How Do Equity and Equality Differ? (2023)

How Do Equity and Equality Differ? (1)

Equality is one of America's most cherished values. It's enshrined in the Declaration of Independence — "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" — and is the foundation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which promises "equal protection of the law."

Equality is undeniably a good thing, but when it comes to addressing some of America's most entrenched societal challenges — the widening gap between poor and rich, rising crime and substance abuse, persistent achievement gaps in education and employment — equality just isn't going to cut it, many say.


A better goal, they argue, is equity. Although the words sound almost identical, there are important differences between equity and equality. To help us understand those differences, we reached out to Joanna Shoffner Scott, CEO of the Stamey Street Consulting Group, which helps organizations identify and address racial inequities.


  1. Equity vs. Equality: The Bike Example
  2. Leveling the Playing Field
  3. Equity Work in Action
  4. Answering the Critics

Equity vs. Equality: The Bike Example

How Do Equity and Equality Differ? (2)

Let's imagine that you're the organizer of a community bike race where free bikes will be supplied for all riders. The graphic above illustrates the fundamental differences between an equality and an equity approach.

In the equality approach, everyone is given the same bike regardless of their size or abilities. The little kid can barely reach the pedals, the tall man is hunched over and the woman in the wheelchair can't participate at all.


"Equality offers one type of bike even though there are four different types of bodies," says Shoffner Scott. "Equality assumes that we all come from the same starting place and that we're all going to have the same life experience."

How is the equity approach different? Instead of identical bikes, each person gets a bike that fits their body, which means they can participate more equitably (or "fairly," you could say) in the race.

"The core difference here between equality and equity is that equity is going to take into account the differences between people in terms of starting place, access and opportunity," says Shoffner Scott.

"If you and I walk into a store, we both want to be treated 'equally,' we want to be treated the same way," says Shoffner Scott, who is Black. "But equality is an aspiration not often realized. The reality is that the way we show up in spaces is different, and people are going to respond to us differently based on their racial biases."

Much of the current discussion centers on racial equality versus racial equity, so we'll look at that first.


Leveling the Playing Field

The equity approach starts with a frank acknowledgement that America wasn't actually founded on the principle that "all men are created equal." Racial inequality was built into the nation's laws and institutions. And even today, more than a half-century after the Civil Rights movement, Black people must navigate a world riddled with systemic racism.

In the past, racism was overt. Take the example of "redlining," in which American banks drew red lines on the map around predominantly Black neighborhoods and denied mortgage loans to those buyers. Today, racist lending policies aren't necessarily a conscious choice, but racial bias is still baked into the housing market. For example, homes in majority Black neighborhoods are still routinely undervalued compared to the same homes in majority white neighborhoods.


According to the Race Matters Institute, an equitable system is one in which you "cannot predict advantage or disadvantage by race." Unfortunately, just about every system in America — education, housing, healthcare, criminal justice — is weighted to advantage white Americans over Black and Latino Americans.

The aim of racial equity work is to address the systemic disadvantages faced by Americans of color and attempt to level out the playing field.

So, how would that work? Here's a hypothetical situation proposed by Paula Dressel of the Race Matters Institute. Let's say a school district wants to improve the ability of its middle-schoolers to conduct online research and it receives a grant to buy school computers. How should this grant money be spent?

In the equality approach, every middle school in the district would receive the same amount of money to buy new computers. Sounds fair, right? But the equality approach ignores data about how many computers each middle school currently has.

  • School A in the wealthier, whiter neighborhood already has six computers for every 10 students.
  • School B in the lower-income neighborhood serving mostly students of color only has two computers for every 10 students.

How would funds be distributed differently using an equity approach? School B would receive more funding so that it has the same baseline resources as School A. If money is left over, it would be spent to buy additional computers for all schools.

"[W]hen resources are limited, as they often are," writes Dressel, "it is critical to invest in ways that erase those gaps that for too long have compromised the promise of children, families, and communities of color. Racial equity matters."

Equity doesn't only apply in the areas of race. It could also include things like:

  • Hiring a Spanish translator for a town hall meeting because a large percentage of attendees' first language is Spanish
  • Ensuring there's a wheelchair ramp to enter a building, even though constructing this is an additional cost for the building's owner
  • Having a progressive tax system where people in higher tax brackets pay more in taxes than people in lower income brackets, because those in higher brackets presumably have more discretionary income


Equity Work in Action

When an organization hires a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) consultant like Joanna Shoffner Scott, the first step is usually to collect data. The data often reveals patterns that are "predictable by race." For example, the data might show that few, if any, people of color are hired or promoted to executive positions, and even fewer retain those positions.

"The challenge, then — which now becomes the potential for problems — is how that data is interpreted," says Shoffner Scott. Someone could look at the low number of Black executives and conclude that "this group is smarter than that group, when that's not the case at all. There's potential for harm in the meaning applied to data," she says.


"The reality is that most of our systems were designed to create advantages for people who are white-identified," says Shoffner Scott. "For a lot of people, that's a new realization, and it's uncomfortable. I think underlying most of the pushback against racial equity work is a fear of a loss of privilege. Whatever unearned benefits people are receiving, they want to hold onto them."

Here is a real-life example of an organization that identified racial differences in the way it serves its clients, and how it used an equity approach to address them.

Shoffner Scott was hired by a fitness-based nonprofit that provides exercise classes and community for new moms. By collecting data on its clients, the fitness organization found that Black moms were attending classes in lower numbers than Latina moms.

The company could have looked at that data and assumed that Black moms simply weren't as interested in fitness as the Latina moms. But that would ignore key differences between these two communities in terms of access and opportunity to the classes.

Fitness classes were located in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, which meant that it was easier for the Latina moms to walk or ride to classes. Many of the Black moms had to take multiple buses to get to the classes. Since it took more time to travel back and forth from classes, the Black moms had to find sitters for their kids and often returned home late in the evening.

To make access to its classes more equitable, the nonprofit started offering Uber vouchers to shorten travel times to class. They also created a kids' area and provided snacks so that moms could bring their kids and not worry about rushing home to start evening routines.

"Equity work, for this nonprofit, meant thinking about all of the things that could be barriers for folks to participate and then offering solutions for each one," says Shoffner Scott. "That's an equitable offering." The result? A marked increase in participation from Black mothers.


Answering the Critics

Racial equity work has its critics. Some critics argue that talking about systemic racism somehow makes racism worse. Or that recognizing the existence of white privilege divides people along racial lines into "oppressors" and "the oppressed" and is a Marxist idea. Or that offering funding or other opportunities based on race is its own type of racial discrimination.

"What I tell my clients is, not talking about racism and inequity doesn't make it go away," says Shoffner Scott. "What not talking about it does is hide the privilege of white-identified people. The truth is that it's very uncomfortable to talk about advantages and privileges and benefits that are unearned."


Shoffner Scott is the first to admit that racial equity work is hard. In her words, it requires "courage" — the courage to both recognize the racial biases at play and the courage to actually do something about it.

"So much of American society is based on the belief that you get good things because you work hard, not because you show up with a particular face or a particular color, and I think that's hard for people to accept," says Shoffner Scott. "It's our choice now, in this generation, to decide whether we're going to continue to perpetuate that myth or if we're going to have the courage to do something different."

Now That's Interesting

On his very first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order committing the federal government to assess all of its programs for racial equity. "Consistent with these aims, each agency must assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups," a press release said in 2021.



How Do Equity and Equality Differ? ›

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.

What is an example of equity and equality? ›

For example, equality would be giving everyone the same type of ladder to pick mangoes at the top of a tree. Equity would be realising that not everyone can use the same type of ladder and providing another way for them to reach the mangoes at the top of the tree.

What is an example of equity? ›

Equity can be calculated by subtracting liabilities from assets and can be applied to a single asset, such as real estate property, or to a business. For example, if someone owns a house worth $400,000 and owes $300,000 on the mortgage, that means the owner has $100,000 in equity.

What is wrong equality vs equity? ›

Equality ensures that everyone is given the same opportunities, while equity strives to give everyone what they need in order to have equal access to those opportunities. Equity has been often overlooked as an important component to addressing societal challenges.

What is an example of equity vs equality in the workplace? ›

Equality is simply making accommodations available to those who qualify. Equity refers to the specific things each person needs to succeed. As an example, a person might ask to work from home a few days a week because of a medical condition.

What is an example of equality but not equity? ›

A flat income tax of 20% would be equal but not equitable because those with higher incomes presumably have a higher ability to pay. So a progressive tax system is considered more equitable. An example of equality but no equity in the tax system is sales taxes.

What are 10 examples of equity? ›

10 equity account types
  • Common stock. ...
  • Preferred stock. ...
  • Retained earnings. ...
  • Contributed surplus. ...
  • Additional paid-in capital. ...
  • Treasury stock. ...
  • Dividends. ...
  • Other comprehensive income (OCI)
Jun 24, 2022

What is an example of equity in society? ›

Defining Equity

The goal of equity is to help achieve fairness in treatment and outcomes. It's a way in which equality is achieved. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was written so that people with disabilities are ensured equal access to public places.

How do you explain equity? ›

What is Equity? The term “equity” refers to fairness and justice and is distinguished from equality: Whereas equality means providing the same to all, equity means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances.

What is equity in society? ›

Equity is the quality of being fair and impartial. Social equity is impartiality, fairness and justice for all people in social policy. Social equity takes into account systemic inequalities to ensure everyone in a community has access to the same opportunities and outcomes.

Why choose equality over equity? ›

Equity is free from the biases that occur with equality. It reduces institutional barriers and motivates an individual to strive to be successful. Whereas equality is giving everyone the same thing, equity is giving individuals what they need.

Is equity always better than equality? ›

Equality sets the foundation of creating an equal playing field while equity levels out the playing field by identifying disparities to ensure everyone has what they need to achieve success. In viewing everyone strictly as equal and nothing more, you're not being equitable.

Can you have equity without equality? ›

Can you have equity without equality? Short answer: No. Ideally, through the process of equitable actions, we can achieve equality. Equitable problem solving can fill in the gaps that are often overlooked in the name of equality, because the same answer is not always enough or right for everyone.

What is an example of inequity? ›

Let's say two people have a heart attack. One lives in a city and reaches a good hospital quickly. The other lives in a rural area where healthcare quality is poorer. Because of this inequity, there's an unequal outcome.

What is an example of equality vs equity in school? ›

Giving each student a take-home laptop, for example, would not address students who don't have Internet in their houses. Even if a school is equal, some students may still struggle. Equity, on the other hand, provides people with resources that fit their circumstances.

What is equity vs equality in leadership? ›

Equity Versus Equality

Equity is providing everyone with the resources they need to be successful, while equality is treating everyone the same. It might seem as though treating everyone equally is a simple and effective solution.

What is an example of equity in the workplace? ›

Accommodate health conditions or disabilities. One example of equity in the workplace is building DEIB programs that are inclusive of health conditions or disabilities. For example, employees that are neurodivergent require supportive work conditions that help them thrive.

What are three examples of equality? ›

Let's look at a few examples of equality and diversity in the workplace:
  • Male and female workers doing the same job and receiving the same pay.
  • Physical disabilities not restricting the carrying out of a role i.e. someone in a wheelchair doing the same job as someone sitting in a chair.

What are the 4 types of equity? ›

There are a few different types of equity including:
  • Common stock.
  • Preferred shares.
  • Contributed surplus.
  • Retained earnings.
  • Treasury stock.

What are the 4 things of equity? ›

Four components that are included in the shareholders' equity calculation are outstanding shares, additional paid-in capital, retained earnings, and treasury stock.

What are the three types of equity? ›

The Three Basic Types of Equity
  • Common Stock. Common stock represents an ownership in a corporation. ...
  • Preferred Shares. Preferred shares are stock in a company that have a defined dividend, and a prior claim on income to the common stock holder. ...
  • Warrants.

How is equity used in everyday life? ›

Equity, however, is all about creating an equal playing field. It's when we get everyone at the table the specific tools they need to succeed. We support each other — not by shying away from others or our own uniqueness — but by celebrating each other and building a community where all can thrive in our differences.

What is equity for dummies? ›

Equity represents the value that would be returned to a company's shareholders if all of the assets were liquidated and all of the company's debts were paid off. We can also think of equity as a degree of residual ownership in a firm or asset after subtracting all debts associated with that asset.

What is equity theory for dummies? ›

Equity theory is a theory of motivation that suggests that employee motivation at work is driven largely by their sense of fairness. Employees create a mental ledger of the inputs and outcomes of their job and then use this ledger to compare the ratio of their inputs and outputs to others.

Which word best describes equity? ›

Synonyms of equity
  • neutrality.
  • objectivity.
  • neutralism.
  • objectiveness.
  • impartiality.
  • fairness.
  • justice.
  • nonpartisanship.

Why is equity important in society? ›

Equity ensures fair distribution of opportunity and power.

Our goal of equity is for individuals to have the fullest possible engagement in their communities, society and nations. For us to achieve this goal, historically excluded groups must have a central voice and role in efforts to address inequity and injustice.

What does equity mean in human? ›

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), equity is defined open_in_new as “the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically or geographically.”

How is equity important in society? ›

An equitable community is one where everyone is included in the full benefits of society. In such a community, everyone is treated with fairness and justice and empowered to participate fully in social, cultural, and economic life. And the evidence is strong that individuals thrive in these types of communities.

How do we embrace equity? ›

An essential component of equity is the acknowledgment that certain advantages and barriers exist and that these barriers have prevented certain groups from involvement and advancement in many areas. Improving equity requires acknowledgement of the inequities people face and actively working to redress that imbalance.

Why is equity most important? ›

Equity ensures everyone has access to the same treatment, opportunities, and advancement. Equity aims to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups.

Is fairness equality or equity? ›

Equity is one interpretation of fairness or justice. A central theme in debates about fairness and justice is equality versus equity. “Equality” means people should be treated the same by public policy to remove barriers to the individual's success. It is commonly associated with giving people equality of opportunity.

Why should we embrace equity? ›

Embracing equity

It has become a widely used term, but many people do not fully understand it. This concept of fairness – striving to live in a just society - is what separates it from equality. If equality focuses on ensuring everyone is treated the same, equity recognises that we don't all come from the same place.

What is the downside of using equity? ›

Accessing your property's equity increases the amount you owe on your mortgage. Even if interest is lower than other forms of consumer credit, it is still a debt with interest charged, and repayments may also increase if the total loan amount increases.

What are the pros and cons of equity vs equality? ›

Pros and Cons of Equality and Equity

Equality ensures that everyone is treated the same, fostering fairness and a sense of belonging. However, it may overlook individual needs and circumstances. On the other hand, equity addresses the unique needs of individuals, promoting a more inclusive environment.

Is equity work fair to everyone? ›

Equity is distinct from equality in that it doesn't provide the same resources and opportunities to everyone. With equity, an organization will recognize that each employee has varying access to resources and privileges.

What are 4 factors of inequity? ›

The social, environmental, economic, and cultural determinants of health are the terrain on which structural inequities produce health inequities.

What are 3 examples of inequality in society today? ›

The major examples of social inequality include income gap, gender inequality, health care, and social class.

Why is inequity bad? ›

Why does inequality matter? Inequality is a drag on economic growth and fosters political dysfunction, experts say. Concentrated income and wealth reduces the level of demand in the economy because rich households tend to spend less of their income than poorer ones.

What are the signs of equity? ›

These indicators will fall under the seven main themes: Economic Opportunity, Health, Public Safety, Housing, Infrastructure, Environmental and Climate Risks, and Access and Inclusion.

Is education equality or equity? ›

Equality focuses on what is fair within the group. Equity highlights what is fair for the individual. In public education, both group and individual needs are important. All students should have equal access to high quality education and once they get it, they should be afforded equitable supports to achieve success.

What are examples of equity vs equality for kids? ›

Everything provided is equal, but is it fair that two of the kids can't enjoy the treat? No, but if the children are offered a different treat that doesn't make them sick or add pain, then the situation is equitable. Everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the special occasion, even when their needs are different.

What is equality vs equity in gender? ›

Gender equality is giving all genders equal treatment when it comes to rights, responsibilities and opportunities. Gender equity, meanwhile, is about fairness. To ensure everyone has equal opportunities, we need to consider privilege, bias and other parameters that can limit how people access opportunities.

Does equitable mean equal? ›

The words are very similar and are often confused. The key to understanding the difference in distribution models lies in the words themselves. “Equal” essentially means that everyone will be given the same amount or opportunity. “Equitable,” in modern parlance, is a way of dividing things more fairly.

What is equity vs equality in higher education? ›

While equality means offering every student the same opportunities, equity means offering opportunities that acknowledge and address the disadvantages some students face.

What is an example of equality in everyday life? ›

Example 2: Equal Pay for Equal Work

Gender equality in the workforce means being paid the same salary for equal work, regardless of gender. It also means that if a woman takes time off from work to take maternity leave, for example, she will not be punished when she returns to work.

What is an example of equity and equality in the classroom? ›

Equality is everyone being treated the same, whereas equity is everyone getting what they need to succeed. After addressing that with my students and reinforcing it, I'm able to meet my students' needs for isolated seating, fidget cubes for stress, or standing during testing, intervention and small groups in Zoom.”

What is the best definition of equity? ›

The term “equity” refers to fairness and justice and is distinguished from equality: Whereas equality means providing the same to all, equity means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances.

What is an example of equality or equity for kids? ›

Equality is everyone receiving the same thing or the same treatment. Equality is giving everyone two pieces of pizza. Equity is meeting everyone's needs. Equity is giving the child who eats more three pieces of pizza and the child who eats less one piece of pizza.

What is an example of human equality? ›

These include the right to life, the right to a fair trial, freedom from torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living.

What is equity in our daily lives? ›

By definition, equity is simply the principle that “everyone is treated fairly according to their needs.” Equity means that everyone gets what they need to live a healthy, safe, successful life, and it's one of the cornerstones of the DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) framework that is used to promote justice and ...

How do you show equality in society? ›

  1. Treating everyone equally and fairly.
  2. Creating an inclusive culture that has respect for all cultures and religions.
  3. Ensuring equal access to opportunities for all the citizens.
  4. Enabling people to develop their full potential.
  5. Educating people and making them understand the importance of Equality.

What are the 4 types of equality? ›

Types of Equality
  • Social Equality. Social equality indicates that no citizen of the nation should be denied rights, privileges, or opportunities because of their birth, class, caste, religion, colour, race, gender, or social standing. ...
  • Civil Equality. ...
  • Economic Equality. ...
  • Natural Equality. ...
  • Political Equality. ...
  • Legal Equality.

Why is equity better than equality? ›

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.

How do you explain equity to students? ›

Equity means making sure learners have the right resources they need to learn, whereas equality means providing the same resources to everyone, regardless of whether the individual student can make use of them.

Why is it important to know equity and equality? ›

Equality in education is necessary for students to have the same opportunities to start off with positive educational outcomes, and equity helps to make sure those equal opportunities are adjusted to make room for students who might need extra help and attention.


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