Op-Ed: The Meaning of Equality vs Equity

Monday, January 10, 2022

By Gay Armsden

I am a resident of Lake Forest Park and co-president of AAUW Seattle.
I regularly come across confusion about the word “equity.” The words “equality”  and “equity” are similar, both having to do with the way people are treated, but the difference between them is very important for our society. 

Equality means every individual or community is treated the same way with the same access to resources. Equity is about every individual or community having equal access to what they need to thrive or succeed. 

To give a simple illustration, if you give a small box to stand on to a tall kid and a tall box to stand on to a short kid, they both will be able to see the ballgame over the fence (this is “equitable” treatment); if you give both kids boxes of the same height, the short kid might not be able to see the game (this is “equal” treatment). By giving what’s specifically needed to each of the kids, they both would see the ballgame.
Some people worry that measures to increase equity means they will be forced to give up something. This misconception creates the bias that equity versus equality is like a zero-sum game - that is, that making things fairer for some (the “winners”), others will always lose something (the “losers”) because their goals are opposed to each other.

It’s crucial to understand that the goals aren’t necessarily in opposition. In the simple example above, the same goal for both kids– viewing the game – was met by the equitable access to different-sized boxes. 

Keep in mind that the people who are raised up by equitable treatment end up where they could have been in the first place if they’d had access to the same resources as others.
Equity is not a highfalutin value nor is it a hinderance to equality; it is part of a solution to the severe social and economic injustices in our society. Equality can be truly achieved only through equity.


Anonymous,  January 10, 2022 at 8:03 PM  

And then the next step is - remove the fence!

Unknown February 1, 2022 at 12:02 PM  

Excellent and well explained. Thank you

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