Equity vs equality

When it comes to EDI, should we be talking about equality, diversity and inclusion, or use the term equity instead? Is there any difference and does the terminology really matter? Charlotte Evans from the Charity Learning Consortium explains why focusing on equity over equality is vital.


The phrase equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is widely used – which is quite ironic, as it doesn’t encompass everyone’s needs. The term equity is really a better fit when talking about EDI, and I’ll explain why. 

So what does equity mean? Equity is usually understood in monetary terms, of value or worth, and it might be easier to think of it in that way. Here’s a scenario that will explain this better: 

  • One person has £10 in their pocket
  • A second person has £5 in their pocket 
  • A third person has nothing in their pocket
  • You have £15 to give away to these three people

If you wanted to treat everyone equally, you would give them the same amount of money. But that would ignore their individual situation. Give each person £5 and the result is still inequality –  even though everyone has been treated the same or equally.

In terms of an outcome, all three people are still unequal in terms of one another’s worth or value. Yes, they have been treated equally but is this always the best thing to do? Some people need more than others, for various reasons. For the purpose of this exercise we haven’t explored why one person has more than another. To keep things simple, if we focus purely on the money that they have in their pocket, what’s the best way to bring everyone to the same level of equality? It makes you think, doesn’t it!

Why is EDI so important in organisations? And what is it that you need to do to ensure that equital practices are being met? Charlotte Evans explains these questions in the video above.

Let’s now step away from the idea of equity having a monetary value and come back to EDI. Every person is totally unique, and that is the beauty of human beings. This means that – just as sharing out the £15 in the scenario above – if everyone is given the same treatment then ‘the playing field’ will never be level. In simple terms, if you give support to those that don’t need it, anyone disadvantaged will probably never catch up. Conversely, if you only give support to people that really need it, they have a greater chance of becoming equal. 

Of course life is rarely that simple, and everything is case specific. One person who breaks a leg may be unable to walk for six weeks and need extensive physiotherapy, while another recovers more quickly with less care and attention. One of them may be bound to a wheelchair while the other can move with crutches. Treat them both equally, and give them both crutches, then the person that really needs a wheelchair would struggle to be mobile. 

This is a very basic example but I hope that it illustrates why people should be treated fairly and equitably, not necessarily equally. In this example, the equitable thing to do is obviously to give crutches or a wheelchair to the relevant person. Perhaps their care plans would be different too. This isn’t treating them equally but it is treating them appropriately, based on their needs, supporting them both to recover in the best way for them.

There are plenty of other examples of where equal treatment could be detrimental, such as treating students equally in schools. Some children may have learning disabilities and need more support. Giving every student extra help would be treating them equally but would probably make any educational disparity worse. The children who needed the extra support would constantly be playing catch up. 

The same is true for adults. In learning and development terms, treat everyone the same way and you may only ever reach a different level of inequality. Give an elite group extra support and the gap then widens even further.

Once you start to think along these lines, it makes you realise how complex society is. Sometimes there are no simple solutions and there might be multiple causes of inequality, which I haven’t explored in this article. But now that you know the difference between equity and equality, I hope that you will think about the former. Ultimately, focusing on equity gives people the best chance of not getting left behind.


Sarah Burrell

About Charlotte Evans

Charlotte Evans works for the Charity Learning Consortium as a Marketing Executive and as the Clear Lessons Product Manager. She has gained much experience in business, starting with her two degrees: One in Business Management with European study from the University of Exeter and an undergraduate diploma in international business. She entered the world of learning and development as a digital learning developer before starting her role at the Consortium as a project coordinator and marketing executive. She is highly communicative and very approachable.

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