Human Equity: Moving beyond diversity

by Caitlin Nobes12 Apr 2012

The conversation about diversity in the workplace has been going on since the 1980s, but advocates say the cause has stalled – how does an organization move towards a better work environment for all employees?

“We’ve been talking about the same things for 10-15 years, we haven’t made much progress,” says Trevor Wilson, author of  Diversity at Work, The Business Case for Equity and president of TWI Inc. “It really requires stepping beyond conversations about women, minorities, LGBT and into a conversation about talent differentiation and human equity.”

Human equity is about looking at a person as a whole – not their physical features, cultural background and work experience, but how all the elements of their personality work together. How is this individual greater than the sum total of their parts?

Wilson’s organization helps judge the annual Canada's Best Diversity Employers, rating businesses from zero to five. No Canadian organization has ever received above a four. “Every year I say we need a four, which requires an organization to move beyond the group conversation and onto the individual,” Wilson says.

Last year Ernst & Young’s Canadian CEO and chairman Trent Henry said he wanted the company to be the first in Canada to score a four. “Human equity is fundamentally built on the individual believing ‘I feel I am being treated equitably’, which means as an organization you have to communicate, resonate and connect with a person not only as a member of a group but as an individual,” says Stephen Shea, Ernst and Young managing partner, people.

Ernst and Young had a rating of 3.79, the top rating for Canada last year, but Shea says he felt the company's progress had plateaued and that they are now moving forward again by embracing the idea of human equity. “You don’t have to treat everybody the same because nobody is the same, you have to treat and understand people vis-à-vis their unique abilities and what they need to do to be successful in your organization.”
An “ah-ha” moment for him was the idea that you can look at a person’s attributes and find the best path for them, even if it means directing them towards a different role or career path. “Not everyone who gets into a business is in the place where they will ultimately be the most successful or happy in their career,” Shea says. “Sometimes their unique attributes will lead them to be far more successful in a different part of the business or a different pursuit, and it’s okay to tell them that.”
The company is committed to building a culture of diversity, inclusion and human equity by managing the impact of bias on their macro business processes. It is built upon helping their employees make the most of all their skills, passion and experiences. “We really believe that what is good for our people is good for our clients and our partnership," Shea said.

Where is your organization on the scale?

0-1: Diversity based on compliance to legislation or court case. Focused on designated groups (women, disabilities, aboriginal, visible minorities). About 50 per cent of organizations are in this category.

1-2: Aimed at corporate social responsibility, the focus is still on groups but may have expanded beyond the basic four listed above to include groups such as under-25s and GLBT. This category includes about 25 percent of organizations.

2-3: Diversity is linked to a business plan or outcome such as productivity, profitability or customer satisfaction. Makes up about 18 per cent of organizations.

3-4: Moving beyond diversity to the area of inclusion. An inclusive environment is where each person is valued because of their difference, not in spite of difference.  

4-5: Moving beyond the group to the individual and human equity. We are yet to see a Canadian organization score above a four.