Equity: What Does It Mean, and How Can We Practice It?

More companies are starting to talk about (and include) equity as part of their diversity strategy. But people are often confused about what equity means. At Sprout Social, we define equity as systems-level change. It means attacking the root of the problem and not just the symptoms of diversity and inclusion.

This illustration is my favorite representation of the difference between equity and equality. It perfectly articulates the idea that we do not all start from the same place, so giving each of us the exact same resources (equality) is not effective.

Equity is giving everyone resources or support that is specific to them. For example, equality is giving everyone a laptop to complete their work. Equity is recognizing that some people need more than just the laptop, they need wifi, or some need to learn how to turn the computer on.

If we focus on having equitable systems and processes, then we create a work environment where people from all experiences and backgrounds are present, can have their voices heard, and are able to thrive at all levels of the organization.

Now you know what equity is. But what does it look like in practice? Below, I share some examples of how you can implement and practice equity in your own workplace.

1. Resume Review

Consider the way in which you’re reviewing resumes. Those of us who’ve been hiring for a while often scan a resume quickly to find years of relevant experience, whether the person is in our current industry and whether they’ve attended a well known or selective undergraduate institution.

You can find top talent at an Ivy League, but not everyone has access to those schools. There are people with great backgrounds and experience at nearly all colleges. One way that we expanded our pool of candidates at my previous company was by intentionally seeking out people who attended schools we hadn’t recruited from previously. Historically, Black Colleges and Universities (and small local colleges) allowed us to move beyond Ivy Leagues.

Why is this equity? It acknowledges a systems-level challenge, highlighting that we don’t all have access to the same educational opportunities, but that should not impact our ability to gain employment if we have the ability to do a great job.

2. Consider Transferable Skills

Hire candidates based on competencies that are often transferable from one job or industry to the next. Some competencies to evaluate for are:

● Does this person learn and continuously improve?

● Can they communicate effectively?

● How are they at organizing, planning, and executing?

● Were they able to influence others to achieve outcomes?

● Have they demonstrated an ability to make decisions?

Looking at these made it easier to evaluate someone coming from a different industry and understanding how their skillset or experience could translate to our work. Instead of saying, “Has this person managed relationships with B2B customers before?” consider breaking that down into, “Can they build relationships and networks?” and “Do they understand the perspectives of others?”

The trade off is what you want to coach. Do you want to train someone in how to build strong relationships and understand others, or would you rather hire someone who has expertise in those soft skills and teach them about your industry?

Why is this equity? This is a systemic change in the way you think about the criteria for what makes someone qualified for a job. Which, in turn, gives us different candidates that bring new and important perspectives that make our companies better.

3. All-Calls for Volunteering, Not Just Selecting Yourself

This is a simple ask. When you need volunteers or have a new project to begin, many of us have our go-to people that we trust. That’s great! But this often excludes others who may be interested or just as qualified to support your efforts.

Next time you need someone to lead a project or are launching a new initiative, put the ask out to the entire group. You may be surprised by the people who step up to the challenge. And who knows, you may find some untapped potential.

This ensures you’re spreading assignments and opportunities to a broader group of people. Many of us know that it’s those stretch assignments that we can share in our annual review that put us over the edge for a promotion or raise.

Why is this equity? You are providing everyone access to the same opportunity if they want it, so they can demonstrate their abilities equally.

Practicing equity is about change management—changing our minds, hearts, and behaviors. It takes practice, and the idea must be kept top of mind. Some of the examples I give above may be done at the organizational level, but I’d encourage you to consider what you can do as an individual so you can make an impact on a day to day basis.

The end goal is to all be looking at our work through the lens of equity. Start simply by asking when you enter a room, who is missing here and why? Who is disproportionately impacted by my decision to do this? What populations are overlooked if I make this product decision?

If we all begin to ask ourselves these questions daily, I’m confident we can make our workplaces more equitable, and ultimately serve our customers better.

Michelle Bess | Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead, Sprout Social

 
Michelle Bess