Equity became the hot new buzzword in 2020. After 25 plus years of doing D&I work, I was shocked to hear client after client ask about creating equity in their companies. Before the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, equality was the DEI pinnacle each company worked to reach, and most of those didn’t want to do the real work it would take to achieve it.
In my line of work, I’ve discovered that most people are cool with the idea that everyone is equal and deserves an opportunity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Most companies have policies in place to ensure an equal workplace because it’s federally mandated. The U.S. government recently added sexual orientation to that list. However, when the American government decided that these offenses were punishable by law, companies and culture begrudgingly fell in line with the new standard.
People are now comfortable with the notion that no one should be mistreated or stifled from economic mobility because they are black or a woman. Why —with these changing laws and cultural shifts— do we see the wealth gap widening between racial groups? After all, everyone has an equal opportunity now, so it must mean that BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) are lazy and making excuses, right?
Wrong. To understand the need for equity, you must first understand two things:
- There is a long history of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and transphobia in the United States. This long history created an unequal playing field for building wealth, media representation, and social acceptance.
- Scarcity mentality is the root of all these issues, and it is why people continue to perpetuate them.
If researched, the first point will make a case for how we got here and why we need equity to obtain true equality. For everyone to have equal access, people must first have equal resources. Given the long history of unequal distribution of opportunity, wealth, and resources, the United States has a lot of making up to do.
Equity alone as a concept is not that difficult to understand. It merely means giving marginalized people the resources they need to have equal access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Equity in workplaces and classrooms is not new. The most straightforward example is to put it in terms of a classroom.
In the classroom, all students are there to do one thing: learn. We all want our children to have access to education, but we know that each child comes with a different set of unique challenges. Perhaps, a child is born with reduced hearing ability. The teacher in the class is aware that this child has this unique challenge but decides it is unfair to the rest of the students to sit the hearing challenged child in the front of the class because he/she wants to treat each child equally.
The teacher is trying to exercise equality in the classroom and doing so with the best intentions, but the child with hearing challenges will have much more to overcome than the other students. This example seems to have a simple solution. That simple solution is equity. The teacher should move the child to the front of the class, so he/she can hear the lessons.
Imagine the teacher decides to implement equity as a concept, but the other students’ parents become angry. They feel like it is not fair that this child gets to sit in front of the class, and their kids are further away from the instruction. They want their children to be closer, so they can have the opportunity to hear the lesson and be more engaged. Many of you would think that the parents are ridiculous. You would expect them to have understanding and compassion that the hearing challenged child is at a disadvantage, and therefore should be given unique support.
Where does that same compassion and understanding for the person who is not a native English speaker or a single mom of three children go? After all, these things are unique challenges. You may argue that the child’s difference is that they had no control over their hearing challenges. But, can you fault someone for being born in a place where English is not the first language? Ask yourself, when you travel, do you expect to be mistreated because you don’t speak the native language?
The single mom of three, what assumptions do you hold about her? Do you make a snap judgment that she was sexually reckless and irresponsible? What if the truth is that her spouse died unexpectedly or that she found the strength to leave a violent domestic partner?
What about the person who only attended failing schools, had to work after school to support their siblings, and graduated but with a C average because they didn’t have time to focus on their studies? Do they deserve well-paying jobs?
The previous examples bring me to my second point, which is that equity is not the problem.
Scarcity mentality is the monster we’re fighting in our companies. I hear it all the time. If we focus solely on hiring more black people, won’t we lose quality candidates for the sake of meeting a quota? First, the answer is no. There are many qualified black candidates. The assumption that you’re getting less when hiring a black person is B.S. that you need to assess anyway. Call me for a quote for my services. The other question is, if we hire more BIPOC, what happens to the white men who are the breadwinners for their families? What happens to their social and economic mobility?
I get asked all the time, where is the white man’s place in DEI? My answer is wherever he wants it to be. DEI is not about excluding white men, the concept of inclusion makes room for everyone. You should be just as vigilant in vetting their qualifications as you care for diverse people.
My hope is not any different from many companies’ hopes: skilled, qualified candidates working in corporate America. My suggestion is that we raise our standards for what it means to be qualified. Is the candidate prepared to work with diverse people and viewpoints? Does the candidate have sufficient conflict resolution skills? What is his/her/their level of emotional intelligence? Most importantly, can they do the damn job?
Hire the white men who show compassionate leadership, who have done their homework on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Hire the innovators who are creating and implementing diverse, equitable, and inclusive policies and infrastructures. Hire the best white men. The world is changing. So to the white men reading this, what is your place in DEI? You can be an inclusive innovator or maintainer of mediocrity—your choice.
Equity is not your enemy. Scarcity mentality is the imminent threat. How will you fight back?