the words equality & equity written on dices, with a hand turning them.
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Workplace equity vs. equality: two small letters, one big difference


March 21, 2023


June 16, 2023

Do you treat all your employees equally and fairly? Although these two words sound similar, their meaning and application in the work environment are undoubtedly distinct. You can be equal but unfair toward your team members. Ideally, the idea is to understand the difference between workplace equity vs. equality and to implement both simultaneously.

A fine line exists between being equal and fair with all minorities in a diverse workforce.

Unfortunately, one of these two expressions is misleading. Promoting equality doesn’t mean fostering fairness in the workplace. It might be one of the steps leading to it, but the cornerstone is equity.

What differentiates these two terms? How does equity at work happen? What are concrete examples of equity vs. equality? Equity is one of the three core pillars of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). Providing the same approach and opportunities to all your workers is essential to creating a positive work culture and thriving workforce. Here is what you need to know to understand the contrast between equal and fair practices.

The difference between workplace equity vs. equality: definitions

The meaning of equality in the workplace

By definition, equality is “the state or quality of being equal.” This means offering the same opportunities to everyone. For example, when you hire two new employees and give them both an assigned desk, you are equal as you provide them with the same equipment. However, it doesn’t always imply you are being fair as you overlook their needs and individual differences. 

Let’s say, Jonathan, your new team member, has a physical disability that doesn’t allow him to sit at his desk all day. His working environment doesn’t answer his needs. But still, Jonathan is being treated equally, he gets a desk just as his colleague does. It isn’t fair, yet. It is an equal approach.

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The definition of equity in the workplace

Equity means “the quality of being fair or impartial”. It is about understanding that we are not all equal in front of a similar situation and making adjustments to give everyone the same chances. Offering an assigned desk to Jonathan is nice, he is treated equally, but he won’t be able to be at 100% of his abilities. Adjusting his desk to his needs is fair and will help him thrive in his job.

Why is equity important? The benefits of diversity in the workplace are countless. Yet, companies can’t get the full potential out of their diverse team because of a lack of equity and inclusion. Fairness and justice, the ultimate goals of an impartial approach, are essential to make your workforce flourish. 

Here is a simple way to remember the difference between equity and equality: “equality is giving everyone the same pair of shoes. Equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fits.” In the workplace, equity consists of adjusting to your employees’ needs to give all workers the same opportunities to succeed and make the most of their abilities. 

The importance of equity and equality to create fairness in the workplace: theory

The bond between creating an equal work environment and promoting fair practices for all

Both equity and equality have to do with how people are treated and aim at ending injustice and unfair treatment. Equality is easier to reach and doesn’t involve implementing equity. But equity is more challenging as it implies subjectivity. However, fairness in the workplace can only be achieved if equality and equity are applied.

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the words equality & equity written on dices, with a hand turning them.

The consequence of encouraging equality without equity

Encouraging equality without promoting equity is like building a diverse workforce but practicing tokenism. In the big picture, it looks fair. But when you take a closer look into it, it isn’t. It is the difference between doing it and doing it right. Without equity, all efforts to create a diverse, inclusive, and fair work environment collapse. It is the last stone to reach fairness in the workplace and meet your clients’, partners’ and employees’ expectations in terms of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion).

Workplace equity and subjectivity

Subjectivity is at the center of equity and it can create challenging situations as you have to consider the individual needs of each employee to be fair. However, we all have different points of view. Although the goal is to shorten the gap between equality and equity by reducing disparities, an action that seems fair to one person might appear unjust to another. Finding the right balance and explaining its purpose to all your team members is essential to create a positive and fair work environment. 

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Equity vs. equality in a work environment: practice 

Concrete examples of equity vs. equality in the workplace

What does equity at work look like in reality? Which practices can you implement to enhance fairness in the workplace? Here are additional clear examples to illustrate the difference between equity vs. quality.

Equality  Equity
All employees must work on a 40 hours a week full-office work schedule.
 All employees have to work on a 40 hours a week flexible work schedule (hybrid work, flexitime, compressed hours…).
All team members have access to new career opportunities.  All team members can access new career opportunities with appropriate resources to succeed (learning platforms, mentoring, coaching…).
The company covers its workforce's car costs (fuel, insurance, parking slots…). The company pays for all transport costs (car, train, metro, bikes, scooters…) for all its workforce.
The organization provides on-site mental health consulting for everyone. The organization provides in-person and online mental health consulting for everyone. 

Useful tips to achieve fairness in the workplace through equal and impartial practices

Workers’ vision and relationship with their professional lives are changing. They wish for a more purposeful career and a job that matches their values. For organizations that want to keep growing and succeeding, moving the needle in terms of DEI practices is inevitable.

The initial step is to know your employees and their individual needs.  To do this, an employee-centric approach and a people-first culture are essential. It is important that your workers are comfortable expressing their needs and that you take their feedback into account. An inclusive management style plays a major role too as it helps minorities feel considered and entitled to the same opportunities and treatment as anybody else. 

Lastly, always remember d that not only are employee happiness and satisfaction essential for your workforce’s mental health, but they are also  fundamental for the success of your company. 

Applying equal practices in your management style is only one part of creating a work environment based on equity. The contrast between workplace equity vs. equality lies in considering each employee's individuality and needs. Allowing hybrid work and flexitime can help you improve fairness in the workplace. Do flexible work arrangements sound like a hassle to you?

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Workplace equity vs. equality: two small letters, one big difference

Paulyne Sombret

Paulyne is a highly respected expert in hybrid work. She's known for her writing on sustainability in the hybrid office, flexible work models, and employee experience. With a strong background in content and SEO, her work explores the exciting trends and latest news in the world of work.

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