Equity as a Principle of Organizational Life

The blog this week was written by George Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute. In its leadership role within our community the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has affirmed three primary principles that can serve to bind us together as a community: Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity.

In the work of The Arcadia Institute we have made the inclusion of people with disabilities our highest value and an integral part of our mission. We evaluate our work in terms of the extent to which we have contributed toward that end.

We affirm diversity as an explicit aspect of what we consider a good community to be. We appeal to a common affirmation of diversity in our efforts to persuade the broader community to value and support people with disabilities. We also affirm a community in which a wide variety of people with different characteristics and conditions take part.

I think that our colleagues and friends who work within other nonprofit organizations not only support diversity and inclusion, however they may define them, as a matter of course in their work.

It’s that third one, ‘equity’, that I see as the tough one. I think that the reason we may hesitate to affirm equity is that it is confused with ‘equality’. So let us examine these two terms. Equality is not so hard to define. Equal means the same, in both qualitative and quantitative ways, such as the right to happiness or the same share of the family inheritance.

Equity, however, is not so clear cut an idea, in part because it includes equality as part of its meaning. Getting an equitable share does not mean getting the same measure. It means getting what is fair, and in order to determine what is fair we have to dig a little deeper. Equity includes having your basic needs met, like what you need to eat and your health care needs met. It even carries the connotation of a right, or entitlement, to have those basic needs met. It also includes the idea of equal treatment under the law and equal access to the goods and services of the community.

People among us, like some people with disabilities, will not have access to a decent share of our community’s goods unless there is support for the principle of equity. Many of them will not be able to participate, much less compete, on the same terms as people without disabilities. Some will need both support and accommodations to take their rightful place among us. Other groups of people face similar difficulties. All both need and deserve equity.

When it comes to supporting rights and entitlements some folks back away from the idea of equity, or even say supporting equal treatment in our court systems. So it appears to me that the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is really stepping forward as a leader in adding equity to its core priorities or values. They are offering support and a challenge to organizations who seek their financial backing. Those of us leading nonprofit organizations are blessed with both the challenge and the promise of support. We are being urged to embody one of the toughest core values in American life. And when we meet the challenge, and especially when we enter into covenants to work together to achieve equity, we amount to a powerful force for good.