Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (September 2021)
How to design an organization for equity in a business world in which inequity continues to thrive
In his classic work, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t, Jeffrey Pfeffer insists that the world is neither just nor unjust: it is. He also challenges “leadership literature” (including his own contributions to it) because celebrity CEOs who tout their own careers as models tend to “gloss over power plays they actually used to get to the top” whereas authors such as Pfeffer offer “prescriptions about how people [begin italics] wish [end italics] the world and the powerful behaved.”
Pfeffer also suggests that those aspiring to power “are often their own worst enemy, and not just in the arena of building power” because of self-handicapping, a reluctance (perhaps even a refusal) to take initiatives that may fail and thereby diminish one’s self-image. “I have come to believe that the biggest single effect I can have is to get people to [begin italics] try to become powerful [end italics].”
With rare exception, those who have obtained power (whatever its nature and extent may be) are reluctant to share it, much less relinquish it. Minal Bopaiah suggests that, “in its simplest terms, equity means fairness. In an equitable society, all people have full and unbiased access to livelihood, education, participation in the political and cultural community, and other societal benefits.” I agree. However, those in power usually determine what is and isn’t “fair.”
According to Bopaiah, equity in an organization has three defining characteristics:
1. Differences between and among those involved are valued, indeed cherished.
2. Those in power support systems that create opportunities for personal growth and professional development.
3. They continue to create additional opportunities for everyone without compromising their differences.
Bopaiah would be among the first to point out that, whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. Moreover, companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable, with the greatest cap value in their industry segment. That is NOT a coincidence.
Long ago, I concluded that (a) enterprise architecture is the most important strategy for achieving organizational success, and (b) equity rather than equality should be the driving force behind the design and implementation of that strategy. The subtitle of Minal Bopaiah’s book refers to the design of an organization “where everyone thrives” or at least has — and believes they have — the opportunity to do so.
In one of his first letters to the Corinthians, St. Paul refers to “many parts, one body.” That is how effective leaders view — and manage — their workforce. Success is achieved with an attitude of “all for one and one for all.”