Equality vs equity
This year’s International Women’s Day in March was focused on embracing equity – imagine a gender-equal world, with no discrimination, unfairness, inequality or inequity.
Lots of people will ask ‘what is equity?’ And how is it different from equality? We have spent decades talking about women’s equality and it feels like we are now pushing one step further, despite not having reached the initial goal of equality yet. Are we complicating matters too soon?
To put simply, equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity is one step further and recognises that each person has different circumstances – exact resources and opportunities are then allocated where needed in order to reach an equal outcome.
What can organisations and employers do right now to support equity in the workplace? We’re going to explore flexible working and pay as two very strong starting points…
In an equal world, everyone has access to flexible working. In an equitable world, it is recognised that in the majority of cases women are the main carers for children and older people and therefore may need more flexible working, or flexible working in a different way, to some of their male counterparts.
Let’s look at some facts around caring responsibilities and flexible working – in 2022, 44% of working adults had caring responsibilities, though this was not equally distributed between the sexes. Women accounted for 85% of sole carers for children and 65% of sole carers for older adults. An equitable flexible working policy in your organisation would recognise these differences and ensure that different needs are addressed. We do not all start from the same base. We must acknowledge this and make adjustments to address the imbalances.
Flexible working and the recognition of women as carers is an area that organisations can really focus on to promote gender equality and equity. If you are a business owner or employer, you may want to review your flexible working policy with equity in mind – is there more that you can do to recognise that people have different circumstances and one size doesn’t fit all?
If you don’t have a flexible working policy already, you really need to take action. Employees have a legal right to make flexible working requests, and legislation will change later this year to make it easier for employees to request flexible working – so I recommend you get a policy in place pronto.
Pay is another area where businesses can really make a difference to women in the workplace.
The World Economic Forum’s 2022 report stated that the global gender pay gap has been closed by 68.1%. At the current rate of progress, it will take 132 years to reach full coequality, though the rate of progress is speeding up slightly. Based on ONS data, women first give birth around 30 years old, so my future great, great, granddaughter in the year 2108 may have equal pay to a male colleague.
How can organisations create equality and equity around pay? The simplest way is to review salaries through an internal and external benchmarking process and ensure men and women are paid equal amounts. Men and women doing similar roles should be paid similar, if not the same, salaries. Your equitable pay processes may include larger % pay increases for your female workforce for the next few years, to bring them in line with their male counterparts.
Promoting women into senior jobs will no doubt increase their pay, however we are starting from a low base. Women leaders are still underrepresented compared to men, with women taking only 30% of management roles in the UK³. The government introduced gender pay gap reporting in 2017 which requires any employer with 250 or more employees on a specific date each year to report their gender pay gap data. Gender Pay Gap (GPG) regulations were brought in to narrow and eventually eliminate pay differences between the sexes – but as we’ve just noted, this could take over a century.
As an employer or small business owner with less than 250 employees, you may choose to collate gender pay gap info to demonstrate equity, equality and fairness in your organisation. It is a great way to illustrate to your employees, customers and community how fair and forward-thinking your organisation is.
At the start of this article I asked, are we moving too fast, too soon? We’re still not living in an equal society. Why are we now pursuing equity when we haven’t achieved equality? The simple answer is that we have to push on. Organisations that have embraced equality will be ready to champion equity and they will create workplaces that are free from discrimination and unfairness. For those organisations that are lagging behind, I urge you to wake up and catch up.