eq·ui·ty : noun; 1. the quality of being fair and impartial.
In my experience it seems, regarding equity, that (a) there is a negativity bias here (we naturally hear more about inequity than we do about equity – more fear than celebration), (b) new and difficult human decisions are constantly being made around politics can create tense times and result in strong feelings of inequity, and (c) it is easier to identify inequity than to know what to do about it, afterwards – you know, like the leadership part.
I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to posture that our human capacity to quickly decipher what fair and equal looks like stems way back in the human story. If you really think about it, it’s understandable why determining the fairness of actions was helpful to our individual and group survival. Also, as educators, I assume that you’ve seen firsthand that even children can demonstrate strong attachments to ideas of unfair or unequal. More importantly, you probably know what its like to be running a class where at least a handful of children – depending on their emotional state that day – are paying attention to you and your equitable decision making capacity intently, as you navigate the equity minefield of classroom management. Some teaching decisions are so obviously non-equitable and others have nuance that can make it difficult to take a stance.
Our program exists as a unified response to what we believe strongly to be a culmination of years of past inequities. With this programmatic foundation, the hyper-tense state of America, our human hard-wiring to examine and judge around fairness, and the conflicted response of social and government institutions to the challenges of the pandemic, I would argue that equity is especially on everyone’s mind – whether they are conscious of it or not.
Where might we start with Leadership for Equity if we take all of this into account?
First, by noticing and celebrating equity when we see it. Notice if someone has made a transformative decision or change and a situation seems to have shifted from unfair to fair. Notice the things that are naturally fair and balanced around you.
Second, if you know of someone that is tasked with making a decision rooted in human equity – like a decision that may affect children, teachers, parents, etc. – and you believe that in the least that individual is invested in making a fair and equitable decision (whether or not it is the same decision you would make), then make a point to let them know that you understand they are putting effort into something that isn’t generally easy and that you appreciate them for it. Let them know that you empathize and that you are hopeful for them. Show compassion.
Finally, the next time you are in that position where you feel unfairness is unfolding right before your eyes, and angering you to the point of urgency that calls you to call someone out; leave or quit the situation; argue them down; take over the conversation; feel uncertain about how to move forward; etc. then consider that based on the intensity and sensitivity of your emotions within that time and space, that what you are contemplating is important and probably also noticed by others. If you feel unsure of how to respond in a moment, but you feel strongly that something needs to change, please consider not reacting in the moment but choosing to respond in a way, later on, that feels right. (This is not counting extreme situations where people are in immediate danger) In my opinion its way better to ask for a 1-on-1 after the situation then to engage in an emotional exchange with an audience (though some moments call for this). Also, the time between the action and the meeting would allow for you to reflect so that you are bringing your best forward in an effort to solve a problem – including your ability to be empathetic to the decision maker. If I could go back and choose responding in this way over (a) risking a damaging confrontation that pushes people further apart or (b) locking up in the moment and doing nothing to respond at the time nor doing anything later on, I’d choose this every time.
Changing the way someone else treats others starts with how you treat yourself and that person that you are hoping will change. Lead with equity, and you will create equitable leaders.