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When you hear the word “equity”, what comes to mind?

By Rob O'Donohue | March 25, 2021 | 1 Comment

CIO Leadership of Strategy, Governance and Operating ModelsCIO Leadership, Culture and PeopleCIO Role Evolution

When you hear the word “equity”, what comes to mind?

Recently, I ran a very unscientific poll on LinkedIn and Twitter asking this very question. In the comments back (a mix of public and private DMs), my suspicions were confirmed. For most, equity conjured up the value or wealth people hold in the bricks and mortar of their home or property.  This could come in handy to help acquire a top-up to your mortgage so you can build that extension of a very much needed home office. Another response related to the shares one might (if lucky) get in company stock as part of a bonus scheme. The general trend was toward that of money and finances. To be honest, it’s what I would have said about nine months ago. That was before I started to really explore the subject of equity deeper and in the context of the workplace.

With the pandemic raging, and the social injustices in the US still in full view, I started to examine what equity really meant, not just in the workplace, but in everyday life too. I started to see equity included in the D&I conversation more and more, yet I hadn’t really taken the time to stand back and properly comprehend was it was, or what it wasn’t.

As I started to do some research and reading, I found this illustration (see figure 1). It’s powerful. After absorbing this message, for the first time, I began to appreciate the differences between equity and equality. Pretty clear now, isn’t it?

The difference between equity and equality.
Figure 1 – Difference Between Equity and Equality – A Real-World Example

Defining Equity in the workplace.

Gartner defines equity as “Fair treatment and equality of access to opportunity, information and resources, built through identification and elimination of unfair biases, stereotypes or barriers that may inadvertently exclude underrepresented employees.” That’s what equity is. Here’s what equity is not.

Equity does not mean “identical.” Saying women and men, for example, are equal doesn’t mean they are not different. It means that those differences should not translate to different levels of benefits, opportunities, promotions, feedback or treatment in the workplace.

Let’s get clear on equality.  Equality is about making sure that opportunities are equal and available to everyone. Equality only works if people start from the same place. The assumption here is that everyone benefits from the same support.

Equity can be applied to all diverse groups. And it should be. It includes race, gender, age, culture, sexual orientation, and differently-abled groups.

While many challenges and barriers exist to achieve equity in society and in the workplace, this fight is one worth picking.

What are the benefits of Equity in IT?

CIOs that invest time to ensure equity is part of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in IT will reap many benefits. These include:

  • Increased employee motivation and employee engagement
  • The improved employment value proposition for IT
  • Increased employee retention
  • Greater productivity
  • Improved culture
  • Greater psychological safety

For more on the possible benefits, see 11 Ways Diversity and Equity Boost Productivity, Give and Take.

It’s important that WE ALL take the time to understand what it is and become more conscious of situations where inequity is manifesting in all aspects of our lives. Not just at work.

New Hire Onboarding and Equity

While researching for an article on equity we recently published entitled Understanding What Equity Means in IT for CIOs, we found something interesting. While there was a number of impactful illustrations of the differences between equity, equality and inequality in society (like the one above), there wasn’t one that stood out to illustrate equity in a workplace setting.

Working with our excellent creatives here in Gartner, we fixed that. This illustration (see figure 2) has been receiving very positive responses from clients. And rightly so. It’s showcasing an important example of equity. A neurotypical, neurodivergent, and a physically disabled new starter all deserve a level playing field to allow them to do their best work. That’s what equity means here. In conversations about equity with clients, this image has enabled greater understanding. It’s one of those “a-ha” moments and brings much of what might be unconscious around equity into the foreground.

The difference between inequality, equality and equity.
Figure 2 – Equity and Equality in IT – New Hire Onboarding Example

In fact, as we researched and brainstormed what equity means for IT, we were able to easily identify an array of focus areas where equity must be embedded and considered (see figure 3).

List of areas that CIOs should be thinking about relating to equity.
Figure 3 – Equity Focus Areas for CIOs

An equity eye-opener?

I hope this has helped frame (or reframe) your thinking about equity. Perhaps it’s helped untangle and differentiate equality from equity? Or maybe it’s sparked an idea around equity that relates to a process or policy in your own organization that I haven’t touched on here?

Please do check out other blog posts on this subject that my colleagues have recently published on DEI Programs: Are We There Yet? and the Gender Pay Gap challenges.

If you’re a full Gartner client and would like to read the full research we have produced on equity, you can check out this full paper on equity titled Understanding What Equity Means in IT for CIOs is here. My colleagues Christie Struckman and Deb Logan have published Gartner’s EPIC Program — Call to Action to Achieve Gender Pay Equity

If you’d like to talk about this in more detail directly, please do get in touch. It’s a subject we’re going to focus on even more in the coming months.


Any questions on this or any other research I’ve published?

Feel free to schedule an inquiry call (inquiry@gartner.com), follow me on Twitter (@RobODonohue) or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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1 Comment

  • Phil Burchell says:

    This is a great post Rob! Really interesting to see how the “one size fits all” approach that most companies have, is not actually a good fit for every employee.

    This topic is becoming more important as we enter different remote-working solutions.