Just like privilege, the line between equity and equality may be hard to define if you’ve never had to fight for either.
Surely, equality is a product of everyone being treated equally? Wouldn’t this be the solution to the many socio-economic issues faced by black people, especially highlighted by the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement?
Well, no. Treating everyone equally actually keeps people at the level they are now. Equity, however, is the process whereby everyone is elevated to the same level as each other in order to achieve equality.
For example, imagine you are going to a concert to see your favourite band. You’re on the short side and, despite paying the same ticket price as everyone else, it’s likely your view of the stage will not be as clear as others around you who are much taller. Although the venue has provided a step for you to stand on, it has also given the same step to everyone else, so your view is not improved at all! However, what if the venue had given each concert-goer a specially sized step that raised everyone to the same height? Problem solved!
You see, for everyone to be on the same level, and therefore achieve equality, you need equity first.
Equity cannot be achieved by cobbling together a diversity and inclusion policy or hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, although these are good places to start. The process involves taking a fundamental look at your organisation’s culture and implementing real change.
Here are some top tips for where to start in your workplace:
Place value on education
Many white leaders may only have an inkling of the history and discrimination faced by black people, so a little research will go a long way in helping to build empathy and respect. As well as examining your own privilege and personal biases, it’s vital to take a magnifying glass to your organisation’s norms, values and practices to see how they may provide advantage to white people. And this isn’t a job just for the CDO, but for everyone!
Promote openness around race
It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Don’t be scared to tackle racial subjects head on – some workplaces will go to great lengths to avoid discomfort, but this is required for real education and, consequently, transformation to occur.
Be aware that black people and people from other racial minorities may find it uncomfortable themselves to challenge the perspectives they encounter at work due to concerns of looking unprofessional or not being considered “team players”. These challenges should also not just be their burden to bear; everyone should take responsibility for advocating for racial equity.
To encourage healthy conversations and build a shared vocabulary, specific discussions around race could be facilitated by training, for both new and existing people, and become the focus of team meetings.
Ensure you develop structures of accountability, such as setting out policies that publicly state your organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and how people can report unacceptable behaviour.
Check, also, that existing practices are aiding your ability to achieve racial equity. For example, Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review about how the departures of black people from his organisation were not being investigated seriously enough; a lack of “racial competencies” of those conducting exit interviews had failed to uncover a pattern and hence issues within his workplace culture.
Practise what you preach
To embed the importance of racial equity in your organisation, team leaders must show that these policies are not just “talk” but that toxic behaviour will not be tolerated, whether that’s by thoroughly investigating incidents of discrimination or helping to give a voice to those less privileged in your workplace.
It’s important to acknowledge that making real change takes time and is an undertaking that doesn’t come with a completion date. Building and maintaining racial equity requires daily practice so get ready to buckle up for the long haul!
If you want to find out more about racial equity, Tell Jane offers a range of training programmes that can be tailored to your organisation and D&I strategy. Contact me directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to discover how we can help.