We’re all familiar with the term “equality“, and the need to create more of it in our world. Many of us are also familiar with the term “equity“, but you’d be forgiven for any confusion between the two, as the ongoing cultural, political and economic conversations about the two can be overwhelming at times.
Thankfully, we know one of the foremost experts on the issue of equity, who works to help various companies and organizations create more equitable spaces and understand the need for it everywhere. Minal Bopaiah is the author of ‘Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives‘, (released September 7 through Berrett-Koehler Publishers) a guidebook for change, filled with humor, heart, and pragmatism, answering the question of “how?” that so many leaders are asking today.
Minal is the founder of Brevity & Wit, a strategy + design firm that combines human-centered design, behavior change science and the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility to help organizations transform themselves and the world. She has written for the Stanford Social Innovation Review and The Hill andhas inspired thousands with her credible, authentic, and engaging talks and keynote speeches.
According to Minal, “Equality is when everyone has the same thing. Equity is when everyone has what they need to thrive and participate fully. Equity does not fault people for being different; it makes room for difference and then leverages it.”
In her book, she introduces us to leaders who have overcome the obstacles to equity and led transformative change:
- Managing partners at a consulting firm who learn to retell their story of success by crediting the system that supports them.
- News managers at NPR who discover how they can create systemic support for diversifying sources on the air.
- A philanthropic foundation that collaborates with grantees to better communicate the importance of equity in healthcare to policy-makers.
- And creative professionals who have begun weaving inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility into the content they create, thereby transforming how customers and audiences view the world.
But don’t just take our word for it. There are highly respected thought leaders who are singing the praises of Minal and what ‘Equity’ has to offer readers. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams calls the book a “succinct jewel” and believes that anyone who wants to better understand inclusion, diversity, and equity, as well as paths toward reaching these goals organizationally—and personally—would benefit from reading it. Bestselling author and Paralympian Bonnie St. John says Minal has woven accessibility throughout her discussions, highlighting its importance to leaders who want to be resilient in a volatile and uncertain world.
We had the opportunity to pick Minal’s brain about the personal experiences that made her more aware of the need for equity growing up, and why pursuing equity is not an unrealistic goal for any work environment.
Where did the inspiration for “Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives” originally come from?
I was inspired to write ‘Equity’ because I wanted to make diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) practical. My husband is a firefighter and paramedic, and he’ll never want to have a one-hour conversation about gender fluidity even though he did all the housework so that I could write the book. He was also very comfortable from the start of our relationship with me making more money than him. How do we engage more people like that? How do we build bridges across personality differences while staying true to core values of equity and inclusion? That’s what ‘Equity’ attempts to answer.
Terms like inclusion, diversity and equality have become big buzzwords today. How are you helping companies dig deeper around ideas of equity and equality?
I’m probably the one marketer who hates buzzwords. In fact, I tend to dislike anything superficial. So I start with ensuring that leadership has an authentic commitment to this work. That often requires getting them to see how the system has affected their life’s trajectory. Then we work with the leadership team and the larger organization to really operationalize DEIA. Don’t tell me you care about equity; tell me what are the observable behaviors you need to see in your organization that would be indicative of a more equitable culture. The more we can identify observable behaviors, the more we can scale this work.
Why should individual people, not just companies, care about equity and implement this into our everyday lives?
The world is inherently unfair. Even if we were to solve all the man-made injustices (and yes, most of them are made by men in powerful positions), people would still die tragically, develop incurable diseases, or less tragically, the people we love don’t love us back. Somewhere along the way, life breaks everyone’s heart.
But, if we can allow this heartache to catalyze our empathy, we will develop a deep compassion for everyone else suffering from similar injustices. And equity then becomes an expression of our true humanity. Just like we create beauty in an ugly world or love in an indifferent one, we can create equity in an unfair world, thereby contributing the best of what humans have to offer to the world.
It can often be hard to get people to change deeply-embedded behaviors and attitudes. How do you go about challenging this through your book and your strategy firm?
It’s important to separate our behaviors and attitudes, or mindsets. We focus our efforts on changing mindsets with leadership, and we do this through coaching and a storytelling technique we have developed. With the larger company, we focus on changing behaviors. After all, you can’t mandate thought. (Well, you can, but that’s called propaganda or fascism…) What you can ask is for specific behavior. Usually, when we change behavior and create an environment where that behavior is rewarded (either through recognition of social pressure), we end up changing mindsets, too.
Can you share any personal stories from your own life that allowed you to better understand the need for equity in the world?
I was single for most of my 20s and 30s, and slowly it began to dawn on me how our society is really set up for dual-income households. I read so many books on negotiating a pay raise and knowing your worth, but even after I had negotiated my way to $80,000/year, I could not put together the money for a downpayment on a house. And it’s not like a one-bedroom apartment is less expensive if you have one tenant. Or that your cable bill is cut in half. Starting my own business was out of the question. Getting married allowed me to start a business because I was able to get on my husband’s health insurance and his income was the small buffer I needed to make this work. But it’s utterly ridiculous that I should need a person to fall in love with me to pursue work that fulfills me.
We need to create a world where marriage or a trust fund isn’t a prerequisite for becoming an entrepreneur. Just imagine how much creativity and innovation we’re missing out on because we don’t have universal healthcare or affordable housing or salaries that have kept up with inflation? It’s really a loss for our whole country, when you think about it.
Politics has become increasingly divisive, and an area that often gets called out for disparities (voting rights, abortion access, healthcare access to name a few). Do you work with legislators or folks in the political sphere on messaging around equity vs equality?
We’re definitely open to it, but as of yet, Brevity & Wit has not. But some of our consultants have. And we did some logo and branding work for Erin Lorenz, who ran for a seat on the Anne Arundel school board here in Maryland. Sadly, she didn’t win, but we’d love to do more work with progressive candidates.
For those that think allowing everyone to thrive or be on equal footing isn’t beneficial for companies, how do you challenge that hierarchical perspective?
I would get curious about what’s getting in the way of seeing that it’s beneficial for the company for everyone to thrive. Is it a life experience that makes them doubt this reality? Are they afraid of something? Nine times out of ten, it’s a fear that gets in the way. In which case, the answer is to remind them of their own inner courage. Of course, some people are not reachable. Which is why I say that Brevity & Wit is the firm if your question is how should we do DEIA, not why.
What do you hope each reader will take away most from reading “Equity”?
That equity is practical, not idealistic. And then to practice it in their corner of the world.
Want to do your part in working toward a more equitable world and workplace? Order your copy of “Equity” by clicking HERE.