How do we change communities? The Theory of Change principles provide us with guidance on how we can achieve community-level change. But the miracle happens – or the more appropriate word in the world of human services, the “desired outcomes” occur – when we create an ecosystem that operates through the lens of equity. Often the word “equity” is used interchangeably with the word “equality”; however, the two concepts are different and it is time for those of us in the business of serving people to focus on creating equity and not equality.
Equality is the concept of providing everyone with the same equal opportunities but it is most effective if everyone is starting from the same advantage point. Equity, on the other hand, is the idea of providing fairness in access to these opportunities but takes into account that certain groups may have more barriers or privilege than others. In order to achieve true equality, equity needs to first be taken into account for the more disadvantaged groups.
Equity work is the practice of systems-level change and strategy specifically designed to mitigate the disparities that exist in racial/ethnic minority populations and other disadvantaged groups. In fact, the work should also take into consideration other multi-layered identities, which include sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability status and other identity markers that embrace Kimberle Crenshaw’s Intersectionality Framework. Intersectionality values the interconnectedness of the social categorizations. Equity practice understands that the disparities exist not because of individual behavior. In reality, these disparities exist because of long-standing institutionalized issues that contribute to the social determinants of health.
So why the focus on equity? Well, equity forces us to ask the tough questions. What does a particular community or disadvantaged group need to thrive? You know, the “table” where decisions are made? Do underrepresented groups have access to this “table”? Are they in the rooms when decisions about their population are being made and do these decisions serve their needs? How are we in the system contributing to the growth and representation of individuals we serve and their community? Equity is ensuring that no one is left behind.
United Way of Broward County funds programs that ask these questions and aims to mitigate these disparities in the areas of health, education and financial stability. Additionally, in partnership with amazing local organizations like Children Services Council, Broward County Human Services and the Florida Department of Health, who are leading county-wide efforts on racial equity work with trainings such as “Undoing Racism,” we are slowly but surely making a difference. However, the work is far from over and really just getting started. So, let’s make equity a foundation in all of the work we do to make Broward a better place to live, work and play.
To learn more about this subject, join us for a Zoom panel discussion on Health Equity: What COVID-19 Highlights About Health Disparities and How Do We Change the Course, Friday, May 1st from 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Click here to register.