In a perfect world, all workplaces would provide safe, fair and equal environments for their workers. Factors like gender, ability, race, sexual orientation, mental illness or physical health of employees wouldn’t affect the way they get treated in the office. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case (it only takes manager Michael Scott speaking in one episode of NBC’s The Office to quickly realize this.) In reality, employees are often discriminated against or treated unfairly for these exact reasons.
Let’s take a look at what equality really means and how it looks in the workplace.
What is equality?
Equality is defined as, “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities”. This means different groups of people have a right to a similar social position, are given the same amount (food, environment, opportunity) and receive the same treatment. For example, if there was a nine-foot platform, everyone would get the same three-foot ladder to reach it.
But while we’re defining equality, it’s also important to talk about EQUITY. Equity means helping people meet their individual needs required to reach a shared goal or opportunity. For example, if you’re two feet tall, you get a seven-foot ladder, while the six feet tall folks would receive a three-foot ladder.
The main difference between equality and equity, then, is treating everyone like equals by giving them the same resources versus recognizing that some people need more resources than others to succeed in the same way.
What do equality and equity look like in the workplace?
In the workplace, both equality and equity are important. Equality is critical when addressing issues like the gender wage gap—the measure of women’s earnings against their male counterpart’s earnings in the same position.
A Statistics Canada study funded by the Department for Women and Gender Equality Canada found that in 2018, Canadian women (25 to 54) earned an average of $26.92 per hour, while their male counterparts earned $31.05. In other words, women earned $4.13 (or 13.3%) less per hour, on average, than men, or $0.87 for every dollar earned by men.
Equity is necessary to consider when addressing issues like mental impairment or physical ability. Sometimes, these groups of people need extra support or accommodation to reach the same level of success in their roles as other employees. For example, a wheelchair user may require an accessible washroom or office space. New mothers have a right to both the space and time for breastfeeding while at work. And those with a mental illness may require flexible scheduling, reduced hours, supervision and modified training to succeed.
Equality in the workplace is not just some ideal to strive toward, but is actually enshrined in law in Canada. The Employment Equity Act states that Canadians have the right to be treated fairly in workplaces free from discrimination. Currently, employment equity promotes equitable representation for four designated groups in Canada: women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities.
If you feel that you have been mistreated or discriminated against in your workplace, it’s a good idea to speak with a labour & employment lawyer to decide which action, if any, you are entitled to take.