You may have heard of equity in commercial terms most commonly being, the amount of shares returned to company shareholders, if all company assets were to be liquidated and all debts paid off (1). Or perhaps you're familiar with equity in the context of management motivation theories whereby John Stacey Adams proposes a fair balance to be struck between an employee's inputs (e.g. hard work) and an employee's outputs (e.g. salary) (2). The form of equity that this blog touches on is the social kind - the distribution of fairness.
Let's start with distinguishing it from equality. Mary Guy and Sean McCandless of the University of Colorado Denver (3) states "that “equity” and “equality” are terms that are often used interchangeably, and to a large extent, they have similar meanings. The difference is one of nuance: while equality can be converted into a mathematical measure in which equal parts are identical in size or number, equity is a more flexible measure allowing for equivalency while not demanding exact sameness. For example, a child entering school who does not speak English is at a substantive disadvantage compared to their native English-speaking classmates. Though the entire class may receive equal instruction in language, the non-English-speaking student requires additional tutoring if their training is to be equitable with that of their classmates."
It seems that various organisations (4) agree on social equity being defined as "fair access to livelihood, education, and resources; full participation in the political and cultural life of the community; and self-determination in meeting fundamental needs.” As you can see, the topic of equity is a nuanced and complex philosophy, requiring an understanding of multiple facets of humanity - society, demography, psychology, anthropology. But you don't have to be an expert in any of these to see or experience some of the effects of inequity being played out in society today.
I spoke with some of my closest and dearest friends to understand the human side of the definition and how they perceived and or experienced equity or lack thereof. Here are their insights…
Bred: Perth and Melbourne
For dough: Banking & Finance Analyst
For fun: snowboarding, gaming, rock climbing, scuba diving
For me and probably many people in similar circumstances it's the experience of cultural ambivalence, having migrated here when I was 5 years old, there's parts of me that relates and connects with the dominant culture and narrative yet simultaneously marginalised/rejected by it. An ongoing feeling of belonging yet not belonging that leaves me in a purgatory position where I don’t identify with any particular place as 'home'...a continuous experience of being told you are different by the external but not feeling different internally.
Bred: Malaysia and Melbourne
For dough: Software Implementation Consultant
For fun: mountaineering, hiking, travelling, eating
I've felt inequity due to the illusion that immigrants are less proficient compared to the local talent in the job market. As an immigrant from a developing country, moving to Australia - a land of equality and inclusivity - one would assume that we have a fair go in employment. Working in many multinational organisations within Malaysia that were internationally best of breed put me in good stead for the Australian labour market. However, I did not personally experience equity and inclusiveness, because a preconceived opinion based on my cultural heritage has been formed before being presented with the opportunity to prove otherwise. I've instead had to almost commence my career again at an entry level to overcome certain equity hurdles.
I'd love to see hiring managers put through a short course or information session regarding unconscious bias prior to hiring. Or be educated on challenging outdated stereotypes.
For dough: Marketing Manager
For fun: spending quality time with loved ones
When you're a young girl you're told that you can go and conquer the world, so you accumulate education and experience but then you end up sitting at home taking care of babies, not applying any of it. Whilst I love my children I don’t feel satisfied being at home, it's not enough for me. The dilemma is that you can't walk into full time roles, being a part time resource, they're rare or I suspect, don't exist. It's the same with a lot of women who I speak to in my mother's group. They're highly capable individuals that go back to work full time for a whole year just so they can then ask to go part time. I don’t think that's fair. The number of roles and the caliber of opportunities is not there for people in my position. People are feeling forced to be out of the workforce and aren't being utilised to their full capability.
Another equity issue that I'm experiencing is missing out on superannuation and career progression. Career paths of my husband and I are equally important so I don't think it's fair to say that it's the woman's sacrifice that she needs to make for her family. Because I've had three children, that's seven and a half years of my career that's impacted my superannuation accumulation. It's also impacted opportunities to work in the right career or at least they're few and far between. Businesses like the one I've worked in, in the past were supportive but those types of businesses are few and far between.
Larger businesses are coming on board and taking into consideration this plight by implementing flexible working. I know it's resource consuming to implement these changes but it would be wonderful if more businesses would be more open to it. Little things like being able to work remotely and allowing flexibility would make things so much easier. It starts with a better understanding and empathy towards those that have different needs and then the willingness to put that understanding into action.
Born: South Africa
Bred: Perth and Melbourne
For dough: Business Analyst/Management Consultant
For fun: food & wine critic and artisan of the finer things in life
I have a slightly different take on equity. I believe by being your authentic self, it opens the door for equity.
We may not necessarily call opportunities that are presented to us as equity in the moment but that's an education piece. By educating ourselves of ourselves, taking ownership of one's own biases and being self-aware, we're able to heighten our understanding of nuance in ourselves, our community and our environment. This allows all of us, in our own way to leverage the privilege we have today, to extend it out and pull each other up & forward.
As individuals we don't always have to rely on decision or policy makers to do that for us, however, it does help having the path smoothed out to make those changes easier for those who do not have access easily.
From only four people we can see the varying experiences each one of us may have when it comes to the topic of equity. But I think it's fair to say that it's a complicated subject matter. There is however, a common thread that runs through each of the examples we've showcased. It's the need for empathy as a first step in understanding the challenges diverse groups are facing and what each of our needs are. We believe that if we start here we can drive the conversations that take social equity from a concept and philosophy into a pragmatic realisation of constitutional goals that can be implemented, tracked and measured to benefit all.
Humanity will never be able to realise its full potential if it does not have full access to the resources it needs to get to where it wants to be.
- http://blog.nativepartnership.org/social-equity/; https://ssir.org/articles/entry/impact_investing_and_the_pursuit_of_social_equity; https://patimes.org/social-equity-strengthen-dont-understand-meaning/