Better Business: Improving Equity at Work

It’s a worker’s economy these days. Labor shortages make the news often. Stories of the great resignation — including one in an earlier issue of this newsletter — abound. Thanks to remote work, geography no longer restricts employment options as it once did.

Across industries, employers are thinking up ways to keep the employees they have. Presenting a fair and equitable work environment is part of the solution.

First thing’s first. Let’s define equity. Amanda Wowk of Qualtrics put it this way in a 2020 article:

“Where equality gives everyone access to the same opportunities, equity in the workplace means that there’s proportional representation in those same opportunities.”

So, your workplace might be diverse, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s equitable. The question is whether that diversity is reflected appropriately at all levels, from management to the entry level. Factors such as equal pay, diverse representation within leadership and ability to effect change all relate to equity.

Nicola Corbin“You have to empower people,” said Nicola Corbin, associate professor in Weber State University’s Department of Communication. “Are they empowered enough within the organization to make any change?”

Empowerment starts with listening, Corbin said. Too often, organizations and businesses make decisions without consulting the very people who work for them. Opening up communication is the first step to understanding how your employees see your organization and themselves. It also creates some necessary vulnerability, and employers should be prepared for complaints.

“People are going to people,” Corbin said.

Trina LimpertWhile diving into diversity and equity conversations might feel scary, there’s no need for the fear, said Trina Limpert, CEO of RizeNext, a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm.

“Nobody is going to come after you for being a better leader and better person,” she said. “Step through that fear.”

On the contrary, Limpert said, seeking discomfort is all part of being a better leader. The payoff comes not only in warm fuzzies for doing the right thing but also profits.

A 2019 analysis from McKinsey & Co., which Limpert referenced, discovered that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability. The data set included more than 1,000 large companies from 15 countries.

Limpert also points out that diverse teammates bring diverse perspectives. Without diverse representation on the decision-making level, potential remains untapped.

“You’re missing out on growth and other markets,” Limpert said.

Still, that doesn’t mean that the road to diversity, equity and inclusion is always a smooth one. Limpert noted that many companies are not eager to share data pertaining to those subjects for fear of being called out, or perhaps sued. However, a problem that remains hidden can’t be solved.

“You can’t really change something you can’t see,” she said.

Part of the process for moving forward is answering “what’s in it for me?” at each level of the organization, Limpert said. While owners and executives might resonate most with improving the bottom line, and employees are eager to have a better experience at work, middle managers may need their own skin in the game, such as DEI being tied to their own evaluations.

Equity also needs to be approached in various ways. Pay and promotion are two ways, of course, but allowing employees to live lives outside of work is also key, Limpert said. For too long, she said, society has treated work as the prime fixture in life, with the rest falling by the wayside. In order to provide better working conditions, work life and home life must coexist.

As with many worthwhile endeavors, building a more equitable workplace isn’t guaranteed to be easy. Once you’ve declared yourself as being a fan of equity, though, you can’t be a fair-weather fan, Corbin said.

“Don’t abandon your team,” she said. “Things are going to go wrong. We all have to figure this out.”

If you do abandon team equity, you may find that workers begin abandoning your company.

“People want to go where they belong,” Corbin said.