Equality vs. Equity: Why Leaders Should Embrace Equity 

You may have noticed that the conversation has shifted from talking about equality to talking about equity. While equality and equity are similar concepts, they have crucial differences that can impact outcomes.  

Equality refers to treating everyone the same way, regardless of their differences in background, circumstances, or needs. It aims to ensure that everyone has the same rights, opportunities, and resources, regardless of any personal characteristics. 

Equity, on the other hand, refers to treating everyone fairly, according to their unique circumstances, needs, and abilities. It acknowledges that people may require different levels of support or resources to achieve the same goals and outcomes and seeks to provide them with what they need to succeed. 

In short, equality focuses on sameness, while equity focuses on fairness and justice. While both concepts are important in promoting social justice and inclusivity, equity recognizes that different individuals or groups may need different accommodations to fully participate and thrive. 

For example, if you set a meeting to discuss a sustainability plan for your office and you put in the email that everyone is welcome and will have equal opportunity to speak, you can say you’ve created an equal opportunity.  

But if that meeting is in a room up two flights of stairs and the elevator is broken that day, the opportunity will only realistically be for people who can make it up those stairs. The meeting’s open-door policy arguably makes the opportunity equal, but the set of stairs means that the opportunity is without equity.  

Equality is letting everyone who makes it into the room have their say, while equity ensures that everyone who wants to be in the room has access to the room.   

So, how can we make our workplaces more equitable? 

1. Educate and challenge yourself. 

As a leader, you should always be learning.  

Whether it’s reading a book, listening to an informative podcast, taking a course, or receiving coaching, learning is how we grow our skillsets. Even with the best intentions, we will not become equitable leaders of diverse teams overnight.  

It will take work, not just intention. To grow as leaders, we need to challenge our world views and look at problems from all angles. By actively pursuing knowledge from people who are different from us, we expand how we see the world.  

If you’ve never had mobility issues, then you might not even think about the implications of a broken elevator. For you, it’s just a minor inconvenience, but for others it’s a barrier and an example of unintentional ableism in the workplace.  

The effect of not ensuring that a person who can’t use the stairs can make it to the sustainability meeting means that the conversation is missing a voice with a different perspective.  

2. Be open to feedback. 

Most of us have good intentions when it comes to equity in the workplace so it can be hard to see the harm created by actions that weren’t meant maliciously.  

Going back to our example of the broken elevator and the sustainability meeting, imagine you’re approached the next day by your colleague who was unable to attend due to mobility issues.  

They bring up their disappointment that they were unable to attend and that they wished you had worked with them to find a way to accommodate their needs. They had sent you an email about the situation, but you were busy and didn’t fully read it or reply. How can they expect you to accommodate every little thing? It’s not like you broke the elevator, and putting together the meeting was a bunch of work already.  

Becoming defensive is unhelpful for all involved, especially in conversations about workplace inclusion and equity. It’s totally normal to feel defensive when someone criticizes how you handled a situation, but leaning into that feeling will not serve you.  

Instead, be curious. Put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would have felt if the roles were reversed.  

3. Review your hiring practices. 

Building a strong and diverse team requires an equitable hiring process. Before starting your next hiring process take stock of how you’re doing. 

If your company has made diversity a goal, how is it doing? It’s important to be honest here to improve. Do your job postings pull in a diverse range of applicants? If not, it’s likely you need to work on improving your job descriptions. 

If you are receiving a diverse range of applicants, who is making it to the interviews? And who is getting hired? Subconscious biases are insidious, with many of us making decisions based in them without even realizing it. We tend to hire people who remind us of ourselves despite this often being detrimental to our business and against our stated values.  

A blind hiring process can be an effective way to combat our biases, and involves hiding certain characteristics like age, gender, ethnicities, or level of education. By removing factors that trigger biases while reading a resume, we can help prevent forming preconceived notions about the candidates and stay focused on their qualifications and skills.  

4. Hold yourself and other leaders accountable. 

It’s one thing to say that you believe in having an equitable work environment, but it’s a whole other thing to create it.  

Putting diversity, equity and inclusion in your mission is an important first step, but if it isn’t combined with education, improved hiring practices, and accountability, it won’t move the needle in a meaningful way.  

To keep yourself and your organization on track, try establishing a diversity and inclusion committee if you haven’t already. Set real and measurable goals around equity and hold yourself and your colleagues accountable for their success with regular evaluations.  


We recommend doing a self-audit. How are you doing on these four points and where can you improve?

Remember, practice makes progress.