IWD 2023: To embrace equity is to meet people where they are
As the CEO of a digital community platform that serves People & Work professionals, I have seen firsthand the pivotal role of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.
Each year that the world celebrates Women’s Month, there is always a tendency for many in the media to reduce DEI to being just another buzzword.
But, in my conversations with peers who are driving change at work, I also witness how DEI is emerging as a critical success factor in organisations, no matter their scale. One such factor is the role of women in contributing to business and the wider society.
However, as the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 by the World Economic Forum points out, gender disparities have remained so entrenched in our social and professional systems today that it would likely take another 151 years to close the gap if we continue to turn a blind eye to it.
The challenge for business and HR leaders is to #EmbraceEquity. Not only is it the right thing to do but – as a direct benefit of empowering women – it also makes good business sense.
Yet the world has become so accustomed to seeing the role of women only through the lens of EQUALITY that we often miss the point about the power of EQUITY for those who are truly at a disadvantage.
Equality can be defined as giving everyone the same opportunities, resources and benefits, regardless if these are what they truly need.
Equity, meanwhile, can be defined as knowing how each person has unique circumstances, experiences, needs and aspirations that define life for them. It is about breaking down barriers for those who have been historically marginalised and disadvantaged.
In the context of women empowerment, the end in mind is not only to set women on equal footing with their male counterparts, but also to recognise women for who they are and where they are in life.
Here, we outline three major steps:
- Understanding the diversity of women’s experiences, struggles and challenges
- Realising women’s potential and building up their competencies
- Creating unique opportunities and providing resources to set them up for success
To paraphrase our friends from IWD: fairness works if – and only if – we all start from the same place. The reality is that gender disparities exist because we don’t all start out at the same place, with the same resources. From the leaders I’ve seen in my work at People Matters, the most successful DEI programmes are intentional in how they create opportunities for women to reach the same level of success as their peers.
According to research from McKinsey, more and more businesses are pouring resources into DEI-related efforts: funding for programmes is forecast to rise from US$7.5 billion in 2020 to US$15.4 billion by 2026.
To truly #EmbraceEquality, leaders must recognise that diversity is not just about optics or meeting quotas. To resonate with the call of IWD 2023, we need policies and practices that meet people where they are in life by providing a range of resources, from flexible work arrangements, to mentoring and sponsorship programmes, to diverse recruitment and promotion strategies.
Senior leaders must be committed to confronting bias and discrimination in all forms and be willing to hold difficult conversations and take a stand against prejudice and intolerance. This requires ongoing education and training to raise awareness and build skills. It also means holding themselves and others accountable for creating an inclusive workplace culture.