International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March 2023 was a global celebration of women’s achievements across various sectors – economic, cultural, political and social. It also acts as a reminder of the barriers women face due to gender discrimination and calls for reform in many areas to eradicate gender disparity.
This year’s IWD campaign is #EmbraceEquity which aims to push conversations focusing on equity rather than equality alone. Counting in various factors and backgrounds, equality may not be enough to address crucial issues of gender disparity. Thus, the focus now has shifted to equity.
Embracing Equity – Equality vs Equity
The #EmbracingEquity campaign is set up to bring focus and awareness that there is no one size fits all solution for everyone. Often, when speaking about tackling gender disparity, “equity” and “equality” are used interchangeably – but there are key differences between the two concepts.
In the simplest definition, equality is defined as each person or group of people being given the same opportunities or resources. On the other hand, equity acknowledges that each individual has varying backgrounds and circumstances – which resources and opportunities should then be allocated appropriately so that everyone will have an equal outcome.
Globally, there are varying circumstances faced by individuals – creating systemic and structural barriers faced by women. These variations go beyond gender, with other elements such as finances, culture and nationality affecting their circumstances.
Equality is not enough to tackle gender disparity as there needs to be an acknowledgement that even amongst women, no one has the same starting point in life. Equity is needed to tackle systemic and structural issues.
The focus on equity hopes to further narrow the global gender gap. Although the gap has been narrowing, based on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report in 2022, gender parity is forecasted to be achieved in 132 years with the current progress rate. In the workplace, the report states that workplace equality will be achieved in 151 years at the current rate.
What has been done is not enough. These high numbers show that efforts in the name of equality have not yet made significant progress for women, including women in the workplace. As part of DEI initiatives, organisations should now focus on equity to advocate and achieve gender parity.
How Workplaces Can #EmbraceEquity
Employers should understand that achieving gender parity will not have an overnight solution, and equity is the start to achieving that. Structural and systemic issues paired with implicit bias are all part of a wider issue that has prevailed in society for a long time. However, there are ways that workplaces can become more equitable spaces that can eliminate gender bias and narrow the gender gap.
Workplaces should first establish diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committees that will initiate solutions and programmes to tackle DEI issues. This is essential as it will encourage individuals to speak up when there are instances of inequity. Creating a safe space is necessary to ensure a thriving diverse workplace.
As women continue to be underrepresented, many women leaders leave their jobs. Based on a report by McKinsey, women leaders are often doing much more than their roles, including in employee support and inclusion, but often go unrewarded. It is also common that women in the workplace to face microaggressions such as being mistaken as more junior staff.
These biases that view women as less capable than men should be acknowledged and understood. Workplaces should highlight the issue to understand it, rather than brush it under the rug. Rather than ignoring it, employees should be given the education to understand inherent biases on gender and know how to eliminate them. Accountability is also important to eliminate biases.
Women in the workplace will need support due to systematic and structural issues. Employers are also recommended to create growth and development programmes for women to ensure equity in opportunities to progress within the company. With many women feeling undervalued in their work, and men still holding most leadership positions, more efforts to even out the opportunities are needed.