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The Workplace Equality vs. Equity Debate: Why Understanding the Difference Matters

The Workplace Equality vs. Equity Debate: Why Understanding the Difference Matters

Equity and Equality have often been understood as representing the same thing in the workplace, but they don’t. And deeply understanding the difference between ‘equity in the workplace’ and ‘equality in the workplace’ is an essential skill for managers and employees alike.

“The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone according to their circumstances.” —Paula Dressel, Race Matters Institute.

What is Equality?

Equality refers to giving all individuals in your organization fair treatment, equal rights to opportunities, and that everyone has an equal chance to succeed and reach their full potential without facing discrimination or prejudice.

What is Equity?

Equity is the concept of fairness and justice, where individuals are treated fairly and justly. Equity means providing proportional opportunities, resources, and representation for all. The concept of equity also involves considering a person’s historical and social disadvantages, and providing targeted support or accommodations to them, ensuring everyone has access to the workplace tools each person needs to succeed.

And here is the challenge with not profoundly understanding the meaning of “Equality” vs. “Equity:” Treating everyone the same – regardless of their individual needs or circumstances – may not always result in fairness, as some employees in your organization have, or do face historical or social disadvantages; or have unique needs that require additional support or accommodations.

Example of Equality:

Every public school in a community has computer labs with the same number of computers and hours of operation – during school hours.

Example of Equity:

Computer labs in lower-income neighborhoods have more computers and printers and are open longer hours, as some students don’t have access to computers or the internet at home.

What is Equality in the Workplace?

Equality means the same policies, processes, privileges, and opportunities are provided to all employees in the workplace. Equality in the workplace provides fair and equal treatment of all employees. Workplace equality ensures all employees are entitled to the same opportunities, rights, and protections. They are evaluated based on their skills, abilities, and job performance rather than their characteristics.

What is Equity in the Workplace?

Equity in the workplace is the fair treatment of all employees. Equity in the workplace refers to fairness and Equality in outcomes for all employees.

With workplace equity, organizations look to identify and acknowledge specific needs related to demographics such as race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disabilities, and more. The needs of specific groups are considered in decision-making, especially regarding inclusion efforts and workplace diversity.

The Evolution of Equity-First Organizations

Achieving equity in the workplace is a journey that requires commitment at every level within the organization. Auditing and assessing organizational policies and practices is important to ensure they promote equity and fairness and address any issues.

In equity-first organizations, all employees are empowered to perform to their best and should feel they are fully supported to succeed in an inclusive workplace.


  • Equity in the workplace involves creating a healthy Speak Up! and Listen Up! workplace culture where diversity, equity, and inclusion are valued, promoted, and free from harassment and discrimination.
  • Equity in action involves organizational policies and practices that promote and provide access to opportunities for equal work, equal pay, and equal training and development.

Organizations must realize that not all employees start from the same place regarding Equality in the workplace. By treating everyone the same, employee-specific needs are not considered. This aggregates any inequality that is already present rather than eliminating bias and creating a workplace culture of inclusivity and equity.

  • Equality in the workplace provides equal access to job openings, promotions, training, development, equal work opportunities, and equal pay for equal work.
  • Equality in action provides a workplace that protects from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

Where equity and equality intersect, Equality in the workplace provides fair and equal treatment of all employees, and equity involves recognizing and removing organizational and structural barriers that may prevent certain groups from having the same opportunities and outcomes as others.

Syntrio’s Training Supports Equality and Equity in the Workplace

Syntrio’s Seven Learning Libraries are designed specifically to support leaders in any organization looking to improve their teams’ understanding of equity and equality in the workplace and how they differ. Thousands of organizations across the globe trust Syntrio to support their workplace compliance and cultures with modern training courses.

Syntrio Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Training Courses

Our DEI team cares passionately about supporting how organizations move into a more equitable position for all their workforce needs.

It matters.

Related Courses

Supporting Racial Identity Justice & Equality in the Workplace (Focus)
Supporting Social Identity Justice & Equality at Work (Focus)
Supporting Racial Identity Justice & Equality in the Workplace (Summary)
Supporting Social Identity Justice & Equality at Work (Summary)
Sensitivity to Racial Identity (Core)
Sensitivity to Social Identity (Core)
Sensitivity to Racial Identity (Summary)
Sensitivity to Social Identity (Summary)

Tammy is a thought leader with a pioneering record of global workforce management experience. She has worked across diverse industries and specializes in developing large-scale human resources and diversity, equity, and inclusion program strategies while helping organizations create inclusive cultures that leverage all talent for a competitive advantage. Tammy has held very focused senior leadership roles while serving as a trusted advisor, coach, and facilitator.

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