What is Equity?

Equity is the condition that would be achieved if one's identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. Equity is one part of justice, and thus includes work to address the root causes of inequities, not just their manifestation. This includes elimination and reversal of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race, sexuality, gender, religion, ability/disability, or socioeconomic status.

Equity v Equality people reaching for apples

Supervisor Slocum's Speech on Equity

Remarks from January 7, 2020

"we need a whole new way to keep score!"

For the last 80 years, we’ve bought into the idea that a strong economy is the ultimate compass. If our GDP is strong, we must be doing well.  But a strong economy is only half the picture — only half the scorecard. 

We live at the center of one of the richest economies in the world. We have the 5th largest GDP in the world. There is much prospering in our county. How do we begin to think about equity and inclusiveness in our thriving economy? How many of our citizens are sharing in that prosperity?  

I believe equity resides in our ability to answer a whole new set of questions...  

  • Does everyone in our county have the basic needs for survival - food, water, shelter, safety?
  • Does everyone in our county have the building blocks to improve the conditions of their lives?  Education, healthcare, information technology and a good environment

Several years ago, I was invited to learn about the Social Progress Index – (SPI). It’s a new scorecard methodology based on three overarching community measures - Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity. Within those divisions, there are specific measures like Shelter, Personal Safety and Inclusiveness, Access to Information and Personal Rights to list a few. It’s a framework for defining and measuring the outcomes that add up to an equitable society. It helps us to see clearly if the wealth of our community (GDP) is being translated into the health of our community. Are enough of our citizens sharing in the prosperity or are they falling behind?

Equity is not about perfect equality. It’s about equity of opportunity. We can talk about equity as a concept or an idea – but we cannot manage what we don’t define and measure.

Several years ago, no California county had been measured with the new SPI scorecard and there was no funding to get that done despite the fact that it was flourishing in other countries.

Fast forward to 2020. Funding is no longer an issue and 55 counties have been measured and they can be compared to one another.  The good news is that San Mateo County’s SPI score is high. We rank 4th overall in the state. These are amazing results and our board should be proud.

But there are still alarming gaps and instinctively we know this. The ladder of prosperity for far too many is missing too many rungs. We also know that despite our region’s massive job growth, the issues surrounding “equity” have never been more glaring or challenging. Vast disparities exist in San Mateo County and we know that systemic inequality diminishes us all. Nelson Mandela said, “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”

And that is why equity is top of the list for me. Today, I ask the county manager to explore bold new ways to anchor equity in county government operations as we begin to work on our SPI gaps as we start a new decade. This work might include creating a cultural and equity assessment contract, the creation of equity working groups, the development of equity metrics and the eventual implementation of an equity platform.

The challenges we will face in the new decade can’t be known today but embracing the Social Progress Index as our new equity scorecard and beginning our work on infusing equity throughout the organization will help position San Mateo County to ensure that any historical patterns of injustice become an issue of the past.

I know we will get it right!

Resources to Understand and Promote Equity

Equity as a Concept

“The Curb-Cut Effect (SSIR).”

A seminal document by the Godmother of the Equity movement, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder of PolicyLink. This piece shows the greater gains in prosperity wrought from universal design, how putting the last first actually benefits everyone. 

“Promising Practices in Government to Advance Racial Equity.”

Several municipalities have embraced an equity agenda (Seattle, Oakland, Minneapolis), and Portland’s document strings together some of the most thoughtful and inclusive approaches nationwide. 

"Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture"

A guideline to building race equity culture in the workplace. 

Social Progress Index (SPI)

Ted Talk Explaining SPI

Social Progress Index Website

San Mateo County SPI Data

For More Resources Click Here