If you think that equity and equality are synonyms, then you’re not alone. Opening a dictionary wouldn’t help either. Merriam-Webster defines equitable as “dealing equally with all concerned” and equal as “of the same measure, amount or quantity”. However, the reality is much different. The equity vs equality debate is central to issues like poverty and economic disparity. Understanding the fundamental difference can help us work towards a future where all lives are deemed equal.
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Equity vs Equality: The all-important difference
Equality means providing everyone with the exact same amount of resources irrespective of whether everyone needs them or not. This doesn’t take into consideration the resources an individual might already possess.
Equity, on the other hand, is sharing of resources based on what an individual needs. This takes into account that while one person may not need something, another person may be in dire need of the said resource. Sharing of resources tries to bridge the existing inequalities holistically.
Let’s take the case of the health department of a fictional city deciding to distribute hand sanitizers to all the inhabitants. Equality would suggest that all inhabitants get sanitizers irrespective of their financial status. Equity would suggest that the impoverished should be handed the sanitizers first and then think about the more endowed communities in the city. This ensures that the people who need the resource get it first. If the same resource had been handed down to everybody, the chances are that some sections would never have gotten around to using it since they already had a surplus to begin with.
So, to summarize, equality is group-focused and generic, while equity is individual-focused and adaptable.
Why is it important to know the difference between equity vs equality?
Despite the fact that equity and equality mean different things, they actually go hand-in-hand. One cannot achieve equality without enforcing equity. This means that for us to move towards a world where everything is fair and just, we need to start thinking about distributing resources more equitably.
For instance, consider the Black Lives Matter movement. It ascertains that while lives matter equally, it’s important for communities that have been historically stripped of privileges to get a slightly bigger share of the pie. The only way of achieving the outcome of all lives being treated equally in the future is by ensuring that black lives are protected and supported in an equitable manner today.
The same logic can be extrapolated to issues stemming from inequalities in gender, economic status, education, and sexual orientation. We cannot close the gender pay gap without tackling the inequality caused by men considering themselves to be more valuable. Similarly, poverty can be brought to an end only by treating all people equitably.
So, it seems pertinent to take a closer look at the different spheres of society, right from healthcare to schools and education where the principles of equity can be applied.
Equity in a classroom
Equity starts right from a classroom where students, future legislators are advocated for its benefits. Educational equity means that every student is given the resources they need to perform well. Equity in education has two important dimensions to it. They are
- Fairness– Making sure that circumstances, social or personal have no bearing on the education of a child. It aims to prohibit discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.
- Inclusion– Ensures a basic minimum standard education for all.
Take the case of a local governmental body deciding to give away laptops to schools across the district. Equality would suggest that all schools receive the same number of laptops. It doesn’t consider how many working laptops a school already owns and therefore how many it may actually need.
Equity would recommend a distribution system that ensures that the schools that need the laptops the most get first preference. This decision can be key in a district with a significant number of high-risk communities. Statistics show that more than 60% of disadvantaged students come from financially backward communities. There’s also the very real risk of losing talented educators too.
While poverty remains the major barrier to educational equity, some of the other barriers include:
- Family crises- unfortunate accidents, chronic debilitating diseases, etc
- Mental health issues- depression, low self-esteem, anxiety among others
- Lack of healthcare- exorbitant health systems, lack of insurance
- Language barriers
Does practicing equity in a classroom yield any benefits?
Equitable classrooms ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed regardless of their backgrounds. The benefits of an inclusive classroom extend to privileged students too. As the scores of disadvantaged students improve, the scores of others improve too. This creates an environment of compassion and co-dependence where all students are prepared to help each other out.
In addition, it’s been reported that a child’s socio-emotional development can be positively impacted by equitable learning. They’ve also been linked to better health and higher than average lifespans.
Creating an inclusive classroom using the principles of equity
- Understanding the difference between equity and equality is the first and foremost step towards building an inclusive environment.
- Be aware that every child is unique and have different needs
- Cultivate an environment where every student is encouraged to speak up and voice out their opinion. Make them feel that their thoughts are important and have been heard respectfully.
- Try to involve parents and ask them to volunteer in school events
- Promote equity training programs for other teachers, so they’re aware of healthy methods to resolve barriers
- Add activities that involve every student in the classroom
Equity in the workplace
Equity in a workplace means every worker receives fair treatment and has equal access to opportunities. Practicing equity can be advantageous to both the employers and the employer.
- Motivation– The opportunities afforded by an equitable workplace give employees much-needed zeal to achieve. When people believe that their work will be rewarded with bonuses or promotions in a fair and just manner, they work harder, and the company ends up reaping the benefits.
- Employee retention– When employees believe that their future in the company is insured, there are fewer chances of them moving to a different company. This means that a business is relieved of expenses in finding new talent and training them.
- Attracting talent– Recruitment of the right people for the right job becomes easier in an environment that fosters workplace equity. When word starts spreading around, the business naturally attracts the best talent.
- Diversity matters– An equitable workplace boasts of people from different social strata working together towards a common goal. This diversity means more experiences and more perspectives at solving a problem at hand.
- Enhanced bottom line– A work culture that has a diverse group of employees, draws top talent and retains accomplished workers can have a favorable effect on a company’s bottom line. High morale among employees can have a direct relation to better performance in the stock market and thus better returns to investors.
Creating a more inclusive workplace:
- Initiate inclusion initiatives and organize sensitization programs
- Create resource groups for employees for them to able to connect and share their experiences and learnings
- Include a salary range for all postings
- Try to offer accommodation facilities for employees with disabilities or mental health needs.
Equity in healthcare
Yet another important domain where equity can be enforced is in the field of wellness and healthcare. The principle of equity ensures that everyone has the chance to be as healthy as they can. The barriers to health equity are:
- Racial inequalities
- Educational status
- Income and wealth gaps
- Homelessness and unsafe environment
Health equality may not always be preferable. If a hospital offers free health checkups on Tuesdays every week, only individuals that are only free on Tuesdays can avail of such services. On the other hand, health equity would offer alternative checkup times so everyone can access the service on a day that suits them. The same example can be extended to free services to all sections of the community vs addressing the needs of the impoverished.
Practices that can promote health equity:
- Organizing seminars to raise awareness about issues that are specific to the needs of the racial groups or ethnic communities
- Providing subsidized healthcare services to low-income families
- Offering flexibility in appointments and health checkups so that people who work long hours can also have equal access to healthcare services.
What can you as a layman do to achieve equity?
Start by educating yourself about the major inequalities in the world and understanding the impact they can have on you and your community. Research social issues, read news from around the world, try speaking to activists. A second perspective always helps. But, most importantly, demand equity every step along the way.
Equity and equality are often seen to mean the same thing. But, fundamentally, they’re two different schools of thought. They look at sharing of resources from two differing perspectives. While equality is group-focused and insists that everyone receives the same amount of resources, equity argues that resources need to be shared, keeping in mind the needs of different stakeholders. The key to a future built upon the values of equality is practicing equitable distribution of resources today.