How to focus on social equity as you chart the future of your organization, product, or service

Better Still Blog Social Equity image

How to focus on social equity as you chart the future of your organization, product, or service

Better Still Blog Social Equity image

Incorporate four practical, potent tactics into your strategic-development process to support your commitment to equity.

Many organizations are committed to increase their focus on social equity as they make strategic decisions, to promote fair access to products and services, enhance cultural sensitivity, and boost innovation, relevance, and sustainability. Equity, in one definition, is “the effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual’s or group’s needs in order to achieve fairness in outcomes.”1 Paraphrasing another definition, equity is about everyone getting what they need to survive or succeed—access to opportunity, networks, resources, and support—based on where they are and where they want to go.2

Strategic-planning processes have not routinely incorporated equity considerations, so be sure to add them to the steps you follow as you chart your future. Here are four practical tactics you can insert into your processes. They apply whether you’re plotting a new course for an aspect of your business, planning the direction of current or future individual products or services, or seeking to transform your organizational culture.

Enlarge and diversify the representation in your planning group

To increase an emphasis on equity and expand strategic thinking, consider enlarging and diversifying your planning group to include:

  • Individuals with different experiences and insights
  • People who can serve as a voice on behalf of groups or constituencies that have equity concerns or ambitions
  • People who will challenge the status quo
  • People who will ask tough and important questions
  • People who have access to a variety of groups and populations

When you invite these individuals,

  • Welcome their voices and perspectives, and be willing to be influenced by what they add to the process.
  • Add time to the process as the group enlarges and diversifies, so you can have the hearty, real, even challenging conversations to yield a better strategy.

Consider your decision-making process

When you diversify and enlarge your planning group, be certain and clear at the outset about inclusive decision rights and processes.

  • If you seek to include all planning-group members in the decision, then say so early on. Determine whether you’ll aim for consensus or majority vote.
  • If you intend to designate a smaller group to make the final decision about your strategy, then be sure to include diverse representatives among your decision-makers, and communicate that information to the entire planning group. That way, members will understand their role to inform and consult on a decision that others will make.

It’s important to address decision rights and expectations early in the process, so there is no confusion later. But remember this: If you seek to incorporate an equity lens in your strategy process, then be mindful of the power differential that will be established when only a subset of the planning group makes the final call.

Be aware of how you frame the challenge and how you address your mental models

In the early stages of your work together, the strategic-planning group will need to frame the challenge: What are we trying to achieve, and what outcome do we seek? Right away, each of you will come face to face with your mental models—the beliefs and assumptions you hold about your goals together, your organization, your products, your services, your customers, and more.

When you diversify your planning group, and when you add an equity lens to your strategy development, you have an opportunity to examine and challenge mental models that may limit your thinking and undermine the results you seek to achieve. Some questions can aid you and your colleagues:

  • What are we assuming to be true when we frame the challenge in this way?
  • What equity considerations should we be incorporating into our thinking?
  • What blinders might we be applying that hinder our ability to see things clearly
  • How might our frames of thinking inadvertently continue inequities, or make things worse?
  • What frame would be most effective to make things as equitable as possible?

By inviting diverse perspectives—and respectful questions that challenge unhelpful or outdated mental models—you can think more expansively as you chart the future together.

Be smart and wise about the data you collect and use

A worthy plan to chart a course will be based on data; however, data come with their own biases. Especially when you apply an equity lens to your planning, be thoughtful about what data you collect, how you collect it and from whom, and how you make meaning from it.

Ask members of your diverse planning group to advise on equity-focused data-collection methods, as well as to challenge overt or implicit biases that may accompany them. And when you have data to analyze, invite diverse contributions as you make meaning from what you’ve gathered.

  • Determine what data you need, and from what sources. Then ask: Will this data give us the whole picture regarding all the populations we must engage from an equity perspective? What else might we need to do?
  • If you seek to gather data from diverse audiences, then consider whether you have appropriate, trusting relationships with those populations before you approach them. It may be that relationships must be built before you collect data.
  • Design surveys and other data-collection methods with care, to ensure you are culturally sensitive in your questions and how you collect the data.
  • Look beyond quantitative data. Equity-focused leaders increasingly incorporate the lived experiences of different people into their data sets, to develop a more dimensional understanding of equity and other considerations that numbers alone won’t reveal.

As you chart the future of your organization, product, or service, use these practical suggestions to enhance your focus on equity. Consider these as first steps, because a commitment to social equity is a substantial one to make—with substantial rewards and impacts.

1 Key Equity Terms & Concepts: A Glossary for Shared Understanding. Center for the Study of Social Policy.

2 Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Elizabeth Russell, What the Heck Does ‘Equity’ Mean?, Stanford Social Innovation Review, September 15, 2016.


Tom Lowery is Better Still’s content creator and designer, and an expert and consultant in change management, talent management, leadership development, and team optimization. He holds a Masters degree in ethical leadership from Claremont Lincoln University. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, and consults in the U.S. and the E.U. Learn more about the Better Still Teamwork Toolkit—Chart the Future Together.

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