Equity Mindset: Creating Systemic Change

June 29, 2020
June 29, 2020 Joe Britto

Reading time: about 3 minutes.

Since the killing of George Floyd, the world has turned its attention to the systemic social injustice woven into the fabric of many of our institutions. On June 11 this year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, acknowledged that “systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP.”

That’s true in Canada, and it’s true across the developed world. That may be hard for many to hear. It may be a shock to your worldview. And it may be that you want to turn away. You’re free to do that of course, but right now in the world, there’s a chance to do something else.

Two weeks ago, I posted a blog in support of Black Lives Matter. I said then, that though this blog usually focuses on mindset as it relates to business, I wanted to write about mindset at it relates to social injustice.

What I’m beginning to see now is mindset is the thread to pull on if we want to create equity in our world. That’s because a mindset created systemic social injustice in all its forms. Now we need an equity mindset to repair it.

What is an Equity Mindset?

To answer that, let’s start with what equity means. It’s a term that’s used more and more but also one that isn’t universally defined.

But if we want to talk about an equity mindset, defining it is a good place to start. So let’s begin by being sure about what it’s not. Equity is not the same as equality. Equality is about everyone having the same. But equity is more profound. Because equity is about access. Access to the same quality of healthcare, to the same quality of education, to the same help from police. In short, equity isn’t about giving a group of people a free ticket, it’s about giving all groups the same opportunities to succeed.

Though changes to processes or hiring practices help operationalize social equity; and though our progress can be monitored through surveys, equity begins with a shift in mindset.

An equity mindset is one that seeks to create systems, and ultimately institutions, that provide access to the same opportunities, support, and resources for everyone. It’s not a process; it’s a way of thinking.

Systemic Social Injustice: a Mindset

Social injustice doesn’t just happen. It’s created. And the reason why people create policies that are socially unjust is less complicated that you might think.

If I’m in a position to influence an institution, and if I’m biased against a group of people; those biases bleed into my influence. If I dislike Indians, then any immigration policy I design will have an implicit (or even explicit) bias against Indians.

What I’m saying is this: whatever mindset we hold, that worldview will determine the kind of institutions we create. Seem far-fetched?

In 1908, the Canadian government made an amendment to the Immigration Act. It was called the “continuous journey regulation”. It prohibited immigrants landing in Canada who didn’t travel by a continuous journey from their country of origin or citizenship. The effect was to make it impossible for people from India and Japan to immigrate to Canada: the long distance made it impossible for either group to travel to Canada by direct passage.

For a slightly more explicit version of how mindset creates inequity, think about segregation in the American South. For a more explicit version, think South Africa’s Apartheid system.

The point is our worldview can create injustice.

The Legacy of Systemic Inequity

Now think about this: the people who enforced the continuous journey regulation may not have been racist. But it didn’t matter: the institution they worked for was. And the unequitable worldview of their workplace became normalized, not just in their institution, but in their society.

An institution founded on racism breeds a racist worldview whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s why, if we’re not a visible minority, it’s possible not to see racism. It doesn’t mean it’s not there. It means the systemic racism of the system is working as intended: privileging white people, while disadvantaging everyone else. The only people who see it are the disadvantaged. And inequity ensures they don’t have a voice to highlight the injustice.

A Road Back

The same mindset that created or benefits from inequity can’t be the mindset that fixes it. But that doesn’t mean all white males in positions of power have to quit their jobs. If, in our quest for equity, we don’t allow a road back, then any new system we create will be just as systemically flawed as the one we replace.

There must always be a road back. A way to not demonize and ostracize those that benefit from a system, but instead to find ways for those people to help create the equity we seek.

That’s why I’m talking about a mindset shift. The shift is toward equity. It’s a shift that allows us to see the systemic injustice, and work together, advantaged and disadvantaged alike, to create a system that affords access for everyone to the things we need to thrive.


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