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Why it’s ok to recognise that not everyone is the same.

At our LGBT* AGM a few weeks ago there were some really good conversations about what we could do to keep growing our network and supporting both the LGBT* members of our organisation, and ensuring as an organisation we are recognising what good looks like in terms of care for LGBT* people, and how we can best collaborate with other networks to support each other.

One thing that came up, that I’ve heard a few times before, is that, when talking to people outside of the network, the answer “I treat everyone the same” is thought to be a good answer when we ask care providers about the services they offer people.

Is that good enough? Are everyone’s needs the same? How do we work with service providers to explain why treating everyone as if they are the same isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. Do we understand why it isn’t?

Kylie Havelock does a great session on Equality vs. Equity that really helped me understand the issues we face when we strive to ‘treat everyone the same’.

The fundamental issue is that when we talk about treating everyone the same, we are often taking about treating everyone like what looks good to us. So, by deciding what good looks like for everyone else, we’re often approaching the problem from the point of view of our own privilege and what we think everyone needs based on our own assumptions and life experiences.

The intent is good, but the delivery is flawed. If we don’t take the effort to understand where someone else is starting from, and what they need, then we can never ensure we are treating them in the way that will most benefit them.

If you search online there’s a few pictures out there that help sum up the difference between Equality and Equity. To put it simply, Equality is where we treat everyone the same. Which assumes the same thing will benefit everyone in the same way. Equity is treating people fairly, looking at what they need to ensure they have access the same opportunities.

The photo below is fairly famous now, or at least the one you have probably seen the most if you’ve been following the conversation about Equality and Equity.

By treating everyone the same we ignore that the individuals in the picture are all different heights, so giving each a box to look over the fence isn’t actually very useful. The tallest person can already see fine and doesn’t need help. The middle person can now see with the aid of the box, but the smallest person still can’t see.

By treating them fairly we give each the help they need. So, we don’t give a box to the tallest individual, as they don’t need it. We give the middle individual one box, so they can see, but we then give the smallest individual two boxes, as they had the most height to make up, and they can also now see over the fence. Which is great.

Interestingly the above picture has its own issues, simply because it suggests that some people just need more of the same help than others, rather than the fact that for some people you need to think of a different approach to your solution.

To put it simply, not everyone can stand on a box, and ignoring that fact means we can spend a fortune investing in boxes to ensure everyone can see over that fence, but in reality we are still not recognising what people might need to ensure equal access. So yes, some people might not need a box at all; some might need one box; some might need two, but others might need a ramp, or if they are visually impaired they might need someone to describe what’s happening on the other side of the fence.

(Credit to: http://muslimgirl.com/46703/heres-care-equity-equality/ )

In a business setting, talking about fairness vs. sameness can be beneficial, especially where people have recognised there is a problem. But sometimes you need to go a step further and help people understand why what works for them isn’t what works for everyone, and that can be a little bit tougher, as that can take a conversation about understanding their own privilege.

In my experience, privilege seems to have become a dirty work, as soon as you try to talk to some people about it, they immediately become defensive, because they assumption is made that you are accusing them of intolerance of some kind.

But the truth is we all have some level of bias based on our own upbringing and experiences. Within the civil service and the public sector we have training to help us deal with unconscious bias, but I think we could go one step further with that training and get everyone to understand their own privilege, and where they are starting from in communications or day to day life in comparison to others.

In some areas we will have more privilege, in others we may have less. Understanding that helps us to understand where others are coming from and can then help us to treat people more fairly, rather than simply treating everyone the same.

If you’ve never examined your privilege there are some interesting tests out there, whatever score you get, the questions alone might help you consider things you’ve never considered as privilege before (be that your race, your ability to afford prescriptions or whether you’ve ever had to hide any elements of your identity.) While there are probably better ones out there, this one on buzzfeed is quite simple and easy to understand for a start.

I got 53%, which if I’m honest surprised me a little, I’d assumed I would get a slightly higher score. But the important thing for me is recognised those areas where I did score a point, and reflecting on those when I’m dealing with others to ensure I am being fair to them and not just treating them how I would expect to be treated because of my own privileges.

For those of us in diversity equality groups, when talking to others we need to check our own privilege, find common ground to start a conversation from, and recognise that as children we’re are often told to “be fair and treat everyone equally” now we just have to be able to help people recognise that Fairness and Equality are not the same thing, and it is important that we can all recognise that.

And when designing or delivering public services, it’s always worth us understanding our privilege, and why we need to ensure the services we delivery are fair and give equal opportunities to all those that may need them.

Originally posted on Medium

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