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Organizations are navigating uncertain times. COVID-19, the shooting of Jacob Blake, and the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people have illuminated and magnified many of the systemic inequities that have existed throughout American history. From the disproportionate health and economic impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color, to the increased racism and xenophobia toward Asian Americans, to the call to address racial injustice from black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and allies, organizations are facing increased pressure to acknowledge, understand, and actively address racial inequities in and outside the workplace. While diversity and inclusion are growing focus areas for many organizations, the current climate underscores that to truly become more diverse and inclusive, organizations and leaders will also need to intentionally promote equity.
Deloitte’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion practice defines equity as the outcome of diversity, inclusion, and anti-oppression wherein all people have fair access, opportunity, resources, and power to thrive, with consideration for and elimination of historical and systemic barriers and privileges. It is important to point out that we see equality and equity as two distinct, but related, concepts. Many organizations strive to promote equality as a core part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategy. Equality is important to strive for; equity, however, acknowledges that not everyone is starting at the same place. Therefore, solutions developed to account for the inequities faced by subsets of the workforce within and outside of the organization should be tailored for and targeted to those populations.
By developing specific solutions to address workforce inequity, organizations can challenge the perception that giving “special treatment” to certain populations (versus others, or everyone) can be unfair. Understanding inequity helps dispel the myth that fairness equals sameness,1 allowing the dismantling of inequity to occur through a lens which views disparities as systemic and historical. Deloitte defines an equitable enterprise as an organization that works to remove systemic disparities internally and externally to promote equally high workplace outcomes for different groups regardless of their respective privileges. An equitable enterprise recognizes that “achieving equity requires an unequal distribution of resources, opportunities, and focus.”2
Therefore, to carry out equitable practices, leadership and organizations must move from a one-size-fits-all approach of diversity and inclusion to taking actions which intentionally acknowledge and address structural and systemic conditions, processes, and barriers that exacerbate societal inequities.3 Some might consider this to be out of the scope of organizations and leaders for their workforce and communities; however, Deloitte’s recent research has highlighted the rise of the “social enterprise,” defining social enterprises as organizations whose mission combines revenue growth and profitmaking with the need to respect and support its environment and stakeholder network—including listening to, investing in, and actively managing the trends that are shaping today’s world.4 An equitable enterprise is similar to a social enterprise; however, the equitable enterprise also listens to, invests in, and actively works to dismantle the systemic inequities which have already shaped today’s world.
What does systemic inequity look like in the workplace? A familiar example is the gender pay gap. In 2020, women still make only $0.815 and $0.986 for every dollar a man makes—and the pay gap is larger for Black or African American women and widens with career progression.7 Notably, workplace inequity is the manifestation of the systemic inequities which exist outside of the workplace and extends beyond income inequality. In 2006, Gloria Ladson-Billings coined the term “education debt” to describe the cumulative impact of inequities directed at students of color in the education system.8 In the workplace, this phenomenon manifests in one way as an “opportunity debt.” PayScale’s report also found women starting their careers at the same time as men progress in their careers slower, highlighted by men being twice as likely than women to be directors or executives by age 45 or older. Becoming an equitable organization requires continuously evolving and expanding DE&I efforts to address systemic inequities both inside and outside of the workplace—moving upstream to dismantle the root of these systems to create targeted, sustainable solutions.
As a starting point, organizations should look at themselves in the mirror and start by acknowledging and understanding the potential inequities that may exist within their walls. It is important to leverage an equity lens both inwardly (e.g., policies, processes, and culture) and outwardly (e.g., community, customers, brand, and suppliers), asking questions such as the following:
Inward lens of equity
Outward lens of equity
Acknowledging that different populations navigate and experience the world differently is a great start in becoming an equitable enterprise; however, before an organization can effectively act to help account for these inequities, they should understand these disparate lived experiences more intimately. Moving beyond acknowledgement—to a depth of understanding of how inequities manifest in and outside an organization—enables the ability to strategically dismantle inequitable structures and truly become an equitable enterprise.
Marcus Bost (he/him) is a Senior Consultant in Deloitte’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Client Service Practice. He specializes in leadership development, DEI, and future of work, with a fundamental emphasis on leveraging data-driven insights to accelerate individual, team, and organizational performance.
Christina Brodzik (she/her) is a Principal and U.S. lead for Deloitte’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Client Service Practice. With more than 20 years of experience in the human capital space, she partners with clients on transformative DEI strategies that enable the future of work, build DEI functions, and provide transitional support for new Chief Diversity Officers.
Devon Dickau (he/him) is co-lead of Deloitte’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Client Service Practice. He advises clients across industries on the intersections between DEI, talent, culture, engagement, leadership, social impact, analytics, and the future of work.
The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge the contributions of team members who supported the article:
Sophia Zeinu (she/her), an external subject matter advisor in diversity, equity and inclusion, for her extensive contribution in advancing the development of this piece
Sharon Hong (she/her), a Consultant in Deloitte’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Client Service Practice, for her contribution of ideas and edits to get the publication over the finish line
1 Kris D. Gutiérrez and Nathalia E. Jaramillo, “Looking for Educational Equity: The Consequences of Relying on Brown,” Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education 105, no. 2 (2006): pp. 173-189.
2 Mollie K. Galloway and Ann M. Ishimaru, “Equitable Leadership on the Ground: Converging High-Leverage Practices,” education policy analysis archives 25, no. 4 (2017).
3 Estela Mara Bensimon, “Closing the Achievement Gap in Higher Education: An Organizational Learning Perspective,” New Directions for Higher Education 131 (2005): pp. 99-111.
4 Dimple Agarwal et al., “Introduction: The rise of the social enterprise,” 2018 Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte Insights, March 28, 2018, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2018/introduction.html.
5 Uncontrolled: Takes the ratio of the median earnings of women to men without controlling for various compensable factors.
6 Controlled: Controls for job title, years of experience, industry, location, and other compensable factors.
7 PayScale, “The State of the Gender Pay Gap 2020,” https://www.payscale.com/data/gender-pay-gap.
8 Gloria Ladson-Billings, "From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools,” Educational Researcher 35, no. 7 (2006).
As a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP, Christina brings more than 20 years of experience to the human capital space. She focuses on financial services and insurance, and specializes in a wide range of transformations including strategic change, talent strategies, learning solutions, talent acquisition, and diversity & inclusion. As the national leader of Deloitte’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Client Service practice, she is a certified facilitator for Deloitte’s Inclusive Leadership Experience and Strategy Inclusion Labs. In addition her client responsibilities, Christina has served as the Financial Services Women’s Initiative lead for partner/director talent planning, as well as the Human Capital Women’s Initiative deputy.
Devon is a senior manager in Deloitte Consulting LLP's Workforce Transformation practice and co-lead of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) practice. In these roles, Devon advises clients on the intersections between DEI, talent, culture, corporate social responsibility, business strategy, and the future of work across industries, with a focus on the technology sector. A frequent speaker on the topics of DE&I and the future of work, he is the author of several publications shaping the national conversation around the social enterprise. Devon is also a certified facilitator of Deloitte's Inclusive Leadership Assessment and Inclusive Leadership Experience. Outside of Deloitte, Devon sits on the board of the Social Impact Fund and the Emerging Leaders Cabinet of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, representing Deloitte, and is president emeritus of the UCLA LGBTQ+ Alumni Association. Devon holds a B.A. and M.B.A. UCLA, and a M.Ed. from Harvard University.