How to Explain the Difference Between Equity and Equality

Image describing equity and equality

A picture can be a powerful method to communicate complicated messages. When I visited the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris a few years ago, I remember my tour guide explaining that the art depictions and carvings throughout were created to communicate important biblical stories and messages to the often illiterate medieval congregants. While they may not have been able to understand words, believers could look at images and understand the Catholic Church’s teachings.

Hundreds of years later, communicators still are using illustrations and images to communicate important, and at times, complicated ideas. To help distinguish why social change communicators should be fighting for equity versus equality for all, the Interaction Institute for Social Change commissioned a new illustration.

This image suggests that if we give everyone the same, “equal” assistance, we don’t actually meet them where they are. Equality assumes that everyone is starting in the same position, or in the case of this image, at the same height. In the end, through the pursuit of equality, we are not helping vulnerable populations “see over the fence.”

Instead, we should pursue equity. This means that we give assistance to all, but ensure that the assistance meets communities where they are to ensure everyone can see over the fence of opportunity.

During Black History Month and other cultural observances reflecting on the struggle for civil rights, the debate between equity and equality persists — whether discussing improved access to quality education, health or income opportunities. The simplicity of this illustration makes a challenging concept so much clearer. Next time you discuss equity, make sure to share this image to prove your point.