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Equality v. Equity

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

As a parent (and stepparent to 3 bonus boys), I’ve learned the hard way that what works to motivate one to start (or stop) a behavior may not be an effective motivator for another. While they may share similar values and want similar things, they don’t respond the same way, nor are they motivated by the same things.

During the holidays, my significant and I attempt to be as fair as possible in our gift giving. If we spend $100 on one child, we feel it is necessary to spend $100 on the others.

This approach back-fired one year when one of the boys was upset that he had only one gift to open and the others had several. He wasn’t comparing the dollar value; he was comparing the number of gifts for each of them under the tree. His sulking not only put a damper on the spirit of the day, his reaction forced us to question our approach to our parenting.

The following year, we found ourselves dreading the approaching holiday. We were going into the season with the memory of the “day of doom” we had experienced the year prior. In our determination to be fair (defined as equitable, impartial, objective or free from favor toward either) we decided we would try to spend the same amount of money on the same number of gifts for each.

To make that happen would require math formulas, spreadsheet tracking and calculations – something I avoided as often as possible.

That’s when it dawned on us that we had some work to do not only on our approach to fairness, but our communication around it. Instead of accepting that burden and allowing the entitled attitude to prevail, we decided to manage the expectations and communicate our intent.

Before the holiday set in, we sat with the boys to explain our intentions. We wanted our gifts to have meaning and were given with heart, but this didn’t mean it would equate to the same number of gifts for each. We also clarified that our expectation was gratitude, even if the gift or gifts weren’t exactly what they wanted. What seemed logical to us, wasn’t necessarily logical to them.

These were lessons that needed to be communicated but more importantly, understood.

Noticeably in many companies (or families), the default is to think that if we treat people the “same way” using the “same” criteria we are being fair. But I’ve learned fairness is a perspective, not an action.

Children, co-workers, and even friends don’t respond in the same way because they aren’t motivated or influenced by the same things.

Fairness is a perception.

Same does not equal Fair.

We can lead with the notion of being fair, but we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment. If we expect our leaders or parents to make decisions based on our idea of fairness, we may also be setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Effective leaders understand that we cannot change other people. We can only hope to influence what others think, say or do by recognizing that those we lead (parent) or hope to influence have varying communication styles and preferences, needs, motivations and expectations.


Powerful Perspective

It is our ability and willingness to recognize and acknowledge these differences and then adapt our messages and actions to them that creates effective teams and families.

It begins with awareness and leads to appreciation -- qualities that begin with awareness and move upward toward love.

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