An organisation that has equal employment opportunities sounds wonderful right? It sounds like we would have achieved all our diversity and inclusion goals. But the reality is that people often believe creating equal employment opportunities is achieved if we just treat everyone the same. So organisations that claim to be an equal opportunity employer are often in fact not at all.
Unfortunately treating everybody the same does not provide for equal opportunity. If we fail to recognise privilege and the barriers that exist for people from different backgrounds and identities then our equal employment opportunity actions will only perpetuate privilege and likely result in homogenous workforces.
For example, if somebody has autism a typical ‘fair’ recruitment process may not provide equal opportunity for them. We might need to change our process so that candidates are presented with the interview questions a few days prior to the interview. This combined with other initiatives around bias and discrimination mitigation may actually create the equal opportunity we are seeking. For more ideas on reducing recruitment bias click here. So in that example we are recognising that to truly create equal employment opportunity we need to recognise the challenges that exist for people based on their identities.
Firstly, we recognise that to truly create equal opportunities we need to employ equity.
Bias and discrimination impact a person’s career trajectory from as early as pre-school and continue to have a compounding effect across their lifetime. Equity allows us to provide individuals with the support they need to get access to the opportunities that their counterparts can reach. As shown in Figure 1, equity is the support we provide to those who need it, in an attempt to level the playing field.
Equity recognizes that everybody doesn’t start from the same position, that there are barriers within our systems, within our structures, that make it harder for some people to attain employment, get promotion, and therefore secure leadership roles. We need to work to overcome those barriers, intentionally and proactively.
An example of an equity measure would be parental leave, where we recognize that someone needs to take an extended period of leave to care for a baby and that this will likely have a negative impact on their career. So providing paid parental leave, keeping in touch days and additional support in the form of flexibility when they return to work are all examples of equity. These measures recognize the barriers that come with taking time out of the workplace and seek to ensure that a person’s career trajectory and their financial position aren’t affected negatively because they took parental leave. Therefore creating equal opportunity for continued career success as experienced by their non-parent counterparts.
In addition to equity we also need to empower our leaders to act and think inclusively. An inclusive leader will be able to recognise barriers or is more likely to hear about them from the people they impact. A true inclusive leader then knows the type of actions they can take to break those barriers down for people across the organisation. For more information on how to create inclusive leaders, click here.
Employing equity and developing inclusive leadership skills in our employees rather than just treating everybody the same, allows us to truly create equal opportunities for everyone.
Creating equal opportunities is not about making sure everything is equal, we actually need to treat people differently based on the challenges that they face as individuals. And if we do this in a meaningful way, then we can give everybody a chance to be leaders, to get promoted, and to get recruited. At the same time we are also allowing our organisations to benefit from an incredibly diverse and inclusive workforce.
02 February 2023
19 June 2023
01 February 2022