Achieving Equity in the Workplace

By Lekshmy Sankar

With all the conversations going on right now about pay gaps and equal rights in the news, I have been thinking a lot about equity in the workplace – specifically, how to make sure leaders consider equity. Many times, we believe that being fair and treating others equally is being a good leader. The truth is, that approach is not enough, and we can do better. We need to start having a conversation about equity (not just equality) in the workplace.

A significant advantage of working in technology is that I get to work with a blend of people with various education levels and diverse backgrounds. Sometimes we forget that the richness of people’s experiences might also mean that they might not have had the opportunity to receive the training or education that they need or deserve to be successful in the workplace. A rabbit hole we might fall into is that we tend to make assumptions that everyone is equal to your background. This can hurt the team and also the productivity of your entire organization.

At the base of it, no two people are the same. So how do we help them thrive? I believe it comes down to meeting each individual “where they are” and providing each team member with the tools necessary for them to succeed. Of course, that also means more time, effort and money on your part but in the long run, it helps the organization reach higher.

Let’s think about your job. What is it like every day? For most of us, we go to work in the morning and sit at a desk all day. Think about that for a moment. We are primarily trying to focus on one thing for 60 mins or 90 mins, etc. straight. Does that work for you? How do you expect your employees to focus on a task all day every day? If we can’t do it ourselves, how is it fair to ask your employees to do the same? We do see changing workplace structure in some technology companies, but it’s still not the norm. Why is that? Organizations spend millions on developing performance plans, training plans and hiring practices. Why are we not having a dialogue on equity in the workplace? Or a conversation on changing the structure of your workplace? The basic structure of going to work from 9-5 has not changed in centuries. With technology and the ability to customize anything from subway sandwiches to phone cases, shouldn’t we be having a conversation on workplace structure? Is it worth having a conversation? I think so.

So let’s talk about that dialogue. Why do we go to work? Sure – there is the financial aspect, but I refuse to believe that we all pick our jobs just to make money. I will tell you I go to work at my organization because I want to learn something new every day; I want to build relationships; play with cool technology, and in my case help launch rockets (as a space nerd – that’s pretty much my motivation to do my job every day).

If we think about our employees as customers, a prevailing thought is that people are hungry for experiences. If your customers want to customize their way of living (e.g., choosing phone cases), why wouldn’t they expect the same amount of freedom to customize in their jobs? Most people want to feel like their preferences matter, their voices are heard and their opinions are remembered. I believe that’s how we reach equity in the workplace. Creating an intranet page with knowledge articles is not enough. It’s a good start, but it needs a more personal touch, which is the key to setting people up for success.

Some of the questions that I believe each organization should ask themselves is:

  • Do we give people enough time to succeed?
  • Do we create an environment where they want to come to work every day?
  • Do we have a culture where people feel free to generate ideas and share them?
  • Do people have the freedom to work from home as long as they get the work done?
  • Is our workplace set up for success?
  • Do you give your team the freedom to find their path to success?
  • If your organization is behind or ahead in their work?
  • Do you provide them with an opportunity to control their pace?
  • Are you putting your employees at the center of their work?
  • Are you allowing people to find their way to own their own success?
  • Are you giving each employee the opportunity to level up for skills that they need to succeed?

Imagine your job as a place where you can go to work whenever you feel like it (on your own schedule without judgment), personalize the time to meet with your manager to work on things that you have a passion for but also brings business value. I believe this kind of environment can help employees own their own success and create success for the organization.

I have heard the argument that “structure is in place because as humans we want and need to feel appreciated and valued.” Theoretically, I can see that, but in reality, I don’t know how accurate it is in the current structure. Does your current structure allow people to feel like they are part of something? Does having a 9-5 workplace enable face-to-face interaction to induce the emotional intelligence that we crave? Maybe. I am not advocating for all of us to work remotely and never have a meeting again. I am advocating for us to have a conversation about what is the right fit for each employee. Let’s use the best of all worlds in humanity, technology, processes and infrastructure to find a medium that works for each individual person.

As individuals, we have the opportunity to help transform and shape people’s productivity. So let’s start with how we communicate with our colleagues, how we interact with our bosses when we come and leave work and knowledge sharing with your team. I believe every individual can learn and thrive – let’s provide an environment that will help them achieve that.

This post was originally published on GovLoop.com.