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August 18, 2019

The Letter “E”…Equality vs. Equity

by Lisa Koenecke

Welcome back to my LGBT FAQ blog. This week, we look at the difference between the terms equality and equity. By definition, equality is ensuring individuals or groups of individuals are not treated differently or less favorably, on the basis of their specific protected characteristic, including areas of race, gender, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age (check out that Enumeration!). While equity means the quality of being fair or impartial (dictionary.com). These terms can be confusing, so you’ll often see different analogies to help make the difference a bit easier to understand. Which one is your favorite?

Thank you to our friends at Public Policy & Governance Review in Toronto, Canada for this image!

My favorite is the shoe analogy (and they’re rainbow!). Equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.
– Naheed Dosani

I would even go a bit further to add inclusion meaning that everyone has a shoe that fits, is comfortable and matches their sense of style. The first time I heard the shoe analogy to represent Equality vs. Equity was at a training called “Courageous Conversations.” This training was early in my school counseling career and reminded me of growing up with an uncle who had polio. His physical limitations were perhaps equal to those needing the specified parking space, but his brilliant mind gave him equity in his place of work.

Perhaps you have seen the analogy of the people watching a ball game and there are three boxes. Each individual is of a different height trying to see over the fence. Equality is that each person has a box upon which to stand. Equity is that the tallest person can see over the fence without a box, the middle person has one box and and can now see over the fence and the third person is standing on two boxes in order to see over the fence. What if we removed the fence all together? Let’s consider taking away barriers in order to promote equity.

Using the word “versus” in between Equality and Equity shouldn’t be seen as a competition. Depending upon where you are in your cultural awareness, or how your life experiences have shaped the lens through which you view the world, I might suggest that we all strive for Success for ALL! When you’re just starting your journey, equality is a good place to start. However if you look at the illustration below, you’ll see that while many might benefit from one solution, through an equitable solution(shoveling the ramp first), everyone will benefit using the ramp.

Source: Peytral Publications

Ahhh, good old Wisconsin winters…but this illustrates the difference between equity and equality. Equity is good for ALL. Think about those registration forms I refer to in earlier blog posts. By asking for adult 1 or caregiver 1 rather than “mom” and “dad“, you are now including grandparents, foster parents, or another relative caring for that student. Oh, and not everyone is a husband or a wife or a mom or a dad!

Cheryl Wheeler is a singer songwriter and just happens to sing one of our favorites, “Ghandi & Buddha.” In this version, she introduces the song sharing how she was happy to finally be able to marry her wife. She apologizes — tongue in cheek — for how our gay marriages have ruined all of the heterosexual marriages. In other words, by giving everyone the right to marry, whose marriage has that hurt? AND now we have access to the 1,100 protections and laws that heterosexual couples have enjoyed throughout time, while not taking a single protection away from hetero couple’s marriages. Win-win when love wins!

So, in terms of equality, we can equally get married as all can. On the other hand, equity is felt in some areas more than others. We chose to live in Madison, Wisconsin, which for the most part is a very welcoming city. It’s nice when I call to make an appointment for my wife that I only get asked a couple of questions. Not sure if we were a male and a female if I would face the same questions, however I don’t get push-back or a negative reaction that can occur in some less-equitable areas. However when we go out to dinner as a couple, we still get asked if we want separate checks, even if we’ve been holding hands across the table throughout our meal.

Thanks for reading this article. I hoped you enjoyed the song by Cheryl Wheeler. Your call to action is to do something GREAT to make things more equitable in your work space! Stand up for those without a voice. Take the time to educate someone needing that lesson on how to treat people! Think about this… intelligence is distributed equally, but opportunity is not!

~Lisa from Wisconsin (Lady Rainbow)

Read more from LGBT Resources A to Z

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