Growing up in Illinois, “the Land of Lincoln” I took a special interest in our sixteenth president and his efforts to create a nation where “all men are created equal” and that we are a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
I was born a year after the Civil Rights Act was passed and two years after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, commemorating 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation.
In a legal sense, I never experienced my country’s segregation. But as I started public elementary school, these core tenets of equality (as I understood them) didn’t seem to line up with how things were done.
This experience raised my awareness of equality and equity. Equality is being treated the same. Equal opportunity, equal access to success. But when there are roadblocks to this success, equity comes into play.
Equal access doesn’t mean equal outcome. For example, even though I am allowed to apply for college using the same application process as a male in the name of equal access, this doesn’t mean we arrived at that college application investing the same level of effort or will have an equitable experience let alone the same level of success.
Difference can be correlated to inequality or diversity. How do we value the difference between one another? How do we value diversity? Equity is a way that we can arrive at a place where we can value that difference.
“Leveling the playing field” is a term used to create equity. Example: On the track, when running 400 meters, instead of placing runners at the starting line, the runners are placed in a staggered start to create equity.
These concepts of equality and equity are important because in our generation, discrimination is often unintentional or less overt when compared to the era of Martin Luther King, Jr. But just because discrimination is unintentional does not mean it won’t have a lasting negative impact.
When we unintentionally surround ourselves with people just like ourselves we don’t have awareness of the roadblocks or challenges that some may face to achieve that same status.
Whether we are at a board meeting or a cocktail party, if everyone is the same race, class, gender or sexual orientation, we can’t benefit from the wisdom that comes from sharing diverse perspectives.
Yes I am of the post-Civil Rights Act generation that did not witness segregation. There is awareness among my peers about equality. But there is less awareness and understanding of equity and why it is critical to a fair and just society.
If you have interest in exploring this topic of equality and equity, please join me and my colleague, Cheryl D. Fields on March 25, 2014 at 1pm PST/4pm EST for a webinar entitled Leadership & Equity hosted by the Leadership Learning Community. Register for the webinar today!
We will continue this dialogue and what role each one of us can play to move our world closer toward the vision shared by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.