An official website of the United States government

Why equality is not the same as equity
March 9, 2021

painting of sunflowers

The words “equality” and “equity” look similar, sound similar, and even point to the same concept of fairness. So it is understandable if, at first, you think they mean the same thing. Understanding the difference between equality and equity is a great way to start thinking about treatment of others in your community and in your business.

Put in the simplest terms, equality means “sameness,” and equity means “fairness.” People who grew up in marginalized groups are probably familiar with the difference, since they likely had to work much harder to receive the same level of education as many of their peers or to find networking opportunities that came more easily to others.

Let’s consider educational costs. Should every student receive exactly the same amount of resources and funding for their education? That would be an example of equality. Should students who come from marginalized communities or lower-income backgrounds receive more support than those who don’t? Well, that would be an example of equity. By ensuring equity, a society can ultimately enjoy equality.

Leslie Lefkow, deputy director for Africa at the organization Human Rights Watch, argues that these types of questions fall into a broader discussion of access and the differences in how various governments deal with economic, social and cultural rights.

Unfortunately, “what we often see is an overlap between corruption and marginalization of vulnerable sectors of society and access to state attention or resources,” she said.

Governments can address equity by considering the starting points of different groups. They can devote additional resources, for example, to ensuring that lower-income households are not disproportionately burdened with health or educational expenses, or requiring businesses and all public services to be accessible to people with disabilities.

But there are also steps you can take for your business, organization or community to be proactive and demonstrate awareness. For example:

  • Create a public statement and practice nondiscrimination with regard to gender, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation. You can include this statement in your written and online materials and use it to inform hiring and recruitment.
  • Actively recruit members of marginalized or disadvantaged communities to be a part of your organization and create formal partnerships that encourage diversity and inclusion.
  • Train employees not only to value and respect diversity but also to see each individual as they see themselves — not as a “category” or an “other.”
  • As an individual, don’t forget about your own role online. Lefkow said the internet has “obviously been an incredible tool for people economically … to access markets and to strengthen entrepreneurs and businesses.” But “it also has real potential downsides, like being a vehicle for hate speech and incitement.”

Learn more about what diversity, equity and inclusion mean for you and your business, with these YLAI4All resources.

Este artículo está disponible en español.