By Lisa Cox, DIVERSEability Magazine
Equality in the workplace is all the buzz in the HR world. If you’re a business owner, finding ways to expand your workforce and diversify your client base will benefit your company culture and your brand’s revenue-generating potential.
As a whole, businesses have made concerted efforts towards achieving diversity, but while some of these efforts are commendable, others are clearly tokenistic in an attempt to look good on paper. We’re not seeing notable transformation in our societies or upliftment in disadvantaged communities. Which begs the question: What isn’t working?
Is equality realistic at this point?
Possibly a controversial question that begs asking: is equality realistic? We want a business industry that is high-functioning, diverse, collaborative and that ultimately boosts the entire country’s economic net-worth. We want to encourage disadvantaged members of the population to gain meaningful employment and transform the roles they play as part of our society. With businesses wanting to fulfil these needs, why are they still largely unmet? Should we examine equitability first? Let’s start by defining it.
Equity is the missing piece of the puzzle
Picture yourself attending a show. Everyone who attends the show gets the same welcome package: binoculars, popcorn and booklet. It doesn’t matter what kind of vehicle you arrived in, whether you’re male or female or if you’re disabled or use some sort of mobility aid, everyone gets the same welcome box.
This is an example of equality. It means regardless of who you are, you can expect the same treatment as every other attendee.
Equitability means that not everyone is able to attend. There are potential guests that may enjoy the show. They’re welcome to arrive. However, the show doesn’t offer wheelchair access. The show is too far away from the outlying areas where poorer people live. The show runs through the same time as most parenting duties. People with disabilities, people from low-income areas and parents, while welcome, will not be able to attend.
Regardless of the hosts’ statements regarding equality, if it’s not equitable (meaning accessible), equality still only applies to a select number of people who are in the position of privilege to be able to attend. Now, think of it as a workplace and not as a show.
How equity makes equality attainable
Equity in the workplace is slightly different from the above analogy, but that scene demonstrates the problem. We can create the most encouraging and positive work environments for a diverse range of people. However, until full-time employment is accessible and practical for disadvantaged individuals, equality remains theoretical. Examples of equality that needs equitability in order to make it work, include:
- For women: equitability means offering both men and women maternity leave. The fact that only women get maternity leaves suggests that it is solely the woman’s job to raise a family, thus setting aside her career aspirations. This assumption also means that women of childbearing age come with added risks, expenses and stress, so employers would rather hire a man. For women, equitability also means having flexible work options.
- For workers with disabilities: Professionals with disabilities are often asked for their thoughts on equality. Many of them feel that until workplaces have wheelchair access, provide protocols that enable time off to see specialists and remain flexible enough to allow workers to achieve their KPIs in a less rigid 9-5 schedule, working is also inequitable and largely inaccessible to them. Note: “Wheelchair access” isn’t just about access by those using a wheelchair. It can also mean people using other mobility aids or those who can walk but may have difficulty with long distances or stairs. In these instances, individuals may prefer to use access points for those of us in wheelchairs.
- Skilled workers from disadvantaged communities: For many skilled and qualified individuals that have proven they have the tenacity to make it through university, working at high-performing firms is still not an option, regardless of how the company might embrace “workers from all walks of life.” Traveling from outlying areas makes the daily commute completely impossible while moving closer is also impractical due to financial and resource restraints. Unless companies offer remote working options, once again, equality remains theoretical simply because the opportunity for employment is not attainable to someone who isn’t already in a position of privilege.
Although workplace equity is a challenging task to tackle, it is a worthwhile investment that leads to many benefits. including increased innovation, employee engagement and retention, financial performance and contributing to the bottom line. The catch is that, in order to reap the full benefits, companies cannot just be equitable on paper. They need to dedicate time and effort to understanding the needs and challenges of certain employee groups and work to bridge those gaps while aligning their business goals. Only then can companies create an equitable and inclusive environment that attracts diverse talent and brings out the true potential in each employee.