Friday, July 7, 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Equity Over Equality

I was born left-handed. Instead of going through the incredible amount of work that my mother did (who is also left-handed) to learn how to write right-handed, I embraced the fact that I was left-handed. When I walk into a classroom with chairs that have built in desks designed for right-handed people I am experiencing equality. This “fairness” puts me at a disadvantage. For me to be as comfortable and successful as other right-handed people in the room, I need something different, a left-handed desk. I need equity.

Equality and equity are two different interpretations of what it means to be fair. Equality means that everyone gets the same or are treated the same. If there are ten pieces of candy and two students, each kid gets five pieces of candy. Done. Equity means that people are provided with what they need to be successful. If a parent gives one of his kids glasses because that child is near-sighted and doesn’t give his other child glasses who isn’t, that is equity. The parent is treating each kid differently, but this assures that time they see a movie, both children can enjoy watching it.

Equality makes perfect sense in a situation where everyone is the same and gets the same things in life. If two people are the exactly same intelligence level, and have the same personality, and are treated by their parents and other people in their lives in the exactly same way, equality works. Giving them exactly the same thing in this case would make sense because sense they are the same in all ways, they don’t need different things to be successful. In other words, if people start in the same place, they need the same things in life.  However, no two people start in the same place.

If people are the same, then we treat them same.  Equality works. However when you embrace the many facets of diversity I discussed last week in this post (otherwise known as reality), than equity becomes the essential paradigm.

Equity in many situation is in our lives without much thought. People are fine with handicap parking, many restaurants clearly label vegetarian dishes on the menu, and motorist wait patiently when elderly people cross the street. These are accommodations, ways we treat people differently so that they can be included in our society. These are points of diversity, physical difference, diet and age that most people don’t have any issue acknowledging.

Where things get difficult, where equity becomes challenging is when we start treating people more equitably because they are not starting at the same place because of their race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual identity, and gender expression.

Example: women on average have hire health insurance/health care cost because of childbirth and other procedures and care related to reproductive health. In order to prevent women from being economic disadvantaged, men pitch in with part of their insurance payments so that women pay for insurance/health care at a cost closer to men.

To accept this level of equity, it requires that you acknowledge that there are differences between women and men and that these differences have given men an economic advantage. Once you’ve come to this understanding, conversations around equity can move forward.

The same goes for race. There was a generation of people who were taught that being “colorblind” and not openly acknowledging issues surrounding race was the right thing to do.  If we can reject this notion, see racial diversity, understand different of layers of racial privilege, and systemic racism, than we can work on racial equity.  However, these things are not easy to do.  For some, being told about their white privilege is akin to being told the sky is green.  This is not a reason why we shouldn't do this work, but this is important to understand as we move forward.  

There is insecurity and skepticism around the topic of equity, because so many want to hang onto the notion of the American dream, this idea that all it takes to make it in this country, to rise from being poor to rich is hard work. It’s a great dream, and it’s something to strive for, but it’s not a reality. People have advantages and disadvantages in our country as a result of parts of their identity that they cannot control. We can get better at making this inequity less, but only by acknowledging that this inequality exists.

Equity doesn’t mean that we have to give up on the American dream, we just need to think about it differently. It’s a dream where everyone, because of how we embrace diversity and treat each other with equity, that hard work can lead to success for all.

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