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Equality vs. Equity

Equality and equity are terms that some tend to use interchangeably, especially around conversations on promoting fairness when it comes to rights, but the terms are not the same. There are very significant distinctions between equality and equity when it comes to gender.

What is equality? It means everyone is provided the same resources, support, and opportunities. An example of equality may mean there would be no difference in treatment despite gender and that all genders should be paid the same amount for the same work.

What is equity? Equity considers circumstances instead of a one size fits all approach. An equitable solution is based on providing the appropriate resources to support opportunities based on a person’s needs.

My favorite illustration showcasing the distinction between equality and equity shows a side-by-side image of a family of three watching a baseball game behind a wooden fence.  In the equality illustration everyone received the same box to stand on regardless of their height even though the tallest could see the game over the fence without the box while the shortest could still not see over the fence with the box. However, in the equity illustration the solution caters to specific needs by taking a box from the tallest family member who can see over the fence without it and gives it to the shortest family member who was then able to watch the game.

Can you have equity without equality? No. Ideally, through the process of equitable actions, we can achieve equality. Equitable problem solving can fill in the gaps that are often overlooked in the name of equality because the same answer is not always enough or right for everyone. Like in the baseball game illustration, sure, everyone has the same box, but is there really equality if not everyone can see over the fence?

Women of the ATU have been at the forefront of our organization since the early 1900’s supporting the men while on strike, coming to work in the industry when
men went to fight as far back as World War I as equals without equity.

I began my career in transit in 1993. As a woman, I experienced many, if not all, the barriers to equity shared by the respondents to the ATU Gender Equity survey. Therefore, I am proud to be part of our Union and work with leadership that not only understands the difference but is willing to act.

At our 59th International Convention in 2019, delegates found that more needs to be done to ensure equity for the women of our Union and approved a resolution to conduct a gender equity survey focused on the conditions faced by women and non-binary members in the U.S.

We received survey responses from women and non-binary members across the U.S. The responses found there are still significant barriers to equity and inclusion within our industry and our Union that impede overall job satisfaction. Our Union generated a report detailing the results and recommendations, which can be found in an article in this magazine.

The report included a series of recommendations consistent with Resolution Q supporting Women’s Equity and preventing and stopping sexual harassment, which was adopted by the delegates at our 60th International Convention in September 2022.

Together, we must continue to fight for all our members in the workplace, in contract negotiations, and in the halls of government. Together,  we must continue working to address gender-based discrimination and uphold the voice and dignity of every member of our union.