Practitioner viewpoint

31 January 2023

Louise Ward takes a look at the difference between ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ and highlights that we need to champion our superpowers.

I TRULY believe that every one of us is unique and special. Nobody is perfect, and few of us feel entirely at peace with ourselves, but if we are to be happy and to feel fulfilled, then I think we need to accept that as adults the building blocks are placed, our base build is defined, and we need to accept ourselves as we are. That’s not to say we can’t develop. I’m a huge advocate of growth mindset, but we need to stop thinking of imperfections as weaknesses and instead celebrate the ‘superpowers’ which these differences provide us.

I think that society has a tendency to promote an image of equality as a version of the world where everybody is treated in exactly the same way – but that’s just not practical. Someone who is blind cannot navigate the world in the same way as a sighted person. But their other senses are heightened, and they develop a range of skills which provide a completely different insight to the world, and allow them to operate in a way that sighted people cannot replicate. Neurodiversity often results in a heightened ability to process data and spot patterns, errors and opportunities, and wheelchair users develop an in depth understanding of ergonomics and task design.

I fundamentally believe in equality of opportunity, but if we only ever seek to treat everyone as if they are the same, then we are missing out on a huge range of skills and abilities, ‘superpowers’, which have the potential to positively enhance our organisations, workplaces, communities and environments.

Equality is defined as providing exactly the same opportunities and resources to everyone, whereas the concept of Equity recognises that everyone has different circumstances and provides adapted resources and opportunities in order to allow everyone to achieve an equivalent outcome. 

People represent a significant portion of the asset base in the majority of organisations, so it makes absolute sense to adopt an approach that enables people to realise their full potential. This will deliver significant individual benefits in terms of productivity, engagement and retention, but will also positively enhance business outputs and deliverables.

The question is, are we mature enough to have the right conversations to make this a reality? Talking about difference is not necessarily an easy or comfortable thing to do. But look how far we’ve come in just a few short years in relation to discussion of mental wellness. With a few high profile role models and united effort, understanding and discussion of mental wellbeing has moved forward dramatically. So there is no reason why we can’t change the language and thinking to move us on from ‘equality’ to ‘equity’.

The UK is experiencing a significant skills shortage, so there has never been a better time to look at options to open up the workplace, diversify recruitment and actively seek out ‘superpowers’ in potential applicants. We need to change the focus and recruit to deliver the core requirements of the role, then be willing and able to have open and honest conversations about the way in which we can support applicants and existing staff to realise that potential.

It’s a very subtle change in focus, but has the potential to deliver a revolutionary impact on both an individual and organisational level. 

The first step is to be honest with ourselves about our own ‘superpowers’, and to open up a conversation about the difference between ‘equality’ and ‘equity’. The aim has to be to get to a position where society openly discusses and celebrates the benefits of difference, provides support, and encourages a growth mindset that helps everyone to realise their own potential.

Let’s make Equity the next big topic in the sustainability discussion.