Equality vs. equity in the workplace: What is the difference?

Author - Morten Hartvig Berg, Head of People Insights

You probably know that equality and equity are related concepts . But do you also know that they have some different meanings that are very important for organizations to understand when aiming to create an inclusive work environment? Let’s look at how these two concepts differ from each other – and explore which of them organizations should focus on and why. 

In this article you will find insights about:


The difference between equality and equity

The main difference between equity and equality is how they address fairness and equal treatment. Basically, you can say that equity addresses fairness by considering individual or group differences, meaning that an organization promotes an inclusive environment with equal opportunities taking individualities into account.

Equality seeks fairness by treating everyone the same, meaning that every employee is treated the same way, is given the same resources and held to the same expectations placed upon them without considering individuality. 


What does equality mean?

In its word ‘equality’ itself means “to be equal” in terms of for instance status, rights, opportunities etc. Working with equality in a corporate context means that organizations use a one-size-fits-all approach that treats every employee in the same way without taking into account individual opportunities to achieve the same goal.

This approach may be seen as fair in some situations, but there will always be a risk of neglecting the unique needs and challenges that different employees/groups face, leaving them in a worse starting point to achieve the same goal compared to other employees/groups. 


What does equity mean?

Equity recognizes that each employee (or individual in general) has a different set of circumstances and needs different resources and opportunities allocated to them in order to thrive and achieve the same outcome.

Working with equity in a corporate context means, for instance, that organizations have defined policies and initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. These could be programs that address pay inequities, provide equal opportunities for career advancement and foster a work environment where all employees feel valued and included. 

Read more about what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean here.


Equality vs Equity

The difference between equality and equity


Examples of equality and equity in the workplace

Now you know the difference between equality and equity. Let’s take a look at a real-world example of an organization working either with equality or equity in its day-to-day operations. 

Imagine that your organization has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. Your organization has different departments with a mix of employees of different genders, races, and experience levels. Your leadership team recognizes the importance of ensuring that opportunities for career advancement and leadership roles are both equal and equitable. 

An equality approach to this situation: 

The organization decides to implement a standardized leadership training program that is accessible to all employees, regardless of their department, background, or experience level. The program offers the same resources, training modules, and opportunities to each participant, ensuring that everyone receives identical treatment and access.

For example, suppose there are open positions for departmental leadership roles. The organization ensures that every employee, regardless of their current role or department, is aware of these opportunities and can apply using the same criteria. The selection process is consistent, focusing solely on the candidates' qualifications and performance in the standardized training program.

The result: 
On the surface, this approach promotes fairness by providing equal access and opportunity to all employees. It demonstrates the organization's commitment to treating every individual identically, without any preferential treatment based on their background or department. 

However, this approach may overlook the unique challenges or disadvantages that certain employees may face, such as those from underrepresented groups or departments with fewer resources. 

As a result, while equality in terms of opportunity and access is maintained, the outcome may not effectively address the diverse needs and starting points of different employee groups.

An equity approach to this situation:

The organization conducts an in-depth analysis of its workforce, identifying departments or groups that have been historically underrepresented or face unique challenges in career advancement. Based on this analysis, the organization develops a leadership development program tailored to address these specific needs.

For instance, in departments where employees have historically faced barriers to leadership roles due to factors like gender, race, or socio-economic background, the organization provides additional mentoring, networking opportunities, and targeted training. 

This could involve assigning senior leadership mentors to guide employees from underrepresented groups, offering workshops on overcoming career barriers, or providing resources tailored to the specific challenges these employees face.

The program also includes measures to ensure that all employees have access to basic leadership training, but it goes a step further for those who need more support. In this way, while the basic structure of the program is accessible to all, additional resources and support are provided where they are needed most.

The result: 
This approach recognizes and addresses the unequal starting points of different groups of employees. By providing targeted support and resources, the organization not only levels the playing field but also fosters a more inclusive and diverse leadership pipeline.

This strategy helps to ensure that all employees, regardless of their background or department, have a genuine opportunity to advance and succeed, resulting in a more diverse and representative leadership team.

Do you want to get more insights on how to measure workplace DE&I through key performance indicators? Find them here.


Should you aim for equality or equity in the workplace?

In today’s evolving corporate landscape, the focus is increasingly shifting to equity. While equality ensures that everyone is treated the same, equity goes a step further by recognizing and addressing the diverse needs and challenges faced by different groups of employees. This approach recognizes that true fairness isn't about treating everyone identically, but about giving everyone what they need to succeed.

Equity should be the foundational principle of your DE&I-strategy. It involves understanding the unique barriers that underrepresented or marginalized groups face and actively working to eliminate those barriers. By prioritizing equity, your organization not only fosters a fairer workplace but also unlocks the full potential of a diverse workforce.

However, equality still plays a role. It’s important to maintain equal treatment in terms of compliance with laws and general workplace policies. However, when it comes to personal development, career advancement, and addressing historical disparities, equity takes precedence. By focusing on equity, your organization can create a truly inclusive work environment where every employee has the resources they need to thrive.

Explore our DE&I-solutions here.


Morten Hartvig Berg, Head of People Insights

Morten Hartvig Berg, Head of People Insights

Morten has solid international HR experience and advises our clients who apply employee journey concepts. He is responsible for our People Analytics concepts and contributes to concept development in general.