Why equitable, effective, and sustainable?

If you consume enough science fiction, you’ll eventually encounter the captain of a spaceship saying one of two things: “My first responsibility is to the mission,” or “my first responsibility is to this ship and its crew.” Both are generally true.

The point of you, as a manager, is to make sure that your team is able to do the work that your organization is setting out to do. That means that your first responsibility is to the effectiveness of your work at achieving the mission. In order to accomplish the mission effectively, you need to be able to meet the needs of the ship (the team as a whole) and crew (the individuals working on the team) assigned to the mission. Prioritizing those needs in an equitable and sustainable way gives you the best possible shot at being effective toward your mission in the long term (and if you’re here, you’re probably thinking: and is the ethically right thing to do).

#SayMoreAboutThat: What does that mean, “in an equitable way?”

The words “equity” and “equality” get kicked around in a lot of different ways, so I want to take a minute and clarify what I mean when I talk about these words in this blog. (And give a quick shoutout to Nicole Sanchez, founder of Vaya Consulting, whose Culture Accelerator workshop helped me articulate this distinction. Follow her on Twitter if you don’t already.)

Equality is the assumption that everyone on a diverse team carries the same inherent value and has the same chance to participate and be heard. (More about what I mean by “diverse teams” in a future post.) With a focus on equality, everyone has the same set of resources available to them, and everyone gets the same shot at a given opportunity. Seems like we want that, right? And we do – except that the reality is that not everyone does have the same set of resources available to them. This has become especially clear in our current shelter-in-place environment, where people have radically different physical surroundings as they work.

Equitable treatment means recognizing that not everyone on a diverse team is starting from the same place, and that some team members may need a different set of resources to achieve the desired outcome or take advantage of a given opportunity.

A quick illustration of what I mean by that: Imagine you’re my first-grade teacher. You’re noticing that you’ve got one student (me) who’s a very strong reader when there’s a book in her hand, but she can’t seem to read the blackboard as easily as the kids around her, even from the front row. She needs glasses, you realize.

A teacher focused on equality would be concerned with distributing resources equally: either no one in the class gets a pair of glasses, or every kid gets the same pair of glasses with the same prescription. Both of these options feel silly, right?

An equitable solution, on the other hand, is focused on outcomes. The desired outcome, in this case, is that everyone can engage with the material on the blackboard, from the kids who can see what’s there without any assistive devices, to me and my plastic-rimmed frames with thick klutzproof lenses, to the kid with total vision impairment who needs a non-visual way to understand the lesson.

Because you’re responsible for the effectiveness of your team at achieving your org’s mission, it’s important for you to keep your focus on those equitable outcomes so that your crew is best equipped to do their jobs. As we move through this blog, we’ll explore tools and concepts that can help drive equitable outcomes for your team – and next week, we’ll talk more about why it’s important to think about those outcomes from the perspective of sustainability.

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