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Equity or equality: Which is more important for a diverse workforce?

9 Mar 2020

HubSpot’s Crevan O’Malley talks about why equity may be more important than equality when it comes to creating a diverse workforce.

In the workplace, the concepts of ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ are well known and they speak to a desire for balance. Unfortunately, a desire for balance isn’t cutting it. Desire alone isn’t doing enough to change our society, our workplaces or our communities today.

So, which should we strive for in the workplace, equality or equity? You might immediately think equality, the fair treatment of all people, regardless of background. This is easy to agree with, but a little more complex is the concept of equity.

Future Human

This is where resources are shared so that privilege, as a factor in career opportunity, is removed. Equity takes people’s personal situations and differences into consideration and seeks to give everyone what they need to be successful.

In essence, while we certainly want to treat people equally, a better position to adopt might be to make sure the starting point for everyone is a level playing field. This produces better outcomes long term for the individual, for companies and for society more generally.

Levelling the field

Efforts have been made to level this playing field for underrepresented groups in the workplace for years, but the reality is that we’re not progressing as quickly as we should be.

As progress stalls, so too does the ability of companies to provide true equality and, with it, the ability to attract a diversity of top talent, provide personalised retention programmes, and offer real diversity and inclusion programmes for the broader employee community.

Be it in engineering, product development or sales, teams today are still unbalanced, particularly when it comes to gender, and especially at leadership level. Research shows that only one in nine CEOs in Ireland are women, with only a third of senior executive roles filled by women. This isn’t a gender issue, it’s a societal malaise and it starts with men and women addressing societal norms, together. We can do better.

Creating an equitable workplace plays a huge role as we strive for a more balanced and fairer society. Be it your search for talent, your recruitment process and ultimate selection criteria, or your employee experience, there are a number of things you can do to make your workplace a more inclusive one.

Create a culture of awareness

Real and positive change in the workplace starts with individuals at every level becoming aware of their own biases and/or privileges. Prioritising awareness within an organisation should be continuous, it shouldn’t be viewed as a quarterly ‘tick the box’ exercise.

For example, many companies offer unconscious bias training for their hiring managers, upstander training sessions for all, microlearning training on privilege, and guides to using inclusive language and being a better ally.

Others bake inclusion conversations into weekly team meetings, ensuring that everyone is aware of what they can do to create an inclusive working environment. Inclusive education and learning opportunities are also key, but they are pointless if you haven’t built a culture of empathy, based on awareness.

Review your recruitment process 

It’s in our nature to be drawn to people similar to ourselves and companies often get stuck in hiring for culture fit versus culture add. But that isn’t good for society, or your business.

Initiatives such as the Rooney Rule, partnerships with organisations that focus on hiring from non-traditional backgrounds such as Level Up and Jobcare, or hosting a Web App Workshop, levelling access to knowledge will help diversify your recruitment process, which in turn will lead to a more balanced workforce.

Balanced teams support employee retention strategies, make better decisions and perform better under any performance metric you choose. They also better reflect the communities in which we work and the customers we serve, so rethinking your recruitment processes is a win-win.

Promote psychologically safe environments 

Trust is still the most important glue used to build great teams. Organisations that provide a safe space where everyone has an equal opportunity to share their experience and opinions will thrive compared to those that don’t.

Employee resource groups and internal programmes for underrepresented groups help create that safe space through inclusive and accessible internal programmes, providing room to develop and grow for those who need it most. This might include a women’s career growth conversation workshop, master classes or mentorship programmes.

No matter what level you’re at, you can have an impact on the teams and meetings you’re a part of by encouraging active listening, developing an open mindset and taking feedback as a way to strengthen and build upon ideas.

Every employee should have the opportunity to feel valued and see a path to their career progression, nothing does both quite as well as strong role models, whatever the background. We all need to make some room at the table.

For years, there has been talk about equality in the workplace and more recently, equity has struck a chord. But talk is cheap. Actions matter and are much more powerful. It’s going to take people at every level; leaders, managers and individuals coming together to make meaningful changes in order for us to reach a more equal state, not just on International Women’s Day, but for good.

By Crevan O’Malley

Crevan O’Malley is director of sales at HubSpot and has more than 20 years of sales experience spanning hardware, med-tech, customer experience applications and software industries in EMEA.

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