Creating Equitable Organizations

This post was shared by Bill Pullen, MCC, Academic Director in Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL), based on his interview with Minal Bopaiah on the ITL Podcast.

Minal Bopaiah is a graduate of ITL’s Executive Certificate in Organization Development Consulting & Change Leadership program.  Her recent book Equity has inspired us to think differently about how to create inclusive organizations.

Minal’s parents immigrated to the United States in 1976 as medical doctors who had residencies in Brooklyn, New York. After years of living in Brooklyn, they moved out to Staten Island and started their practice. They lived the American Dream – work hard and success will come. But Minal Bopaiah, author of Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives, knows that hard work isn’t all to her parents, her, or anyone else’s success story. System support is also necessary for anyone’s success. System support can come in the form of organizational policies and procedures, the ability to pursue higher education, access to healthcare, and more. Seeing how systems create or inhibit equity is vital to leaders who want to create organizations where everyone thrives. The belief that rugged individualism or that success is garnered to people merely because they worked hard to get it is fundamentally false.

Understanding the difference between equity and equality is essential to creating systems where everyone can thrive. While equality is when everyone receives the same things regardless of differences, equity is when people get what they need according to their difference so they may participate fully and can succeed. In short, equity embraces differences while equality doesn’t. Neither are bad and determining whether equity or equality is the proper course of action in the attempt to provide an environment of opportunities comes with understanding how those differences impact the ability for individual and systematic opportunity and success.

Systems are currently built and designed to work in the favor of those who have the most power. Learning to see systems can be difficult and requires looking at oneself and looking outward to understand how the self and systems interact. Think of yourself through your various identities – your race, culture, gender identity, etc. How cognizant are you of those aspects of your identity as you go about your day?

People are often much more cognizant of the aspects of their identity that are marginalized or oppressed, rather than those that systems center and therefore support. Which aspects of your identity tend to be privileged? For which ones are there consistent barriers which you must navigate?

Taking time to understand how systems have created privilege and marginalization in a leader’s own story is an important first step for any leader who wants to create organizations where everyone can thrive. Doing so helps leaders to develop “system sight” – the ability to see systems and the leader’s impact on people.

Engaged leaders should measure the success of their organization and the systems they are building not by their ability to provide infinite growth, but rather by the impact their companies are having on their employees and society. How can the power that is associated with leadership be utilized to provide equitable opportunities for all? Ask yourself, what are the outcomes that you want to see when designing systems changes? What are the observable behaviors that help produce that outcome? Are the systems rewarding that behavior and holding people accountable who actively try to derail it?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion requires constant iteration and feedback. Engaged leaders must work with people to understand what is beneficial and what is not and adjust according to that feedback. Without this engagement, or a keen and developed system sight, diversity, equity, is ultimately unreachable.


Listen to Minal and Bill’s full conversation on the ITL Podcast: Creating Equitable Organizations. 

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