Why equity is more important than diversity

It appears to be like a chicken and egg situation


Organisations worldwide are in a mad rush to take forward their diversity, equity and inclusion agendas. Yes, the spotlight has been on DE&I lately, with organisations trying to outdo each other in showing how fearless and open they are in terms of giving opportunities to one and all.

However, there is another debate taking place on the sidelines. Should diversity be given more importance or equity?

Before we try to arrive at an answer, we should first try and understand the meaning and context of the words, ‘diversity’ and ‘equity’.

Diversity, as we all know, is a strategy to make an organisation diverse in every sense of the word. Earlier, India Inc. simply focused on gender diversity, but now people are talking about different forms of diversity such as religion, age, neurodiversity and more. It is about giving an opportunity to people from all walks of life.

“Diversity means nothing without equity and Inclusion”

Anup Seth, chief diversity & inclusion officer, Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance

On the other hand, equity is more to do with the mindset of the organisation. It is about understanding the needs, problems and challenges of a diverse set of people and coming up with a tailor-made solution for all, so that equality is ensured and justified.

Simply put, while diversity leads to the presence of differences within an organisation, equity is the process that ensures impartial and fair systems through which the possible outcomes are equal for each employee.

For instance, by hiring persons with disability or PWD, an organisation ensures diversity. However, by giving special attention to the mobility and special needs of PWD — by building ramps or exclusive lifts for their safe, convenient and hassle-free movement — an organisation ensures equity. Additionally, making sure that everybody accepts these special arrangements for such people, will lead to true equity.

As Seema Bangia, VP & chief people officer, Mahindra Agriculture, Defence and Aerospace businesses, defines, “Equity is a mindset that needs to be developed in an organisation.”

Bangia is quite clear and certain that equity is by far more important than diversity in an organisation. She tries to explain that often HR leaders are asked to make the workforce diverse, “but we should first ask ourselves how we are going to sustain diversity if we do not have a plan in place to provide tailor-made solutions to a diverse workforce”.

Anup Seth, chief diversity & inclusion officer, Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, also states, “Diversity means nothing without equity and Inclusion.”

“Building a diverse organisation will automatically lead to the need or necessity for having equity in the company”

Naresh Kumar Puritipati, HR director, Lactalis India

He further explains that equity is like creating a balance in an organisation.

For instance, let’s look at women as an employee cohort and lets look at what diversity without equity would look like. Companies may recruit a larger female workforce for the sake of diversity, but pass them up for important opportunities for reasons like caregiving responsibilities, maternity, etc. In other cases, organisations may look at reseting the age-old faults in the workplace culture at large by giving disproportionate opportunities of growth only to women. Both these scenarios are not ideal because in the first case its only tokenism and in the second you are discriminating against another set of employees, which is men, in a bid to fix what’s broken.

“Equity is more nuanced than that. It is about recognising where different people are coming from, the legacies they carry, and then offering them adequate and relevant opportunities based on their merit,” Seth mentions.

Seth further puts an example of two equally capable employees who are up for appraisal – one man and a woman – you may consider giving the man a 10 per cent raise and the woman a 15 per cent raise. This way, you are taking gradual but concrete steps to bring them at par in terms of pay. You are also ensuring that the company is not alienating one cohort for the benefit of other.

The gimmicky approach of many organisations in the industry is what actually leads to this debate.

As both Bangia and Seth mention, there are organisations that just fall into the rat race to achieve diversity in numbers. In doing so, they miss out on incorporating a mindset of equity in an organisation. In such an environment, diversity cannot achieve stability.

“Though several organisations are doing some fantastic work, there are many that consider diversity a fad,” observes Seth.

“Equity is a mindset that needs to be developed in an organisation”

Seema Bangia, VP & chief people officer, Mahindra Agriculture, Defence and Aerospace businesses

If equity is more important than diversity, how can one build an equity mindset without diversity?

Naresh Kumar Puritipati, HR director, Lactalis India, rightly asks, “If the population is not made diverse first, who would be the takers for equity in an organisation?”
He goes on to add, “Building a diverse organisation will automatically lead to the need or necessity for having equity in the company”.

Even without creating a diverse workforce or endeavouring to especially achieve diversity of any sort, there does exist age or generational diversity in every company.

Making tailor-made policies for all can take the organisation closer to achieving a mindset of equity.

Clearly, equity is winning the debate by just a margin. Many a time, the approach of an organisation towards its DE&I strategy depends on which cycle of development the organisation is in. The organisation may even decide its approach based on the the talent supply and demand game of a diverse talent pool. Accordingly, it will prioritise either equity or diversity.

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