Associate dean at OUWB breaks down differences between equity and equality
An image of Dr. Bailey greeting guests after her speech
Tonya Bailey, Ph.D., associate dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion & Community Engagement, greeted attendees of a Juneteenth event hosted by the Rochester Area Democratic Club where she was among speakers.

The difference between equality and equity — and the encouragement of continuous learning regarding both — were the topics of a recent OUWB event held in conjunction with Women in Medicine Month.

“Equity vs. Equality: Knowing Makes the Difference” featured Tonya Bailey, Ph.D., associate dean, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion & Community Engagement.

Bailey has more than 25 years of experience in higher education and has held various leadership roles before arriving at OUWB.

She introduced the terms equality and equity by stating that oftentimes people confuse the two words as synonyms because they sound so similar. However, she explained that both terms serve entirely different functions, and started by delving into the meaning of “equality.”

The meaning of equality

“Equality is about ensuring that each individual is given an equal opportunity…no one should have poor opportunities just because of where they were born, where they come from, what they believe or whether they have a disability,” said Bailey.

“Equality really focuses on fairness – making sure everyone has a portion of fairness at the same level,” she added.

An example Bailey provided for clarification was that when we apply for a driver’s license, everyone is given the same written and vehicle operation test. This presents an equal and fair chance for everyone taking the test.

However, a problem with equality is that it doesn’t consider the varying abilities and needs of a person.

“You can see how when we’re trying to be in the operation of equality, how giving everybody the same thing, the same exam, the same resource may not be equitable,” said Bailey.

Equity explained

Bailey then explained equity.

“Equity then means giving each individual or members of a group the exact same resources or opportunities that will fit their needs,” she said. “With equity, it’s also about ongoing practices that recognize eliminating barriers.”

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She explained the importance of recognizing the difference between equality and equity.

“Understanding this difference is critical, especially if we’re aiming to reduce disparities within our workspaces, our homes, as well as our communities,” said Bailey. “There are so many diverse, lived experiences that we need to consider that can make more lives successful.”

“Understanding that everyone doesn’t start at the same place and the need for making adjustments is vital,” she added.

While equality and equity are different ideas, said Bailey, they complement one another. She added that equity is needed to help break down barriers and achieve a more equal, fair world.

At the end of her presentation, Bailey encouraged people to continue to educate themselves on equality and equity.

“Continue to start coming to sessions like this…it’s OK to know that you don’t know,” Bailey said. “Start looking at different books and ways that you can educate and also talk to other individuals.”

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