The Case for Equity-Centered Design
I’m not sure about you, but I’m concerned at how often equity is removed from diversity and inclusion efforts. Some might think it doesn’t matter and it’s just about semantics. I disagree. There is power in language and words do matter, they indicate what we are paying attention to and what we are not. They help or hinder our commitments. Diversity, equity and inclusion are related but they are not the same. Working towards diversity and inclusion without centering and prioritizing equity, will deliver similar systems and structures to the ones that have brought us to this moment.
The idea that “the system is not broken; it was built this way” has made a frequent appearance in the multiple events of the past three months. The default system we live in, is a system that produces what it was designed to produce….inequalities and inequities that have been widely documented and are evident for all to see. The good news is that systems designed to produce inequalities and inequities, can also be redesigned to produce the opposite. Will focusing on diversity and inclusion be enough? I don’t think so! Equity needs to be front and centre.
I emphasize equity and not equality, because as much as we would like to think we live in a world where everyone has access to the same opportunities, the reality is that certain identities face fewer opportunities, and more obstacles every step of the way. Equity on the other hand, refers not to sameness, but to fair access to opportunities -and equal outcomes. Equity forces us to address the barriers that for so long have kept so many out.
The historical context we are living through, will have deep consequences and like it or not, we will have to be accountable for what we choose to do and what we choose to ignore. Many are wondering if this is a moment or a movement…I’m not sure yet. We have to wait and see if all the emerging initiatives that are taking place will actually translate into meaningful, measurable and sustainable change. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, no quick or final fixes either. However, I am convinced that designing for equity -and aiming for equity by design- can be a promising path.
As a verb, to design implies to do and plan with a specific purpose in mind. Designers are creative, they envision alternatives and work hard to make them a reality. They know they won’t get it right on the first try, but they don’t stop until they do. Designing for equity means a clear and explicit intentionality to address historical inequities. It means removing barriers and granting equitable access to opportunities. It means ensuring that identity markers like race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, etc., won’t translate into unequal outcomes in your clients and employees’ lives.
Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:
- Make equity a front and central piece of your diversity and inclusion efforts.
- Take a critical look at the current state of your organization. You will not be clear on the destination if you are unsure of your starting point.
- If you are not sure how inequities are manifesting in your organization, ask around, listen and act on what you hear.
- No one expects you to know it all. Invite those impacted by your identified inequities to co-create and co-design with you. Treasure the expertise that comes with lived experience and make sure to spend as much time as needed building relationships based on trust and accountability.
- When it’s time to design a course of action, make sure to step back and allow those with lived experience to define the problem and ideate solutions to it. Prototype those solutions, test, learn, implement and evaluate to look for continuous improvements.
We are living through an incredible window of opportunity to radically design an alternative future and make it a reality. There is a sense of urgency and we cannot continue allowing for a diversity and inclusion approach that intentionally or unintentionally allows for everything to remain the same. Crises expose our flaws and shortcomings, but they also allow us to demonstrate character and rise to the occasion. At the end, we’ll see if this is just a moment or a real movement for lasting change.