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Equity Vs Equality – Important Points You Need To Know

Some of you may think that there is not much difference between equity vs equality. These noble goals do have a lot in common (ex. seeking fairness, justice, respect), but there are many differences (ex. seeking equal opportunity vs equal outcomes ). This article helps you to understand equity and equality in terms of definitions, implementation challenges, the three things they have in common, and the five things where they are different.

Equity Vs Equality – A Few Definitions.

To understand the difference between equity vs equality let’s start with a few definitions. To detail, below are some working definitions centered around the concepts of equity and equality.

Equity vs Equality
  • Equality – Focused on Opportunities. Everyone treats everyone the exact way, regardless of need or any other individual differences. Here equality attempts to reward people based on their efforts and contribution to society instead of their status or position.
  • Equity – Focused on Outcomes. Society provides everyone with what they need to succeed. Here equity attempts to make things “fair” taking into account where a person begins in terms of historical or other factors affecting fairness.
  • Diversity – Focused on Embracing Differences. So diversity is the presence of differences that may include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, (dis)ability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective. So in the case of equality, it does not consider diversity because all are equal. On the other hand, equity does consider diversity in order to determine “fairness” for each unique individual and group’s needs.
  • Inclusion – Focused on Participation of All. Inclusion assures diverse individuals are able to participate fully in the decision-making processes and development opportunities within an organization or group. So both equality and equity in their purest form are inclusive for all.

See What is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)? and Rise Module: Equality VS. Equity for more on the definition of key concepts related to equity versus equality.

Equity Vs Equality – Implementation Dilemma For Either

  • Treating People Equal When Each of Us Are Unique. Thomas Jefferson, the author of The U.S. Declaration of Independence provides us with some conflicting quotes about equality. In the Declaration of Independence he penned “all men are created equal” and at the same he was quoted to say “There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people“. So there lies the challenge of championing the cause of equality and equity. Undeniably as each of us our unique, we are not equal people. Specifically, each one of us is unique with different backgrounds, physical characteristics, personalities, beliefs, cognitive abilities and aspirations.
  • The Dilemma of Being Fair Resulting In Unintended Consequences. For most of us there is a noble aspiration in us to treat people fairly and to follow “The Golden Rule.” Additionally, by us having a better understanding of the terms equality and equity, it will help us achieve our noble aspiration of fairness. Also,  we need to be cognizant that our good intentions of fairness do not result in unintended consequences. This is because we will just create more obstacles to fairness instead of removing obstacles. Below are some examples of where a teacher may come face to face with equality versus equity.
    • A student has limited internet access. Do you grade this student’s homework equally with other students? 
    • A student is going through family issues. Do you let them re-attempt an assignment?
    • A student is moving across the country. Do you accommodate them to complete assignments?

See U. of Duke TIP’s Equity vs. Equality vs. Liberation: First Steps Toward Inclusive Classroom Discussions for more on understanding the challenges of teaching equality and equity.

Equity Versus Equality – What is the Difference? 

Equity and equality have a lot in common and also are radically different. Both of these concepts, depending on how they are implemented, can be divisive and counter-productive to their common goal. See below for an explanation of their common goal and their key differences.

First, What Both Equality and Equity Have In Common. 

  • Same Goals Of Fairness, Justice, Respect. Both “equality” and “equity” have the same goals of fairness, justice, and respect for individual dignity.
  • Both Remove Barriers. Here both are focused on removing barriers that are not fair to people in their pursuit of happiness.
  • Both Have Implementation Challenges – Unintended Consequences. Indeed, here both have challenges in implementation as both fall short in most cases of actually removing the obstacles that prevent equality and equity and in many cases can create more obstacles.

Next, Where Equality Differs.

  • Focused on Non-Discrimination. Equality differs from equity in that it is focused on non-discrimination and treating every one as equal. In its extreme, equality does not judge and does not take into consideration the differences and unique needs of people. Also, the merits of implementing equality is that it removes human bias in implementation. This is because, if unchecked, people may misjudge or be a “bad actor” in determining what is fair and not fair.
  • Incentive to Pursue Equal Opportunities. When people have equal opportunities and see the direct benefits of their efforts, they have an incentive to add more value and contribute to society.
  • With All Being Equal, Some Do Not Have The Means To Succeed. The challenge with equality is that individuals and groups, though provided equal opportunity, may still not have the means to succeed no matter how much they try.

Lastly, Where Equity Differs.

  • Judgement Needed To Determine Fairness. Equity differs from equality in that it introduces a judgement factor to assure fairness for all. At its best, equity assures that individuals and disadvantaged groups have the ability to advance and achieve their goals. Therefore, the challenge is who determines which individual or group has the most need. Also, bias can easily slip in or at the very least equity brings divisiveness in that it pits one group of people against another. This is because each group has their own perspective of what is fair and what they need.
  • Equity Can Lean Toward a Totalitarian Form of Centralized Government. Equity in its extreme can drift toward Marxism where there is centralized control of distribution and production where people lose their incentive to be productive and contribute to society.

See San Diego Foundation’s Equity VS Equality: What’s The Difference?

Remove the Obstacles Preventing Equality and Equity.

Both equality and equity are noble goals, but focusing on either one of them or even both does not necessarily achieve the real goal. So the real goal is to remove the obstacle that is preventing equality or equity.  The question is what can we do as a society to remove obstacles that prevent students from succeeding? Also, what can we do to enable everyone to be productive citizens and contribute to society? Lastly, what can we do to remove obstacles that are preventing people from realizing their goals in life?

See Milken Institute School of Public Health’s Equity Versus Equality, and for more on the challenges and differences in implementing equity and equality in organizations and societies.

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