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How can business leaders embrace equity in the workplace?

Equitable treatment involves addressing the realities of systemic disadvantage and providing a proportional approach to meet the needs of the historically disadvantaged.

Workplace equity involves people looking for fairness and transparency, especially when it comes to the social element in ESG.

Consumers are increasing their social consciousness around gender equality and the link that it has to the ethical conduct of organizations within their employees’ environments and communities.

This goes hand in hand with attracting and retaining top talent, as people judge a potential employer based on its attitude toward uplifting and developing historically disadvantaged groups, and how business values are reflected in the actions taken within the organization and the broader community.

People judge a potential employer based on its attitude toward uplifting and developing historically disadvantaged groups, and how business values are reflected in the actions taken within the organization and the broader community.

A lack of progress toward gender equality is a business risk accompanied by a backdrop of staggering statistics, such as from the United Nations and The World Bank, both of which are telling much the same story: Women have fewer opportunities, less economic power, fewer high-level positions and are less likely to enter into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

In the same vein, research has shown that organizations can reap great benefits from taking equity seriously. So, what are the questions directors and business leaders could ask that will assist in embracing equity, pursuing equality and mitigating risk within their organizations?

Workplace equity

  • What is legally permissible in relation to employment equity in the organization, industry or country, and what data can be used for this purpose?
  • What are the effects of the increasing focus on equality and equity with regard to consumers and employee stakeholder groups? How are the emerging trends in these areas going to affect the organization’s risk management plan and the ability to attract and retain top talent?
  • What policies are currently in place to address inequality and historic discrimination, and what is the desired future state of the organization?

Attraction, recruitment and retention

  • Do the candidates applying for roles in the organization reflect the demographics of the economically active population? If not, how is this impacting employee demographics, and what can be done about it to be more equitable in the advertising and recruitment process?
  • How do the demographics of the selected candidates compare to the demographics of the applicants – including unsuccessful applicants – and the economically active population?
  • Are employees across the various occupational groups retained at the same rates? If not, what is the cause of the differential?


  • Is training tracked in terms of employee demographics and training spend?
  • Are employees provided the same access to training, and how is this tracked?
  • Is there potential to promote equity by providing under-represented groups with more budget and opportunity for training in order to upskill, uplift and develop these groups for long-term movement towards equality within the organization?


  • When assessing the organization’s occupational levels, are the demographics at each level representative of the economically active population?
  • Do the demographics within the occupational levels indicate that there may be direct or indirect discrimination?
  • Does legislation allow for candidates from under-represented groups to be given preference if they fit the criteria for the role?

Grievance and misconduct

  • Are there policies in place to protect employees from unfair discrimination and harassment, as well as allowing them to raise their concerns?
  • How are grievances and misconduct matters dealt with in regards to harassment and discrimination in particular?

Embracing equity begins with recognizing that there are groups of people who face systemic and structural barriers and, as a result, they are negatively impacted. Meaningful transformation toward equality has to begin with recognizing that the empowerment of under-represented groups is critical for risk management and sustainability.

Equity can only exist when those with the power, privilege and resources are prepared to recognize that progress toward equality can only be made if there is a genuine attempt to eliminate barriers that lead to direct and indirect discrimination. Part of doing that requires relinquishing the power, privilege, resources and control. In order to see changes, we need to make the changes.

Candice (Candy) Eaton Gaul is Global Diversity & Inclusion Leader at RSM International. With the positive effect that diversity and inclusion have on business performance and innovation, Candy is passionate about leading new initiatives that will strengthen the ongoing development of diversity and inclusion within the RSM Network.

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