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A case for elevating equity

david-otudeko-4_li.jpgAhead of the ABI's Diversity Summit, "Driving Change in our Sector?" taking place on 22 November, the ABI's Head of Prudential Regulation, David Otudeko, sets out his case elevating equality in the sector and in workforces, to ensure true progress in building diverse, inclusive and equitable cultures. 

In a blog I wrote in 2021 which was published on the Association of British Insurers (ABI) website titled Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: So, we look different, now what?” I asked why the “E” for equity seemed to be conspicuously absent from the debate. I am firmly of the view that policies, processes, frameworks and professionals tackling diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) should be given a designation incorporating the “E” for equity. This subtle but necessary shift is crucial in not only ensuring that these 3 core elements of the debate are considered in tandem but also explicitly references and brings equity firmly into focus. Without equity true diversity and inclusion will remain elusive. Below I share some additional thoughts on why equity needs to be elevated.

Equity is important

This seems an obvious point, but one that is certainly worth re-iterating. Equity is a process that extends beyond legally protected characteristics and creates a level playing field regardless of age, gender, race, socio-economic background, education and everything else that makes individuals, well, individual and unique.  It seeks to balance the power dynamics in an organisation and makes a commitment to correct imbalances in the pursuit of fairness. In practice, enacting equity means providing all people with fair opportunities to attain their full potential. However, the starting point for achieving this is acknowledging that societal inequities exist and that a “level playing field” is not a foregone conclusion. In my view a tangible first step that is powerful in its simplicity is to include the “E” in the designation of everything you do relating to diversity and inclusion. This is a demonstrable statement of intent by the organisation and its leaders to clearly acknowledge barriers to equity and to address inequities which should be the bedrock of any DEI strategy.

You can’t get from Diversity to Inclusion without Equity

I’ll begin here with some basic definitions. Diversity is about recognising (and celebrating) difference and inclusion is about valuing and integrating the perspectives and contributions of a diverse group, enabling them to thrive. Given these definitions, how do you get from a diverse workforce to an inclusive one that feels fully valued and integrated? Well, the answer is a simple one, you break down barriers that prevent true inclusion and this is what equity is about. If DEI are points on a continuum, what gets you to inclusion from diversity is equity without which any progress towards inclusion would be unsustainable. Considering equity alongside diversity and inclusion results in a workforce that looks different and has a clear path to inclusion. This is because equity creates an environment where everyone has equal access to opportunities for advancement. This is more than just being invited to the party and being asked to dance (a quote made popular by diversity and inclusion advocate Verna Myers). It involves taking tangible steps recognising that everyone at the party deserves to dance but not everyone can do the moonwalk like Michael Jackson or fancy a boogie to Surfin’ Bird by the Trashmen. Equity in action is how we move forward from simple tolerance to complete appreciation. 

Whose party is this anyway?

I must confess, I did not intend on making this point, but it struck me after I highlighted the earlier quote by Verna Myers. Verna Myers says, “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance”. This statement clearly distinguishes between diversity and inclusion and rightly so because whilst both are mutually reinforcing, they mean different things. Verna Myers’, quote I feel supports my point about how equity often gets lost in the debate and made me ask myself, whose party is it anyway. I acknowledge that the tone from the top is crucial in setting an inclusive culture in an organisation. However, is true equity about being invited to the party and asked to dance (which implies power resting in the hands of a select few who do the inviting and asking) or is it about being involved in party planning and choosing when and to what music you would like to do the running man to. This once again highlights the importance of equity which seeks at its core to balance the power dynamics in an organisation such that marginalized groups no longer wait to be asked but are equally able organise the party and do the asking themselves. 

Equity is not Equality?

Diversity and inclusion do not mean the same thing and as I highlighted earlier Verna Myers’ quote does make this distinction clear. It is also important to distinguish equity from equality as these also do not mean the same thing and an assumption that they do would have consequences for any DEI strategy. Staying true to the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” below is a pictorial representation of the difference between equity and equality (which also highlights the importance of equity) developed by the City for All Women Initiative in Ottawa Canada and say no more. 

Equalityversesequity.png

Conclusion

Equity is a critical element of the DEI debate that needs to be elevated and that we must always be mindful of. I have seen acronyms and designations like EDI, DEI, BEGI or even JEDI (the force is strong with this one!!) which would all work in the right circumstances. It is a matter for an organisation’s strategy, suitability for business and employee preference as to how to include the “E” in designations but we must also not let nomenclature detract from immediate action. The critical thing is for the “E” to be included as this would bring about appropriate focus and ensure it is not forgotten about in the mix of other DEI activities. I would once again urge our industry (even Regulators) to consider appropriately renaming their policies, job titles and other supporting aspects of their frameworks to include the “E” for equity. 


Last updated 13/07/2022