Equality and Equity

image reference: https://laout.org/community-equity-event/

Working in cultures that value equality (egalitarian countries including the Anglo, Nordic, and Germanic-European cultural clusters), we sometimes find there is resistance or push-back against the idea of treating certain demographic groups differently – surely everyone is fundamentally equal so treating everyone the same is the right thing to do?

A participant in a workshop recently shared a quote: ”Nothing is more unequal than giving equal treatment to people who are unequal.” While this is apparently not from Thomas Jefferson as has often been said (it’s more likely adapted from Plato) it’s still a useful reminder of the difference between Equality and Equity.

While we may have a deep belief that all people are fundamentally equal, the reality is that structural inequities exist in all societies – powerful dynamics of exclusion and unequal privilege. Equality means giving everyone identical inputs; but because all people are different, the results of those inputs will naturally and automatically be different. If we want an equitable outcome, we need to provide different inputs that take the needs of each individual into account. You may have seen the widely distributed (and widely critiqued) image of three people of different heights trying to watch a baseball game over a wooden fence. I prefer the image above as having more resonance across a wider range of cultures:

These simple reminders can help bring people who resist the idea of differential treatment to understand that if we want an equitable society, we need to notice and respond to differences in ways that will being positive outcomes to all.

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