Social Equity


Role Of Social Equity In Public Administration

Social Equity in public administration, based on the definition given by the National Academy of Public AdministrationOpens in new window (NAPA), is “the fair, just and equitable management of all institutions serving the public directly or by contract; and the fair and equitable distribution of public services, and implementation of public policy; and the commitment to promote fairness, justice and equity in the formation of public policy.”

Today, social equity is being confronted by a lot of problems, including gaps in health outcomes between races and ethnic groups, unequal access to opportunities, and widening disparities in income, wealth and education.

Unfortunately, the concerns of immigrants, ethnic minorities and other disadvantaged groups are not being as clearly communicated as the interests of the wealthy and “well-off.”

There are four main criteria, through which NAPA measures the level of social equity in public administrationOpens in new window, they include:

  1. Distributional equity — Distributional equity involves fostering a commitment to provide resources, equal access and targetedintervention, such as when efforts are made to correct wrongs and reduce risk factors for historically underserved groups.
  2. Outcome disparities — Disparity is simply a measured difference between two groups on an outcome of interest, for example, differences in average earnings between men and women. Therefore, outcome disparities can be rectified by investigating what causes disparities.
  3. Procedural fairness — Procedural fairness is concerned with a guarantee of due process and equal protection when hiring, promoting and awarding contracts.
  4. Process equity — Process equity can be ensured by providing consistency in service delivery.

Social equity also involves considering the mental and physical conditions, social class, language, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual preference of individuals and groups within a population.

For example, a child, who does not speak English, entering school is at a substantive disadvantage compared to her native English-peaking classmates. Though the entire class may receive equal instruction in language, the non-English-speaking student requires additional tutoring if her training is to be equitable with that of her classmates.

Difference Between Equity and Equality

According to Black’s Law Dictionary (1957):

Equity denotes the spirit and the habit of fairness and justice and right dealing which would regulate the intercourse of men … its obligation is ethical rather than jural, and its discussion belongs to the sphere of morals.

The concept of equity ensures that each individual is treated in a fair and just manner. However, the ways in which specific individuals are treated may need to be adjusted for the sake of leveling the playing field. In contrast, equality assumes that each individual starts out on equal footing and receives equal treatment from the beginning.

Social equality is built upon three pillars. The fundamental aspects of social equality include:

  • ensuring the fair administration of laws;
  • seeking out and qualifying minorities for positions in the workforce;
  • encouraging moral public leadership that motivates individuals and communities to practice social equity.

Over the years both the subject of social equity and its language have changed. Equity is now more broadly defined to include not just race and gender but ethnicity, sexual preference, certain mental and physical conditions, language, and variations in economic circumstances. The words multiculturalism and diversity are now often used to suggest this broader definition of social equity.

Emergence of Social Equity in Public Administration

Emergence of social equity in the field of public administration in the United States began during the 1960s, amid growing national awareness of civil rights and racial inequality. According to early evaluations, social equity initiatives and many other public programs were not being implemented effectively and efficiently for all citizens. The 1968 Minnowbrook ConferenceOpens in new window shed light on an array of issues related to the field of public administration, including social equity.

H. George Frederickson advocated for equity to join efficiency and economy as the third pillar of public administration. According to FredericksonOpens in new window, applying social equity in public administration initially concentrated on “issues of race and gender in employment, democratic participation, and service delivery” after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the late ’60s.

In the early years of applying concepts of social equity to public administration, emphasis was on issues of race and gender in employment, democratic participation, and service delivery. Efficient and economical management of government agencies characterizes the ethics that guided much early reasoning in American public administration.

The logic of those ethics allowed public administrators to assume that the effects of good management, efficiency, and economy would be evenly and fairly distributed among our citizens. Gradually, however, public administration began to acknowledge that many public programs were implemented much more efficiently and effectively for some citizens than for others.

Indeed, public administrators could not logically claim to be without responsibility for some practices that resulted in obvious unfairness and injustice, so an argument emerged for social equity as an added ethic in public administration. Eventually, social equity took its place along with efficiency and economy as the “third pillar” of public administration.

Towards the late 1990s these words became prominent and featured in Shafritz and Russell’s standard text: “The ethical and equitable treatment of citizens by administrators is at the forefront of concerns in public agencies. Reinforced by changing public attitudes, the reinventing government movement and civil rights laws, the new public administration has triumphed after a quarter century.

Now it is unthinkable (as well as illegal), for example, to deny someone welfare benefits because of their race or a job opportunity because of their sex. Social equity today does not have to be so much fought for by young radicals as administered by managers of all ages” (p. 436).

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