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Resource Center / Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

The Importance of Equity Within DEI

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical for small businesses and startups. Discover why your organization needs to emphasize DEI.

The letter "J" for Justworks.
Oct 07, 20205 minutes

Does your organization provide a work environment that is truly equitable? Having a diverse employee population doesn’t mean that the culture is inclusive or equitable. Inclusion is a step closer to equity than diversity, but true equity really goes beyond even inclusiveness. This is an important reason why so many organizations are changing their focus from diversity and inclusion (D&I) to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

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The Importance of Equity

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are all critical focus areas for small businesses and startups looking to succeed and thrive in the modern business environment. Understanding the importance of equity for a business starts with recognizing that equality and equity aren’t the same. While equality is about treating everyone the same, equity is more about realizing that because people aren't always on equal footing to start with, equal treatment can, in fact, perpetuate inequality. The words equality and equity may sound similar at first glance, but in reality they are not at all the same.

  • In a work environment where some members of the population — often, but not always, underrepresented minorities — are disadvantaged in any way, there is a lack of equity, even when there is equal treatment.

  • When some members of an organization’s workforce face barriers to their success and others do not, then equal treatment does not lead to true equity. How could it? The proverbial playing field is not level.

How can this be? It’s because those who don’t face barriers have a head start on those who do. In a situation where one person is already ahead of another, they’ll still be ahead of the other person by the same amount when both are treated the same. That’s not to say that the person who is behind can’t make up the difference. People often do, even though the odds may not be in their favor. However, equity is all about making sure that the deck isn’t stacked to start with. For fair treatment to be equitable treatment, the first step is to make adjustments so that everyone has the same opportunity to succeed. That is very different from treating everyone the same.

For fair treatment to be equitable treatment, the first step is to make adjustments so that everyone has the same opportunity to succeed.

The Roots of Inequity

The disadvantages or barriers to equity that some employees face can be associated with conditions within the work environment or external factors. Any conditions that, in essence, stack the deck against people with certain characteristics or of certain backgrounds, lead to inequity. Circumstances that lead to certain segments of the population lacking access to opportunities that are readily available to others can create inequity. As a result, employers committed to DEI should really consider equity from both an internal and an external perspective.

  • Internal - Are there sources of internal inequity within our organization that need to be addressed? What are they, and how can we change things?

  • External - What can our organization do to help level the playing field for team members who may be impacted by external (societal) inequity?

Internal Equity

Internal inequity (and a lack of inclusion) can be associated with practices that exclude some segments of the population. Examples include holding company events at times that people who have families can’t participate in, such as after-hours team meetings, or at locations where people of certain races, ethnicities or gender identities aren’t truly welcome (even if they may be tolerated), such as private clubs.

  • Those who can’t or are uncomfortable participating in such events are often viewed as being “poor team players” and end up being overlooked for promotional or development opportunities.

  • Companies can address such things by ensuring that business-related activities that have any potential of impacting people’s career trajectory are held at times and locations that are accessible and welcoming to all.

External Inequity

External inequity (factors outside of the work environment) can create barriers to professional success for underrepresented groups, even in organizations that emphasize diversity and inclusion. Companies that want to embrace equity should examine their business practices to get a sense of which ones promote equality and to identify (and change) any that might actually have the opposite effect.

  • Does the company tend to actively seek to recruit candidates primarily from certain schools? What is the impact on equality? People who weren’t in a situation to attend those particular schools are excluded from consideration, regardless of qualifications.

  • Companies can reduce the impact of external inequity on the workplace in many ways, such as recruiting with diversity in mind, implementing internship programs, adding advancement-focused employee development programs, and updating hiring practices, especially related to background screening.

The commitment to DEI is ongoing, and organizations can always take it one step further.

Bringing Equity to Your Organization

Are you ready to commit to going beyond focusing just on D & I to embracing DEI? This is an important step for small business and startups, as well as other organizations.

The commitment to DEI is ongoing, and organizations can always take it one step further. For example, Justworks compensates ERG leads to ensure their efforts in this capacity are rewarded and recognized. This is just one of the ways Justworks is invested in DEI matters inside of the organization (as well as out).

Be The Change

These are just a few of the many ways a company can cultivate a more equitable workplace. Committing to DEI — and acting on that commitment in meaningful ways — is the key for small businesses and startups to demonstrate allyship and bring about positive workplace change.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.