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How To Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives

Equitythe new book by Minal Bopaiah, is a timely guide to help leaders create more inclusive organizations using human-centered design and behavior change principles. The book is based on research and provides engaging, real-world examples for taking impactful next steps.

Most important, Bopaiah explains that equity is different from equality. 

She shares, “equality is when everyone has the same thing. Equity is when everyone has what they need to thrive and participate fully. Equity does not fault people for being different; it makes room for difference and then leverages it.” 

In short: 

  • Equality = The state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities.
  • Equity = A state of fairness and equal access to opportunity that recognizes that people have different needs. 

Equity allows leaders to create organizations where employees can contribute their unique strengths and collaborate better with peers. Equity in the workplace explains Bopaiah, “is about designing a system, a culture, or an organization so that everyone has an equal shot, however they may define what they are shooting for (success, happiness, work-life balance, etc.).” 

Bopaiah further teaches that “engaged leaders understand that if they want to design more equitable organizations, they need to center people who have historically been pushed to the margins. This beings with the empathic practice of perspective-gathering, where leaders take time either formally (through assessments) or informally (through feedback and conversation) to listen to the experiences and needs of people on the margins.” 

The author admits that “equity is a big ask, and that it requires us to examine fundamental assumptions about the world.” She says her hope is that her book will open a door in your mind – a new way of seeing how we can design our organizations and why equity is so critical. 

I recommend you first read the Discussion Guide toward the back of the book before you read the book. That guide presents thought-provoking, equity, equality, culture and behavior  questions as those topics pertain to individuals, teams and organizations. Your answers to the questions set the stage as you delve into the rest of the book. 

Today, Bopaiah shares these additional insights with us: 

Minal Bopaiah 

Question: Why did you write your book? 

Bopaiah: I wrote the book to help make diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility more practical for leaders in organizations. As I write in the book, my husband, whos a firefighter and paramedic, will never look forward to a one-hour discussion on gender fluidity, even though he was willing to do all the housework while I wrote the book. So, we must find more practical ways to engage people in creating more inclusive and equitable workplaces. 

Question: Why hasn't there been more discussion in the past about equity vs. equality? 

Bopaiah: I believe that there has been significant discussion about equity in education, but it has not gained as much traction in workplaces. Thats because we have been socialized to believe that receiving exactly the same thing is fair, and that difference is unfair. And if were all starting from the same point, thats true. But its clear that life is not a level playing field, and if we really want fair competition, we have to get people to the same level before we ask them to compete. Giving a kid with dyslexia extra time with a tutor in order to learn how to read is not unfair; its just. Similarly, our colleagues and staff may need something we dont offer other employees in order to contribute their strengths. 

That being said, equality is not all bad. Sometimes, equality is the fair choice, such as in marriage equality for LGBTQ+ folks. So perhaps we havent had more discussion about equity *and* equality because it would require us to tow that middle path and value both, but to also employ discernment about which one is appropriate for any given situation. And that sort of thinking requires maturity and wisdom, something were in short supply of these days. 

Question: After reading the book, what are a few "easier" actions a leader can take to design their organization to foster greater equity? 

Bopaiah: There are a lot of things leaders can do to foster greater equity that are simple and straightforward. But whether a leader sees them as easy will depend on how much courage, moral imagination, and mental discipline they have. 

For example, a simple and easy thing for leaders to do would be to establish a salary floor of $70,000 for every employee, which is really what a middle-class salary should be. But will they do it? Ah...theres the rub! 

On a more basic level, leaders could simply manage better by waiting 10 seconds before saying what they think after a comment. Youll be amazed how that simple pause can invite new, innovative ideas. But is it easy for most people to change their behavior? Again, that depends on how good you are at managing yourself. 

The good thing about Equity is that theres a host of simple, straightforward examples of how leaders can create a more equitable environment, and I encourage all leaders to play to their strengths when trying to change themselves or their organizations. 

Question: What are the more difficult challenges a leader will encounter as they apply learnings from your book? 

Bopaiah: You will have to unlearn what you have learned. Little of it is relevant in this new world. The lessons you may have learned growing up about what a leader looks like have changed. Now instead of having the answer, the most respected leaders are the ones who can confidently say, I dont know, but lets figure it out together” or What do you think? 

There can be feelings of loss, shame, or grief with this new education. And thats okay. If you have the courage to face those feelings, your world will open up to new possibilities and new ways of being a leader that allow you to live more authentically and wisely. And so, the reward is much more than the price of admission. 

Thank you to the book’s publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.


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