So when #IWD announce the annual theme, it never fails to strike a chord, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
Here we are for the 2023 International Women’s Day, which is celebrated across the globe, and is particularly close to my heart as its values and goals align so closely with my own. However, it is vital that we embody these values each and every day of our lives, not just annually.
This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme absolutely fascinates me: equality versus equity. Here we have two words which are often used interchangeably but can have different meanings, especially in the context of IWD. This gave me considerable pause for thought and has created a fantastic lens through which to view a very exciting topic, but it’s one that needs some serious unpacking!
The dictionary definition of equity is ‘the quality of being fair and impartial’ but when I’m going about ‘business as usual’ the word equity leads my thoughts to monetary value; equity finance, equity in a house or in a pension. It also brings to mind examples from my own life. We have four children and each have needed different levels of support over the years – our approach can best be described as ‘fair but not always equal’. In other words, the support – be that financial, moral or both, and everything in between – is based on who needs what and when: proportional fairness. The children themselves may have a different definition!
Equality-based solutions to social issues are predicated on there being no difference in services and policies. However, equity-based solutions take into account the diverse lived experiences of individuals and communities, adapting services and policies according to these differences. A great example of this is cited on IWD’s website: we may all need a stool to stand on but the height will need to be varied for us all to see the same thing, i.e., me being 5ft 3in will need a taller stool than someone who is 6ft.
While the equality versus equity debate is only a microcosm of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and social value, it is a powerful one. When it comes to access to opportunities, the world of diversity and inclusion has to have variables.
Consider, rhetorically, this analogy from IWD’s website concerning the linear nature of the law: imagine two cases of fraud to the value of £1,000,000 and £100 respectively. Both are punishable, but should the scale of the consequence relate to the size of the crime? I can see a vibrant, sparky debate amongst my team…
The IWD theme of equality versus equity has captivated me and sparked some intense thinking on my part and that of my team. Having delved deeply into this we came to the conclusion that, for us, it has to be both – equality AND equity, not versus. This truly brings to life the magic of the theme, and I love it.
In my enthusiasm, I found myself discussing this with a journalist I met randomly from the village next to mine at a recent hospital appointment. He cited the most famous example of equality and equity together in our nation’s history, the creation of the National Health Service under Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s government in 1948. A bold initiative at the time, whose sole aim was to make healthcare no longer exclusively available to those who could afford it but to make it accessible to all those who needed it. It fascinated me enough to look more deeply into Attlee and the Government’s initiatives of the day such as the creation of the Welfare State. How ironic that I met him whilst we were both waiting for our appointments at the NHS.
There is much talk now of healthcare reform in light of increased life expectancy and pressures on the public purse, but let’s not deep dive into that here and now. Perhaps in another blog, now that I’m reading up on Attlee!
I reflected a great deal on the IWD theme and swung back full circle to my day-to-day business life. At X-Forces Enterprise, we give people the tools they need to start a business and be successful. However, this does not presuppose that everyone needs the same support or that they are starting from the same place. To that end, we run free workshops delivering enterprise skills, tailored specifically for military spouses and partners. These take place virtually to maximise accessibility, particularly for those with family or caring responsibilities. Additionally, we have a nationwide network of Ambassadors, successful business-owners from all walks of life, fifty per cent of whom are women. I’m proud to say that 34% of our start-up businesses are female-led (against the nationwide figure of 16.8% taken from the Gender Index), and supporting women through training, networking and access to funding is a fundamental principle at the very core of X-Forces Enterprise.
As a partner of, and contributor to, the Rose Review on female entrepreneurship, I was pleased to recently receive the 2023 Progress Report (an update on Alison Rose’s initial 2019 report). This confirmed that 190 financial services institutions with an investing power of nearly £1 trillion have signed up to the Investing in Women Code. The Code is a commitment by financial services firms to improving female entrepreneurs’ access to tools, resources and finance.
As a final thought, I’d like to return to just how deeply this year’s IWD theme has touched me and caused me to reflect on what we as a company are offering – we can and will do more. I have spoken at length with my team and the concept of equality and equity together will be an intrinsic element of our agenda and debate moving forward and at the very heart of the organisation. I am also discussing with our Head of Learning and Development the prospect of extending this into our other businesses like X-Emergency Services, and I look forward to continuing the debate with colleagues in my other roles. Thank you IWD!
Let’s keep the debate going and think about equality alongside equity and the means by which we can step this up.
Gratitude and Thanks go to my team, our partners big and small, our beneficiaries, and not least the amazing women and men I have the privilege of working alongside who really get that together we are ‘the change.’
Ren Kapur MBE