In this three-part series unpacking the meaning of DEI, I’ve saved the best for last. I’m talking about the “E” – Equity.

I saved this one for last because this is the one that most people have the greatest challenge getting their head around. This is the one where some of you will stick your chest out and declare that everyone should be treated E.QUAL.LY. Well, here’s where you’re wrong. Equality doesn’t equal equity.

Remember our definition:

Equity = How you make what works for one person work for the next person equally as effectively. That means YOU, bold leader, may have to take a different approach to get the same outcome for others because we’re not all starting from the same place.

Let me bring this to light for you in a simple, everyday way.

When we lived in Cincinnati, my husband had a close friend who had a serious condition that impacted his height and twisted his limbs. He was still able to drive, but he had to sit on a few cushions and raise his seat to maximum height and closeness to the steering wheel to have the right line of sight to drive. The position of his seat and the added cushions would have made it impossible for my husband – and most others of average height – to drive the car. My husband would not have been able to move his feet to the pedals correctly.

Without the adjustments, my husband’s friend would not have been able to drive, which would have severely impacted his ability to work, get groceries, and do many of the day-to-day things that require transportation that most of us take for granted. The fact that the seat was adjustable, and cushions could be added made all the difference.

And here’s the cool thing: adjusting the seat and adding a few cushions did not change the car fundamentally and it didn’t give my husband’s friend an unfair advantage over all other drivers. And the seat could be adjusted to a position where my husband could drive the car as well. The adjustments created equal travel access among my husband, his friend, and other drivers.

You see, equity is about making the adjustment. It’s about moving the seat to the height and closeness that an individual needs to drive the car. It’s about doing what is necessary to facilitate equal access, capability, experience, and outcomes.

Most people are all for equal access, capability, experience, and outcomes until it comes to THEM needing to make a change.

So here’s your moment of straight, no bullsh*t talk: If you call yourself a leader – of people or otherwise, it’s time to get your head around making adjustments. Because we’ll never get to equality if we don’t have equity. YOU MUST MAKE ADJUSTMENTS.

Here are a few tips on how to make adjustments and bring greater equity into the workplace:

👉🏼 If you have a team, in your 1×1’s, ask “How can I help you?” and “What can I do to make this role work best for you?” or “What changes do you need to help you be most effective and successful in your role?”

👉🏼 When you onboard a new team member, ask them how they learn best. What would help them learn their new role in the easiest way? And if they work in the office, ask them if there are any specific needs for their desk or workspace that will help them be most effective. (For example, some people have sensory issues and prefer spaces that face away from heavy foot traffic.)

👉🏼 HR leaders: Look at your development programs through a diversity lens. If there is a lack of women or people of color in your programs, get to know the women and people of color and ask specifically “Why not this individual?”  Compare the individual to the program criteria, not how others feel about the individual.

👉🏼 Networks and “who you know” factor into the hidden path to leadership and promotions. As a leader and especially those in HR, make sure that you are sharing the process for promotions, succession, and how to network with your employee resource groups so that women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups have the information and tools that they need to navigate.

👉🏼 Create mentoring and sponsoring opportunities for women, people of color and other underrepresented groups. Pair individuals with executives, or high-level respected leaders for mentoring or sponsorship. Educate your mentors and sponsors on what equity means and how bias impacts talent decisions. Establish relationships that offer two-way learning for the executive and the protégé. We are working to educate both sides of this partnership!

👉🏼 Embrace universal design principles in learning strategies and physical space. Focus on maximizing usability by individuals with a wide variety of characteristics. Remember to design for ALL abilities, not just yours or the “majority”. (I got stories on this one! So important!)

👉🏼 Know your talent data. Complete comparisons of hiring, promotion, development, and retention by race, ethnicity, and gender. Identify the barriers by group and develop strategies to eliminate them.

👉🏼 If you’re not doing it yet, use captioning and someone to provide sign language for your all employee meetings. It’s worth the investment. There are many who may not identify as deaf, but are hard of hearing or have other barriers to comprehension. All boats rise on this investment!

👉🏼 Make sure your website, HR systems, and technology processes are Section 508 compliant. While section 508 applies to government entities or those receiving government payment, this is a good guide for ensuring that equal information is provided to all.

👉🏼 Bring equity to and remove bias from hiring by using structured interviews and diverse panels for interviewing and hiring decisions.

👉🏼 Make sure your processes for accommodations are tight end-to-end, integrated seamlessly among HR, facilities, IT, and the business, and operate smoothly and quickly. (I have war stories of individuals who could not do their jobs effectively for months!)

🤘🏼 Bonus tip: Look at your employee relations data for complaints that identify inequities within the organization. It’s a great place to start to identify and prioritize opportunities.

Equity can be hard. When something works for us, it’s hard to imagine that the same processes we experience are not working well for someone else. We develop blind spots. The work here is the identify the blind spot, then address it. Remember, the world is much bigger than your backyard. Others have different experiences and needs than you have.

Things can never be equal if they’re not first equitable. Real talk.

BASIC Leaders believe, live, and lead as if what works for them, works for all.

BOLD Leaders know that the world is bigger than their backyard and when they see inequality, they address it. If they see inequity, they address it.

BADA$$ Leaders understand that their experience is simply one experience that has blind spots. They lead, work, and build processes proactively that acknowledge the existence, experience, and needs of others who are different. They know the challenge is beyond “make it equal”. They live by “make it equitable”.

How do you and your organization measure up? If you’re missing the mark, don’t just sit there, reach out and let’s get after it.