile politicians and business leaders questioning their merit. While advancement programs for minority workers are not new, the term DEI gathered momentum after the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The impact was seen as largely positive for employees and employers.

Companies on the S&P 100 added more than 300,000 jobs, and 94% of them went to people of color. One McKinsey report said, “Companies that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive are better able to respond to challenges, win top talent, and meet the needs of different customer bases.” And a separate McKinsey report of 1,000 companies, which argued that the case for DEI was “stronger than ever,” found those with more diverse leaderships were 25% more likely to have higher profits than similar companies that did not.

So why the backlash against DEI? Antagonists say that it gives marginalized groups preferential treatment, and organizations might become legal targets. Subsequently, in a tight job market, DEI programs seem to have been hardest with turnover. A study of 600 companies by Revelio Labs, a workforce database, found the attrition rate for people working in DEI was nearly double that of other employees.

In response, companies have adopted different strategies. According to a New York Times article, “New hurdles and opposition to diversity programs have pushed some business leaders to approach their DEI initiatives ‘in a less in-your-face way,’ while others are doubling down.” So where do we go from here?

Equity vs Equality

One key point I’d like to make which often adds to the confusion over exactly what DEI means focuses on the letter E. It stands for equity, not equality. There’s a difference. And it’s critical to understand the difference to create a fair and inclusive workplace. Equality involves treating everyone the same, but equity is about tailoring resources to meet individual needs, such as offering leadership training to promising employees who might lack access or adjusting work schedules for those who have a specific need. Put another way, equality is like giving everyone the same type of shoes but equity is giving everyone the shoes that fit them best so they can run their fastest.

This equitable approach ensures that each employee gets the support they need to excel in their role, recognizing that the path to reaching potential can vary significantly among individuals. By prioritizing equity over equality, organizations can create a more adaptable and responsive culture that truly meets the needs of its workforce. 

The Role of Leadership in Promoting Equity 

Leaders are crucial in embedding a culture of equity within the organization. They must actively work to identify and remove barriers that prevent certain groups of employees from participating fully in the workplace. Leaders should advocate for policies that support diverse needs, such as inclusive hiring practices, flexible working arrangements, and personalized professional development programs. 

Encouraging Participation and Voice 

Creating a fair workplace means making sure everyone, no matter their job, can share their thoughts and ideas. This can be done by setting up open forums, suggestion boxes, and regular meetings where everyone from new hires to senior staff can talk about what matters to them. This openness makes everyone feel included and brings together a wide range of ideas, which can lead to better decisions and creative solutions that benefit the whole company. 

Recognizing and Valuing Diverse Contributions 

Every employee has their own skills and experiences that are valuable to the company. Recognizing and valuing these differences involves more than just fair pay; it means really seeing and appreciating what each person adds to the team. Celebrating people’s contributions in meetings, and sharing their success stories publicly shows that every role is important and encourages everyone to keep doing their best. 

Continuous Learning and Adaptation 

To keep up a fair and supportive work environment, companies need to always be learning and adapting. This means regularly checking and adjusting workplace rules and procedures to make sure they’re fair and don’t leave anyone at a disadvantage. It also means staying current with the best ways to develop the company and engage employees. By keeping up with new ideas and making changes when needed, companies can remain great places to work and continue to succeed. 

Cultivate Your Culture of Equity Now 

Creating a workplace where all roles are equitable if not equal is not just about fairness; it’s about maximizing the potential of every individual and, by extension, the organization. By nurturing a culture that deeply respects and utilizes the diversity of its workforce, companies can achieve a more cohesive, innovative, and resilient organization. Remember, in a truly equitable workplace, every role plays a part in the company’s success.