October 19th was my parents’ wedding anniversary. Had they been alive, today would mark 75 years. This past weekend, I met my five sisters for a “Sister’s Weekend”, the first time we had been together since February 2020 (which we all mark now as “pre-pandemic”). Much of my time with sisters is spent reminiscing on great memories created growing up and how wonderful we knew our parents to be.
While on my way to this special weekend, I was reading highlights from the Fortune Most Powerful Women’s conference, which was recently held live. One of the discussions had focused on the difference between equality (treating everyone the same) and equity (realizing that not everyone comes from the same privilege or experience). It struck me that, even though we all grew up in the same family, in the same house, in the same town, and with very consistent rules, each of my sisters is very different from the others. You probably know a set of siblings who end up being very different as well, and I’m sure you’ve had the old Nature vs. Nurture discussion as to why that happens.
For my family, my mom was the “equality czar”, ensuring every single child had the same chores, the same allowance, and the same food at the dinner table (even if you were the only one that hated that food). Mom was the one who did the Christmas shopping, keeping receipts and ensuring that she spent the exact same amount, to the penny, on every child.
Dad, as I realize now, was much more focused on equity. He would take notice of what each child needed, and he ensured they had support. While all of my siblings were athletic, that trait skipped me. Instead, I had a love of art and a knack for it. Despite the extra cost, my dad made sure that I was able to take art lessons. (At that time, playing sports was free.) Our parents expected that we all go to college, but one of my sisters did not want to go. My dad helped her identify a different career path in the medical field, which was outside of a traditional university education.
So during our sister weekend, as we all piled into an 8-passenger vehicle, each sister expected the others to take a turn crawling into the very back seat. But that wasn’t equitable, because one of my sisters gets car sick. She should always sit up front, understanding her circumstances are different.
Where do you see equality vs. equity show up in your work as a leader? While giving everyone the exact same thing, makes everyone feel they are being treated equally, it doesn’t always result in the best outcomes. I think my dad had it right. As leaders, we should be striving to give everyone the best opportunities we can give them. Development can’t be a cookie cutter mold that we stamp over and over again. It should be personalized, with the goal of generating the best outcome for that individual. It needs to be equitable, even if not always exactly equal.
How can you possibly know where to start on creating equitable opportunities for your people?
What do you hope for in life?
In our Signature programs, I teach a session on leading with presence, which requires active listening, and the crucial requirement for leaders to listen to their people with greater understanding of “who they are”. We probably won’t directly ask our employees, “What do you hope for in life?”, but through our various ways of engaging we should understand the answer to that question. If you can answer the below questions about your people, you are on the right track.
- List 3 personal (non-professional) things you know about this person.
- What do they value?
- What are their passions?
- What are their top 3 concerns?
- What do they hope for in life?
We can only be “equitable” if we listen thoughtfully and understand what each person’s personal and individual experiences are. Once we know that, we can pull out their individual gifts and help place them in opportunities to shine brighter, which provide greater value to the organization. We can give them the right support and attention, recognizing their particular circumstances and experiences. This understanding is as important in organizations as it is in a family.
Come to think of it, if we approached our teams like we do our own families, then our role as leaders is to nurture, no matter what our employees nature might be.