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“Equity: More Than a Refrain”

National Paralegal Reporter By: Sybil Taylor Aytch, RP,® M.Ed. and Stefanie Trujillo

The word “Equity” is often seen and heard in news articles, classroom settings, and certainly all over social media. But is it being heard and seen in your workplace, and is it being promoted and included in the framework of your firm’s Diversity and Inclusion initiatives? For those who come from marginalized or under-represented communities, or those who care about advancing these communities, “Equity” is more than merely another refrain. 

THE MEANING OF EQUITY

It is not possible to have true Diversity and Inclusion without Equity. Equity is itself the bellwether of the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity model. While Diversity pro-vides a quantitative representation, and Inclusion is added to the mix to allow one to be accepted as their true and authentic self, Equity denotes our deepest understanding of its nuances and intricacies. It recognizes the historical legacies and current realities of discrimination and prejudice experienced by marginalized or under-represented communities.

In order to be truly inclusive, it is imperative to operate within an Equity lens, the process for analyzing and diagnosing the impact of the design and implementation of policies on marginalized or under-represented individuals or groups, and to identify and eliminate potential barriers. Equity requires the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement of everyone, while identifying and eliminating barriers that have prevented the full participation of marginalized or under-represented individuals or groups.

Equity comprises three components. The first component is Supremacy; the ideology that one cultural group is better than another cultural group. This is largely a dynamic related to power, access, and a perception of superiority.

The second component is Power; the social capital gained by being a member of a group that has supremacy. This is demonstrated in the workplace by better evaluation assessments and better access to mentors and other resources for success. 

The third component is Privilege; the un-earned advantages and benefits gained by members of a group that has supremacy. This is exemplified by being able to speak the way you want and wear what you want to wear, without judgment or recrimination.

To further grasp the meaning of Equity, it is important to understand that the term is not synonymous with Diversity, Inclusion, Equality, or Justice. In fact, many have con-fused Equality and Equity, yet they have two very distinct meanings. Equality is letting everyone in, while Equity is giving everyone the tools they need to succeed after being let in. Essentially, Equality is giving everyone shoes, while Equity is giving everyone shoes that fit. We must be very clear on the meaning of each of these terms in order to address inequities and reach viable solutions.

WHY EQUITY IS IMPORTANT 

Equity further denotes identifying inequitable systems, course-correcting and building equitable systems that are designed to work equally for everyone. Historically and currently, many of our systems were built to sustain inequity. Because these systems are doing exactly what they were designed to do, contemporary events heavily highlight significant disparities in education, health, wealth, and justice. 

REBUILDING EQUITABLE SYSTEMS

Rebuilding equitable systems requires an understanding of the data behind the system and/or community sought to be re-built. This undertaking includes examining a model such as World Trust, which identifies the history, culture, and identity of the system/community and under-stands internal and external factors, such as the personal and institutional manifestations of bias (The System of Inequity). 

Many, if not all internal and external contributing factors are the core of what perpetuates inequalities. In order for change to occur and the dismantling process to commence, these contributing fac-tors must be discontinued at both the internal and external level. The tools and resources needed to build an equitable system must also be identified and uti-lized so that the same services are provided for everyone, regardless of identity. 

Building equitable systems is extremely important as old inequitable systems are dismantled to accommodate the increase in diversity. Now more than ever, we live in a world where a person’s identities intersect, which creates its own unique challenges and barriers related to disadvantages and privileges. 

For example, the experiences of a white LGBTQ+ individual compared to a person of color who identifies as LGBTQ+ can vary significantly. While both individuals share in LGBTQ+ identity and oppression, adding the intersection of race decreases access to necessities such as healthcare for those of color because there is no shared privilege based on supremacy.

As a society, it is prudent to be more aware of intersectionality so that we can become more innovative in identifying and dismantling inequitable systems. In the workforce, some of the most recent examples of eliminating gender-based bias includes extending paid leave to all parents, regardless of gender. Reviewing resumes without the candidate’s name has helped eliminate some racial and eth-nic bias during the recruitment process.

WHY DIVERSITY & INCLUSION EFFORTS FAILED IN THE PAST

Prior diversity and inclusion efforts failed all of its participants and yielded poor re-sults. This supposition was based on the notion that “Diversity” and “Inclusion” were initially only synonymous with race and had heavy negative connotations. Most, if not all, efforts were geared towards some people, not transforming the environment to include all people (Hecht, 2020).

There was no celebratory distinctions related to the differences across races, and no shared history about people of color, who invented and contributed to society, was introduced. Rather, oppression was the main highlight of the trainings, which resulted in feelings of resentment, or blame, depending on an individual’s identity. 

Furthermore, many of the initiatives undertaken in the workplace did not result in creating a more diverse or inclusive environment. An employer merely attending the same diversity and inclusion trainings for years, with no actionable steps, or attending the same job fairs, without the hiring of any diverse candidates, are examples of failed initiatives (Stanfield, 2018).

Leaving equity out of the equation was detrimental to its success. It was not until recently that Equity was deemed a necessary component to ensure measurable success in Diversity and Inclusion work. Without Equity, the unique challenges and needs of certain identities are ignored, thereby, passively demonstrating privilege and not creating the changes sought. Simply giving one access (equality) is not enough. Providing access along with the tools necessary to thrive in the environment (equity) was the missing element. 

MOVING FORWARD

An action is a thought made manifest (Coel-ho). Progress cannot be effectuated in addressing disparities in education, health, wealth, employment, and justice until we examine and remove the exclusionary barriers in all communities. Closing these gaps requires that we do the work every day, everywhere, and on every level, with Equity resounding as more than a mere refrain, but as a chorus in our quest for a more just and equitable world.