“The condition of having or being composed of differing elements: especially: the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”
Diversity means having representation of all groups. And one of the themes in this series is the call for more diversity in the field: based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, field of study, type of expertise, and other factors. This call for diversity is based on the belief that there are real barriers keeping talented people out of the field, and that we must work to reduce and eliminate those barriers. We have also come to believe that it is critical that our organizations should ultimately look more like the communities we serve, and be working to build capacity and leadership in those communities.
“The quality or state of being equal, of having the same rights, etc.”
Before we talk about equity, let’s talk about equality. They are often used interchangeably but are fundamentally different. Equality is defined by access to opportunity. When we cut up a pie among eight people and each pie slice is the same size, we have equality. It sounds great, but equality only works if everyone starts from the same place. In reality, we know that we do not all stand on a level playing field, especially the communities in which our work is often sited.
“Equity means fairness. Equity…means that peoples’ needs guide the distribution of opportunities for well-being. Equity…is not the same as equality… Inequities occur as a consequence of differences in opportunity, which result, for example in unequal access to health services, nutritious food or adequate housing. In such cases, inequalities…arise as a consequence of inequities in opportunities in life.”
So what is equity, then? Equity, is concerned not just with opportunity, but also with the barriers that make those opportunities unequal. Whereas equality would demand eight equal pie slices and diversity would require that the pie slices be distributed to a broad range of people, equity would lead us to ask, “How much pie does each individual need? Have some individuals eaten already? Are others particularly hungry? Are some allergic to this flavor of pie?” An equitable slicing of the pie might lead to slices of different sizes.
“A right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others.”
“Refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because of their race, class, socio-economic status, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristic they largely do not control. Generally people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it, and often don’t witness the experience of those who lack privilege.”
Privilege is an intense word, but it underlies everything we do in this field. The act of bringing a resource into a community that has not had access to that resource is entirely predicated on one group of people being privileged enough to offer that resource. Privilege is a word people use for name-calling, which makes us shy away from understanding it and talking about it. However, as a field, that means that we are not training ourselves to responsibly and humbly enter a community with a frank discussion of privilege. Our actions are informed by our privilege, which may stem from our race or ethnicity, our socio-economic status, our class, our family history, our gender, our schooling, our social connections, or our access to power.
“The ability or right to control people or things.”
“The ability to coerce others’ behavior. Power also includes access to social, political, and economic resources.”
Understanding privilege means also understanding power, as they often go hand in hand. Privilege gives many of us an invisible, yet highly influential, level of power— the power to determine how the pie is cut. By not acknowledging privilege or power, we often fail to acknowledge (or properly leverage) the scale of our influence on projects. This can lead to stand-alone projects that are interesting in concept but are limited in terms of deep and sustained impact.