Equality vs equity: How Lily Zheng changed the way I think about definitions

  • Posted on March 14, 2023
  • Estimated reading time 2 minutes
Equality vs Equity: How Lily Zheng changed the way I think about definitions

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity, and its aim is to get us talking about why equal opportunities are no longer enough. Understanding the difference between equity and equality can help us do that.

This reminded me of a book I read, “DEI Deconstructed” by Lily Zheng (they/their), whom we had the pleasure of inviting recently as a guest speaker at Avanade. In their book, Lily not only articulated some thought-provoking truths, but they also provided useful and practical ways for organizations to achieve better Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) outcomes.

Lily described equity as this: “It has two parts: one, the presence of wellbeing and success across all groups; and two, the absence of discrimination and mistreatment for all groups.

Lily pointed out that – rather than asking, “Is our company trying to achieve equity?” – we should be asking, “Have we achieved pay equity, wellness, balance and flexibility for all groups?” because these are things that we can measure, achieve and celebrate.

This view reminded me the importance of how we demonstrate equity in Avanade through measurable outcomes. Some key initiatives which we have already implemented that come to mind include:

  • Equal pay for equal work – and we achieved 100% gender pay equity globally in December 2022.
  • We offer flexibility and choice in our ways of working.
  • In some regions, we already provide gender-neutral paid parental leave; and we're looking to expand it to all regions in Growth Markets.

And what about Lily’s view on diversity and inclusion? Their approach is this:

  • Diversity – the demographic composition of a given company that its stakeholders trust and feel represented by.
  • Inclusion – the way you measure if a workplace is a place where everyone feels respected – from every group and every region – and feels able to bring whatever part of themselves they choose into the workplace.


I see two important aspects to these definitions:

First, they will resonate with a broad range of stakeholders because they aren’t prescriptive. The definition of diversity doesn’t specify the exact proportion of people that should be people of color, Asian, women or LGBTQ+. All it demands is that anyone of any identity can look at a company and say, “Yes, that company represents and includes people like me.” Otherwise, diversity just becomes about counting people who fit into certain boxes. Second, all these definitions give us a way to succeed in DEI because they are immediately actionable.

At Avanade, we’re on a journey toward equality by first focusing on equity. Equitable policies ensure that everyone in our diverse workforce gets their different needs met. We are going to use this approach to look at our initiatives in terms of systems – not individuals.

This is how we will invite everyone into the DEI conversation. Because if we’re going to build a better workplace for everyone, we need everyone to be involved.

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