Katie Mohamed | 8 March 2023
Women empowerment platforms like W-Suite drive key dialogues around gender inequality and how equal opportunities engender empowerment. However, this is not entirely accurate.
Equal opportunities are not enough. We all start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action. A focus on gender equity, with the goal of equality, needs to be part of every society’s DNA.
Ultimately, one size does not fit all, so how do we shift the gender conversation from one of “equality” or “equal rights” to one of “equity”?
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Embrace Equity”. Whereby equality means providing the same to all, equity recognises that each person has different circumstances, allocating tailored resources and opportunity to individuals in order to achieve an equal outcome. If equality is the goal, then equity is our means of getting there.
So how far are we from an equitable culture? In theory, many countries would consider themselves to have cultures of equality - whereby opportunities are both legally and societally indiscriminate on the basis of gender. The South African Constitution has been globally praised for championing equality in all matters of potential discrimination. However, while the outcome intended may be one of equality, the implementation of “equal rights” legislature is misleading in presuming that such (albeit good-intentioned) doctrine would manifest such an outcome.
Equity, however, is far more intricate than a piece of legislation. It requires independent and individual action in order to progress forward. Which is why, this International Women’s Day, it is important to engage in impactful conversations around equity. It is vital that we, regardless of gender, open ourselves up to having these dialogues and understand that most often equality is an outcome and not an action.
We need to raise awareness around what constitutes equity in the professional space, and particularly in position of power. For example, if there is a 50/50 gender split on the board of a powerful international corporate, can that corporate claim that it practises gender equity? Gender equality definitely, but can this hypothetical company attest that each of its board members had the same path towards their position? Are they all equally talented? Are they all from the same backgrounds? Are they all equally resourced? How many of them are in their position due to wealth, privilege or nepotism?
When we provoke conversation around equity, it gives us the insight to review such situations and dig into what we can do to change the existing gender paradigms in businesses, many of which are unknowingly running under the guise of being enterprises of equality.
And of course, the concept of equity is not limited to business, but is executable in all facets of society. If you truly believe in an inclusive world, then you will truly believe in the need for society to understand the difference between equity and equality. Who we are today is a completion of all the unique experiences we have encountered throughout our lives. To be authentic women leaders, we need to enthusiastically embrace these experiences and how they have defined us. And in doing so, we need to realise that every other woman we meet has had different, unique experiences that have defined their journey.
Perhaps embracing equity starts with embracing something else - the concept of “sonder” - defined as the profound feeling that everyone, whether you know them or not, is living a life as complex as your own. Once we understand that the fundamental uniqueness of everyone’s life journey nullifies any concept of equality, then only can we begin to embrace equity.
“Equality is giving everyone a shoe; equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.”
‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.