How to Build Equity Into Your Brand
Each year, when International Women’s Day rolls around on 8 March, brands and organisations the world over rush to highlight the things that they are doing to ensure that their women are valued. But not all of these campaigns and brand comms position the women they depict in equity-focused ways.
Many brands and organisations proudly talk about doing the work to level out gender pay gaps in like-for-like roles. In the UK, the government’s gender pay gap service was launched in 2017 – which means that companies are required by law to report and publish gender pay gap information – with the aim of narrowing and eventually eliminating the pay differential between men and women. But is progress being made?
The Gender Pay Gap Bot uses this open-access data from the gender pay gap service to automatically respond to a company, brand or organisation which has tweeted one of the International Women’s Day key phrases, with a tweet that mentions the median gender pay gap of that particular company, brand or organisation.
In February 2022, the Women and Equalities Committee met to discuss their recommendations to the UK Government for introducing compulsory ethnicity pay gap reporting.
It suggests that: “The Government should introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting by April 2023 for all organisations that currently report for gender. Legislation should include the requirement for employers to publish a supporting narrative and action plan.”
If the government decides to take this recommended policy forwards, it has the potential to make a significant impact to the lived experience of minoritised people in the workplace.
But how ready are brands and organisations in their ability to offer solutions focused on equity not just equality?
And what exactly do we mean by this???
The Difference Between Equality and Equity
Equity and equality are related words, but they have different meanings and real-world implications:
Equality is when we treat everyone the same, without regard to individual differences or circumstances. The goal of equality is to create equal opportunities and give equal resources to everyone. However, it doesn’t necessarily consider that individuals have different starting points, needs, and circumstances. For example, if two people are given the same resources and opportunities, one may still have an advantage over the other if they started from a different position.
Equity, on the other hand, means treating people differently based on their needs and circumstances, to achieve fairness and justice. The goal of equity is to make sure that
everyone can gain access to the resources and support they need to achieve their full potential, regardless of their starting point or circumstances. In the workplace, this might look like providing more resources or support such as back-dated pay for a particular minoritised group (Black women, for example) to try to level the playing field and address systemic inequalities.
Basically, equality is about treating everyone the same, while equity is about providing everyone with what they need to succeed by considering their unique circumstances and needs.
So what does this concept of equity look like for brands?
Well, this will look different in different cultural settings due to differences in historical, social, and political contexts. The historical context of a country or region can significantly impact equitable anti-racism efforts. In the United States, for example, anti-racism efforts are often focused on addressing the legacy of slavery and ‘Jim Crow’ laws, while in Europe this is now often more focused on addressing the history of colonialism.
We also need to remember that in different cultural settings, intersectionality may play out differently, with some groups facing multiple forms of discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, ableism, and other factors.
So equitable brands will address or speak to the root cause of a problem. Equality-focused brand comms often focus on addressing the symptoms rather than the root causes. This provides just temporary relief as it doesn’t address the underlying systemic issues contributing to inequality. This can actually be harmful because it assumes one-size-fits-all solutions and fails to address root causes. Instead, campaigns and brand comms should focus on addressing systemic issues to create long-lasting change.
Top Tips for Building Equitable Brands
Acknowledge the issues
Speak up and out about injustices. This includes those where your brand is or has been complicit. This can involve making a public statement or apology, depending on the brand’s history and actions. Don’t allow silence to make your brand part of the problem.
Focus on those most marginalised and/or minoritised
Prioritise people who are affected by multiple oppressions, for example, Black disabled women. Be aware of current dominant narratives (stories and assumptions that favour or advantage those with privilege) and be prepared not to buy into or promote these.
Hold yourselves accountable
Prioritise impact over intention and be open about progress – even if you initially get it wrong.
Embedding equity into brand strategy requires a long-term commitment and a willingness to make changes. By educating yourself and your team, reviewing brand values and messaging, evaluating internal policies and practices, partnering with diverse communities, and holding yourself accountable, you can create a more inclusive and equity-focused brand strategy.