Is equality enough?

24 February 2023

Is equality enough?

What is the difference between equity and equality? 

We often hear about equality when we discuss women’s progress. Equality is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as the fact of being equal in rights, status, advantages etc. Equal is subsequently described as being the same in size, quantity, value, etc. Therefore, equality can be seen as each group of people being given the same resources and opportunities. It is considered that through equality, women would have access to all the same opportunities as men. However, equality assumes that the playing field is level, which it often is not, and that can leave women on the side-lines. This year the Lionesses won the Euro; the tournament broke many television records, including being the most watched women’s football game on UK television with the final having a peak live television audience on BBC One of 17.4 million viewers. The men’s final on the other hand, had a peak live television audience of 30.95 million. This reflects a societal imbalance with a historic lack of resources and funding at the ground level resulting in less interest in women’s sports - not exactly a level playing field. Another example of how equality can be exclusive, not inclusive, was highlighted at the recent Brit Awards. The Brit awards organisers amended two awards to be non-gendered, even at the time they were conscious this change could unintentionally lead to less inclusion and therefore result in less diversity. This year not a single woman was nominated for artist of the year. 

Equity on the other hand, is the recognition that each person’s circumstances are unique and different resources and opportunities are required to reach an equal outcome. Take the Euros for example; both teams were playing on the same field, but the reach for each was significantly different. Not to mention the pay…

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, it will take another 132 years to achieve gender parity. This report measures gaps in politics, health, education and economics.

Equity allows us to rebalance social structures, making room for everyone to thrive. When we progress from equality to equity, we ensure women from all backgrounds and circumstances are accounted for when we create policies. This in turn, creates an inclusive and more diverse world.

Tools and strategies for challenging a lack of equity

There have been multiple times in my very short career when males have assumed I must be a man because of my job and have addressed me by my surname, despite my name being clearly included in my email signature. Unsurprisingly, many women will have similar experiences. Similarly, I have been told of friends and colleagues being automatically handed coats at the beginning of meetings and asked for refreshments throughout. Why were the coats not handed to a male colleague and how do we change this? We need to create structures and processes that combat unconscious bias in a step toward gender equity. We need to carefully call this behaviour out, for example, responding to an email reminding your male counterpart of your pronouns or indeed directing your client to the cloakroom or coffee machine. Recently it has become more common to include pronouns in email signatures which is a step in the right direction. 

One way of combating gender inequity is removing gender bias associated with some high-power traditional roles. Having more women in political and business leadership roles can create a powerful role model effect, both within the organisation and outside. Celebrating the achievements of strong female role models breaks down barriers that prevented others from perceiving those possibilities and following in their footsteps. Hopefully through this, people remove unconscious bias associated with various jobs. Whilst a step in the right direction, this will obviously not solve the problem alone, particularly as the media often prefer to focus on female politicians’ shoes, as opposed to their policies...

One of my friends, who works for a large corporate firm was unable to attend a work function hosted by her company, because it was a golf day held at a club where women were not allowed to play. This may seem outrageous to many, but fundamentally the organisers saw no issues in proceeding with the event. This makes me proud to work at Shepherd and Wedderburn as I know our firm has been trying to combat outdated biases associated with networking events. We host an annual ‘Hackers golf Day’ where everyone is invited regardless of their gender or ability. 

The UN have produced guidance for building gender equality including; empowering women smallholders, investing in care, supporting women’s leadership, funding women’s organisations, and protecting women’s health. These are not novel and have been at the cornerstone of gender debates for a very long time. Some progress has been made but perhaps that is why the focus needs to be on equity and not equality. We need to encourage each other to think about what is necessary to create a level playing field. 

What does a world where gender equity is embedded into the workplace or everyday life look like?

In the workplace, gender equity would look like:

  • Policies that allow for flexible working and don’t require late night working in the office, meaning both women and men can be home for dinnertime and bedtime, 
  • The organisation of corporate events which are not based purely on male sporting activities such as golf, 
  • Eliminating dress codes specifically aimed at women such as requiring them to wear heels to court, 
  • Equal pay,
  • Equal opportunities for progression.

But in order to achieve the changes above, it takes a cultural shift in everyday life. This would look like:

  • No subconscious bias,
  • Expectation and opportunity to become the same,
  • Fewer barriers based on gender.

These lists are not exhaustive, and neither are they unreasonable, however there is a lot of work required to achieve it. In honour of International Women’s Day 2023, Shepherd and Wedderburn are hosting a panel of inspirational speakers to share their experiences and provide the context and tools required to recognise and challenge a lack of equity in the workplace and beyond.

Article written by Ella Jordan, Trainee in our property and infrastructure team.