Why Equity is Different from Equality, and Why This Matters

In today's world, people often use the words equity and equality interchangeably. However, while these two concepts are related, they are not the same thing.  

Equity and equality refer to different approaches to achieving fairness and justice, and understanding their differences is crucial. 

Equality is the belief society treats everyone the same way, regardless of their circumstances. In an equal system, everyone receives the same resources, opportunities, and treatment, irrespective of their needs or abilities. This approach assumes that everyone starts from the same place and has similar needs, but this is not always true. 

Equity is the idea that society should give everyone what they need to be successful, regardless of their circumstances.  

In an equitable system, resources, opportunities, and treatment are distributed based on the specific needs of each individual or group.  

It's a process that recognises people have different starting points and different needs and that fairness requires different treatment for different people. 

What is the difference?

To illustrate the difference between equity and equality, consider the following example: A classroom has students of different heights trying to see over a fence. An equal approach would be to give every student a box to stand on so they can see over the fence. However, some students may still need help to see over the fence due to their height, even with a box.  

In contrast, an equitable approach would involve giving taller students fewer boxes and shorter students more boxes to achieve the same level of visibility. This approach recognises that the students will have different needs and require various resources to achieve the same outcome. 

Equity and equality are essential because they highlight the need to address structural inequality and systemic barriers to access and opportunities.  

However, while an equal approach treats everyone equally, it does not address the fact that some people face more obstacles than others due to, for example, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or disability.  

By contrast, an equitable approach recognises these differences and seeks to address them by providing additional resources and support to those who need it most. 

The role of equity in education and the workplace

In the context of education, an equitable approach would involve providing additional resources and support to students from low-income families or those with disabilities to ensure they have access to the same opportunities as their more advantaged peers.  

It recognises that students from disadvantaged backgrounds may require additional support to achieve the same outcomes as their more privileged counterparts. 

It's hard to achieve equality without considering the different circumstances from which someone enters a situation because every person is inherently distinct. So, when it comes to fairness and nurturing students for success, institutions must consider varying needs. 

Equity is the concept of "levelling the playing field" so that fairness happens along the path to success. Equality treats everyone equally without paying attention to the natural differences between people of different races, sexes, social classes, and more. 

Similarly, in the workplace, an equitable approach would involve providing accommodations and support to employees with disabilities, creating flexible work arrangements to support working parents, and addressing pay gaps and other forms of discrimination based on race, gender, and other factors. 

In both cases, an equitable approach requires recognising and addressing systemic barriers that prevent individuals or groups from achieving their full potential. It requires a shift away from concentrating on equal treatment and instead focusing on equitable outcomes. 

Social justice and equity

Equity and equality are crucial components of social justice. Social justice refers to everyone having equal rights, opportunities, and resources, regardless of background or circumstances. Achieving social justice requires addressing systemic inequality and discrimination and working towards creating a more just and equitable society. 

While people may use the terms equity and equality interchangeably, they refer to different approaches to achieving fairness and justice. Equality is the idea that we must treat everyone the same, while equity recognises that people have different needs and therefore require individualised treatment specific to their circumstances and background.  

Understanding the difference between equity and equality is crucial to addressing systemic barriers and achieving social justice.  

An equitable approach requires recognising and addressing structural inequality and discrimination. In addition, it works to provide additional resources and support to those who need it most. Therefore, we can create a more just and fair society by focusing on equity. 

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