International Women's Day 2021 – Equity vs Equality
Too often the conversation around gender parity, centres on the notion of equality, i.e. the state of being equal, or in this context the notion that all people are treated the same. But are there instances where people need to be treated different in order to make things equal – e.g. equity.
“If we truly want to achieve equality across all areas of society, we need to recognise how different parts of a person’s identity - race, sex, religion, disability, class - can cause individuals to face different types of disadvantage or discrimination,” explains Holly Anschutz, head of channel for UK and Ireland at Extreme Networks.
The idea of equity, both in the realms of gender parity as well as social politics, is a fairly new concept, one which recognises that sometimes true equality requires us to acknowledge that access, opportunity, advancement are not always a level playing field, in other words distributing support and resources proportional to need, instead of in equal amounts.
International Women’s Day 2021 has the theme #ChooseToChallenge, and this year we choose to challenge the concept that equality alone is enough and discuss ways to go even further.
'Equality just isn’t about treating everyone the same. I’ve seen this have disastrous consequences,” says Erica Sosna, a career consultant expert, TEDx Speaker, founder of Career Matters and author of Your Life Plan.
One example she shares in that in the public sector in the UK, applications are “long, laborious, essay laden and evidence based” and everyone has to complete them the same way, proving their skills in the same way to ensure ‘equality and fairness’.
“But that isn’t fair at all,” explains Sosna. “What if I come across better in conversation than on paper? What if English isn’t my first language? What if I haven’t been on the training that shows me the right way to complete the form?”
“The intention is there, to be fair, to be equitable, but the result is actually highly discriminatory and favours one narrow niche of society who know how to play the game.”
This issue extends across all industry verticals and telecoms/tech is no exception, so says Louisa Gregory, vice president of culture, change and diversity at Colt Technology Services.
“Just as diversity has more impact when combined with an inclusive culture, so an inclusive culture can only really be created through considering issues of equity,” she says.
“While inclusive cultures are important so that everyone feels welcomed, respected, supported and valued, if inequalities are still systemic in an organisation’s systems, processes and policies, then we cannot get to a situation where everyone has a fair chance to thrive and progress.
One such example of this type of inequality, was magnified by the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact of women, particularly those from minority communities.
“…there are some hard truths that came to light during the COVID-19 pandemic that we need to acknowledge,” explains Jen Jones, CMO at AI business, Dataminr.
“For example, it’s been widely reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionate effect on women -- particularly women of colour and Black women. A McKinsey study showed that although women make up 39% of global employment, we accounted for over half of the overall job losses.”
Interestingly, though many assume the wider tech industry was largely saved from the Coronavirus fallout, there does exist a notable difference in numbers of men and women who unfortunately lost their jobs during this time. Specifically, 8% of US female tech professionals compared to 5% of US males tech professionals.
“We have to look at those differences and really ask ourselves as an industry where we’re going wrong, and how we can purposefully attract, retain and welcome displaced women back into the workforce,” adds Jones.
Speaking to Cradlepoint’s SVP solutions engineer, Lisa Guess she reminds us that creating greater equity in our market, makes strong business sense.
The first premise to establish is that equity provides business value,” she says. “Study after study shows that diverse companies are higher performing companies with broader ideas, more thoughtful products, and higher business performance. Equity is engineering for the outcome, not giving everyone the exact same tool set and expecting equal results.”
As we take this conversation further, greater equity also feeds into career progression and equal pay but looking at the foundations of this it starts as many do, in education.
Using France as an example, Delphine Pouponneau, director of diversity & inclusion at Orange says that there are fewer female engineering students in France. Approximately 16% of STEM graduates in 2019 were women, while in Europe this falls to only 13%.
“We can ensure there is no discrimination in our recruitment, and we can guarantee equal opportunities but without more proactive actions such as requiring there to be at least one woman on short lists; encouraging managers to hire a woman rather than a man with comparable skills and experience; and defining objectives for gender balance in technical teams, inevitably we will have far fewer women in these teams,” says Pouponneau.
But its not just the world of telecoms/tech that has taken up the gauntlet for this way of thinking, it has also made its way to the world of US politics, with president Joe Biden using it heavily in everything from setting up a Health Equity Task Force to including this term in countless statements to the press. Proving just how prevalent of an idea it is in society.
But how do we as an industry go about making it a reality now that we recognise the need to go further? Lets start with the basics; Heidi Godfrey-Jones, head of commercial at SSE Enterprise Telecoms, says it’s all about “pushing back on the ‘tokenisation’ of individuals – where women or those from minority backgrounds are hired or promoted to fill in the numbers”.
“Workplace diversity should be about championing the individual; providing them with the tools required to ensure their continued growth and success while breaking down any internal barriers to stop this from happening.”
Sheri Horwitz, SVP of IT at Synchronoss thinks it’s about enacting change by inspiring the younger generation. This could be by supporting organisations like as BlackGirlsCode, or ACP to supporting female veterans as mentors.
“We can support outreach programs or provide financial assistance to schools in underserved areas as well, specifically those that do not have the ability or access to offer courses in technology,” she says.
“We can also donate technology to underserved areas where there is a digital divide. Finally, we can provide training and mentorship programs for our own workforce, which in due course, hopefully, will result in equal opportunities for advancement.”
Part of this conversation also involves actively challenging the stereotype that telecoms/tech is a male only space. If we seek equity but singling out young girls and encouraging their passion for the subject, perhaps in the long run we’ll see the number entering the space rise.
“By getting more girls interested in the subject, coding can broaden their horizons and has the ability to change the stigma that girls face in technology,” says Elizabeth Tweedale, CEO and founder of Cypher.
“By breaking the “boys only” stereotype and providing a new diverse generation of children with skills in coding, we can avoid bias in algorithms and processes in technology.”
In keeping with this idea, we can’t overlook the importance of support from the very top of the organisation, as they are the ones who often move the dial, when it comes to working culture.
“Senior leadership in tech must create a culture where junior employees feel comfortable challenging microaggressions or inappropriate behaviours,” says Andrea Rowe, principal consultant of people and organisational development at software company, Civica.
“Male senior leaders have a key role to play in pushing for gender equity, by being champions of gender equality.”
But of course, we can’t absolve ourselves of our own personal responsibility, regardless of what your company stance on the subject is, we all have the ability to make our daily working environment that much better.
Each individual influences their company’s culture, and we all have a personal responsibility to foster fairness and inclusion,” shares Susan Quackenbush, chief human resources officer at Vonage.
“When we respect each other and work in an environment that upholds fairness and inclusion to the highest standard, we enable everyone around us to be their best selves. We can communicate, listen to each other and respect one another.”
Looking at the issue more broadly, Pip White, managing director for Google Cloud, UK&I believes that as an industry we need to create working environments that reflect our society and more importantly ensure that these conversation happening 365 days a year, “not just around awareness days like International Women’s Day”.
“In the tech industry, we need to focus on building workforces that better represent our world, while ensuring that company cultures make employees feel like they belong, all year round,” says White.
“Hiring and retaining talented professionals from underrepresented groups needs to be a key focus, as does the industry’s work to understand the identities, intersectionalities, and experiences of employees worldwide.”
Much like other duos it seems that equity and equality are in fact a pair, both needed and relevant to each other, “... in short, equity sets the stage for equality,” so says White. So as work around gender parity matures and the conversation wages on, I encourage us all to have equity as part of the conversation.