It’s the topic of conversation across the world…equality. From political prisoners in Burma, to equal access to boardroom appointments in the USA. In my opinion, there has never been a time in history where the imbalances and inequalities of society have been more prevalent than they are today. It shows no signs of slowing, but rather seems to be picking up steam. Memes are pilfered throughout the internet, as are social justice petition sites trying to make the global vox scream even louder with each passing day.

To clarify the title of this post, I do support equal pay. I also support equal opportunity for people and equality in human rights. I don’t think any group of people should be discriminated against for reasons such as gender, religious beliefs, socio-economic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation and any of the other typical discrimination categories so many people have worked hard to accomplish. So what, you may ask, in the name of everything sacred am I trying to say? Glad you asked!

I’m talking about the bastardization of equality that is, in my opinion, diluting the value of the actual idea of equality. It seems that when anything gains some momentum, there are folks who have an unfortunate tendency to latch on to the idea and do everything they can to apply it to their circumstance (applicable or not) in order to usually get something they haven’t properly worked to get. Equality has been no exception.

This often times happens in the workplace. If you’re an HR professional, you’re probably nodding your head about now. When someone else gets a shot at doing something, or has an opportunity that wasn’t made available to someone else, the word “equality” gets thrown in the mix. What usually happens in these circumstances isn’t a question of equality, but of informed fairness. If someone works hard, does the work to show they’re capable, then it’s only fair they get the opportunity when it comes along. Equality means everyone is given the opportunity to work hard and show their capabilities based on current skills.

Without pre-emptively trying to pacify the cynics and fear mongers who would say this is summarily inviting favoritism and discrimination, let me give you a few tips on how to operate from a place of informed fairness, make sure genuine equality remains a priority and prevent yourself from being put in a defensive position by someone crying wolf (or inequality, in this case).

  • Paint a path – Take some time to look at future projects and determine what is required of people to assume certain responsibilities. Make this public so there is no secrecy in how decisions will be made. Be clear on expected outcomes and why it is necessary for the success of whatever you’re doing. This is a culture of openness and transparency.
  • Manage expectations – If there is a group of people who simply won’t have the skills to participate in something in particular, tell them up front and tell them why. Explain what skills and competences will be needed and how they still have some development to do. Often times the ones who seem the most irritated by this are the best candidates for more training. It shows that you’re honest AND willing to develop them. Let them “sit in” on some of the meetings or have a mentor who has these skills or competences, as a learning experience for them.
  • Celebrate inclusively – Give proper recognition to those who accomplished certain goals, but also recognize those whose skills prevented them from participating. Often times they have to do a bit more work to offset any extra responsibilities of others directly or indirectly connected to their workload. Team effort comes from recognizing team contribution.
  • Reinforce your culture – If your culture doesn’t have room to allow you to do the above 3 things (many company cultures don’t), then discuss what would need to change to make them possible and start working towards that goal. It will be a giant step in a very good direction.

At the end of the day, the right people need to be doing the right things and bruised egos can’t manipulate leadership into making bad decisions by throwing the equality card around. Get ahead of this mentality and make the differences in competences work for your professional development goals for your less experienced talent.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Touchy subject that needs plenty of discussion.

  • I agree! I think much of that attitude comes back to an ‘entitlement’ mindset. A whole generation has been brought up being told they are just as good as everyone else, no one is better than another, so everyone deserves the same things, and that’s just not so. It sets false expectation for some, and under-performers expect reward, and those with the ability to excel have no incentive to do so. Great topic!

  • How about equality of ability? Equality of motivation? Equality of purpose? Without these, there can be no equality of outcome. However, there should always be equality of opportunity.

  • I think your perspective is pointing in the right direction Renee. Thanks for your comment!

  • Very good points Jack. I agree with you. One of the points of the post is to have equality of opportunity based on skills. This sets up a higher likelihood for success and helps to manage expectation. I wouldn’t have a mid-level manager thinking equality of opportunity means he should be able to take on a project for a VP level issue. That was the main focus of the post.