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6 Min Read

Understanding Equity in the Workplace: A Roadmap for HR Leaders

Claire Beveridge

The E in DEI is often overlooked, but equity in the workplace is an essential part of any solid DEI strategy, helping to create an inclusive work environment where everyone has equal opportunities to thrive, contribute, and succeed.

But building an equitable workforce is no easy task. It involves taking a deep look at the policies and procedures across an organization and reshaping them to remove systemic and structural barriers to enable individuals or groups of people to flourish and progress in their careers fairly. 

Read on as we give you the perfect primer on equity in the workplace, look at the difference between equity and equality, provide tips on how to promote equity in your organization, and explore how to measure workplace equity.

What is equity in the workplace?

Equity in the workplace is the concept of creating a culture of fairness, impartiality, and justice throughout employment policies and practices. 

Equity focuses on ensuring that all employees have comparable access to career and development opportunities, fairness in pay and benefits, and are treated without favoritism or discrimination regarding work duties and responsibilities. Therefore, equity is different from equality.

Achieving an equitable workplace involves promoting and implementing policies and procedures that ensure equal opportunities for all employees, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, location, or disability.

Equity vs. equality: what’s the difference? 

You might think equity sounds a lot like equality in the workplace. And you’re not wrong—the two concepts are very similar. 

The key difference between equity and equality is that equality focuses on treating all employees the same. For example, your company implements a policy whereby all employees, regardless of gender, are entitled to the same amount of parental leave.  

Equity focuses on giving employees the opportunity to succeed in the workplace by recognizing they all have different needs and require different levels of support. For example, your company implements a mentorship program to promote career development for underrepresented groups.

Why is equity in the workplace important? 

You’re a neurodivergent woman working remotely in a development role for a non-profit. Your company pivots to bringing employees in-house, asking them to return to the office five days a week. 

Because of your neurodiversity, you find it easier to focus at home with minimal distractions, but your manager says everyone must come back in-house, providing little flexibility or accommodation. 

How would you feel in this situation when your employer hasn’t removed barriers that help you perform at a high level? Probably disengaged, resentful, and unmotivated — critical issues that undermine business performance and employee retention. 

This is why organizations need to focus on building workforces that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion so that employees from all backgrounds feel equal and included and have the same resources and opportunities as every other employee. 

Additionally, building an equitable company develops employee trust, fosters a sense of belonging and community, helps to reduce bias and discrimination, and allows employees to work at their best, helping your business grow while retaining talent. 

How to promote equity in the workplace

Build a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee

If you’re right at the start of your company’s DEI journey, consider building a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee to help support your DEI efforts. Usually, a DEI committee comprises employees from various departments who are passionate about and engaged with diversity within their place of work. 

One key benefit of a DEI committee is that the group helps keep the company accountable. For example, you make a commitment in your diversity, equity, and inclusion statement to adhere to transparent hiring practices to support equity in the workplace. Your DEI committee can help ensure the commitment comes to fruition. 

Focus on pay equity

Let’s say Sally and Bob work the same job, at the same level, with the same responsibilities. Sally gets paid $84,000, and Bob gets paid $100,000. Who’s going to be less happy in the workplace? It’s Sally. 

Unfortunately, the above scenario is not fiction. Women earn 16% less than men across full-time jobs in America, and factors such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability status influence discriminatory workplace pay gaps across many industries. 

One way to counter this and promote workplace equity is to eliminate pay gaps and ensure that all employees are fairly compensated for their work, regardless of gender, race, or other characteristics. 

Ensure equal access to opportunities

No one likes to feel like they are missing out on career opportunities and development because they’re different. Left unchecked, not feeling included in the workplace can lead to decreases in performance, impacting revenue and engagement metrics.  

Businesses need to ensure that employees have equal access to training, development programs and courses, mentorship connections, and career advancement/promotion opportunities—regardless of who they are and without any form of discrimination to help bolster equity in the workplace efforts.

How to measure equity in the workplace

According to 15Five’s DEIB report, which provides a transparent snapshot of the company’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging metrics, workplace equity is measured by comparing demographic representation throughout the entire employee lifecycle, from pre-hire to retirement. Here are a few points to take a look at.

Representation: Measure the representation of different groups, such as race, gender, disability, and if someone identifies as LGBTQ2+.

Pay: Analyze your pay structures to identify potential discrepancies in compensation between different groups and ensure that employees performing comparable work are fairly compensated.

Training: Track participation rates in development and training programs across various groups and analyze them to determine if there are barriers to opportunities. 

Promotion: Assess promotion rates across different groups and analyze the data to understand whether advancement is more or less likely to happen to represented or underrepresented groups. 

Retention and turnover: Measure retention rates across different demographics and track turnover rates which could shed light on potential issues relating to DEI in the workplace. 

If you want to build an equitable workforce that enhances employee engagement and satisfaction and attracts top-tier talent, start with the basics and develop from there. Of course, no one is expecting you to get everything right the first time, but hopefully, this short guide equips you with the tools you need to get started.