The difference between equality and equity

By Avani Patel, our new Local Portfolio Director

The terms equality and equity, in the context of education and social issues, are used interchangeably often. But there may be a way to think about the terms differently, perhaps to better guide the process of grant making. Equality stems from the word equal, as in the same. You cut the pie equally, so that everyone gets the same amount. Equity starts with the premise that things are not equal, so the way in which resources are allocated should also not be equal. In other words, equity suggests to serve in a way that allocates resources based on need, whereas equality means everyone gets the same, arguably not closing any gap that may exist. Through this lens then, how can we tailor limited resources in a way that can serve a broader audience, in the hopes to one day achieve equality?

Let’s think about these terms in a practical sense. Consider two 15-year-old girls at the same high school. Resources are both scarce and restricted. Each girl took the same class quiz out of 10 points. Girl A scored 3, and girl B scored 7. If we provided equal academic services for girl A and girl B, the gap in achievement would presumably not close. Instead, if we could provide an equitable amount of services (providing services where there is most need) then girl A could likely benefit from an individual tutor 3 days a week, whereas girl B could benefit from small group instruction in the classroom 2 days a week.  Although this example looks at equity in a quantifiable sense (amount of days, ratio of instructor to student), it is also important to consider the quality of services being provided (strength or quality of instructor).

Perhaps the example above can be applied to philanthropy. Should we consciously think of the difference between equality and equity when grant-making? How do we give the direct support Girl A needs, while at the same time, support Girl B to accelerate and achieve at higher levels? How can we strike a balance with grant making?