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Approaches to Equity

by Susan Spronk, CAUT Equity Committee Co-Chair, 2021-2023

Inequities amongst academic staff are deeply rooted in history, society, politics and the economy. Most equity work undertaken by academic staff associations focuses on advancing equity at the workplace (e.g. targeted hiring practices, supports for faculty and students that recognize historic inequalities). Equity work can also address inequalities in our communities to help remove systemic barriers to create a more just society (e.g. working in solidarity with student groups to fight tuition increases, working with coalitions on campus to fight for decent working conditions for low-wage workers.  

There are different approaches to equity:  1) inclusion and redistribution, and 2) principled and practical. These sets of concepts are not meant to be strict binaries but rather inter-related ideas that reflect different stages of political processes of institutional change.  

1. Equity as inclusion versus equity as redistribution  

An understanding of equity as inclusion leads to policy responses that seek recognition of historically marginalized groups, or to ameliorate the negative influences of social and cultural difference within institutional spaces and practices. This inclusion approach is a rights-based approach guided by federal legislation including the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988), the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), the Employment Equity Act (1986, revised in 1996), and the Canadian Human Rights Act (1977) In addition, provincial legislation guides and supports institutional practice of inclusion.  

Another approach to equity focuses on redistribution. This approach to equity work suggests that simply including equity-deserving groups in upper-level management, for example, is not enough. Without structural change, our rights that are enshrined in law will not be fully realized and enjoyed by all. Resources also need to be redistributed. Equity policies in collective agreements that aim to redistribute resources include: targeted provisions for leaves and childcare resources, the creation of special research funds for members who are members of equity-seeking groups, affirmative action hiring policies and targeted hiring practices, salary adjustments to recognize historic inequalities (e.g. based on gender or race), provisions for special course releases or compensation for members from equity-seeking groups who take on administrative roles, and recognition of credentials of Indigenous Elders.  

2. Principled versus practical approaches to equity 

Equity is critical for the survival, growth, and transformation of academic staff associations. If the academic staff association fails in equity, it also fails in its mission to address the needs of all of its members. Jojo Geronimo, writing for the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, argues that there are two basic approaches that associations can take to their equity work: the principled and a practical approach. 

Principled Practical
We do equity because it’s right. We do equity because it works.
Equity is a question of principle, a matter of justice and human rights. Equity is a question of strategy, a tool to grow and strengthen the association.
Equity is a goal. We work for equity. Equity is a means to an end: we work for better contracts, with equity as one of our tools.
Equity brings justice to equity-seeking groups who are directly affected by the injustice Once barriers are removed, the association benefits from the greater participation of equity-seeking groups.

Source: Adapted from Geronimo (2014, 3)

It is not necessary to choose one of these approaches over another, as we need both. To get results, we need to be principled, but to also be practical. Being pragmatic without being principled lacks vision, becomes hollow, and we quickly lose our way.  

Basing our academic staff association work on both principle and practical approaches produces lasting results for growth, building movements, and achieving justice.  

References: 

Chan, A. S. (2005). Policy discourses and changing practice: Diversity and the university-college. Higher Education, 50(1), 129–157.  

Geronimo, J. (2014). To Strengthen Unions: Moving Beyond Diversity... Towards Inclusion and Equity. Toronto: Toronto & York Region Labour Council. 

Savage, G. & Sellar, S. & Gorur, R. (2013). Equity and marketisation: emerging policies and practices in Australian education. Discourse. 34. 10.1080/01596306.2013.770244.  

Tamtik, M. & Guenter, M. (2019). Policy Analysis of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategies in Canadian Universities – How Far Have We Come? Canadian Journal of Higher Education / Revue canadienne d'enseignement supérieur, 49 (3), 41–56. https://doi.org/10.7202/1066634ar