Carolyn Solomon-Pryce, the Head of LSE’s EDI Office, discusses the important conceptual distinctions between ‘equity’ and ‘equality’.
Since the inception of the EDI Taskforce, a number of important conversations have unfolded across campus around the idea of ‘equity versus equality’. This has left many staff and students questioning the School’s motive for changing its rhetoric.
In an attempt to dispel any ambiguity, this brief article attempts to distinguish between the two terms, and leads us to a more compelling question: what do ‘fairness’ and ‘success’ really mean when we know that everyone is so different?
Equity and equality are two strategies that are often used in an attempt to produce fairness, but the desired outcomes for the two are very different.
Equality suggests that everyone is at a particular starting point and should be treated the same. It seeks to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same level of support.
Equity, by way of contrast, aims to give everyone what they need to be successful. It focuses on ‘equality of outcomes’. This involves taking into account structures which might put particular groups at a disadvantage.
Equality aims to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same aid. Equity, on the face of it, appears unfair, but it actively moves everyone closer to success by ‘leveling the playing field’. It is important to recognise that not everyone starts at the same place, and not everyone has the same needs – eg, a classroom made up of students with different learning styles.
In summary, although they may appear to be similar, equity and equality are in fact very distinct. As Audre Lorde once said, ‘It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognise, accept and celebrate those differences.’
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