Unlocking the Equity Challenge With Communication

By Jeff Doolittle

Communication is one of the most central functions of life. As a coach, it is easy to see the value of partnering in a thought-provoking and creative communication process that inspires clients to maximize personal and professional potential. Whether at an individual, team, organization, or society level, there are numerous examples of communication failures and successes that range from day to day to life changing. The ability to communicate effectively is essential to building trust-based relationships at all levels. According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, most people no longer trust leadership. There is a growing sense of inequity that is undermining trust in America.

Understanding Shared Identity

Social identity theory suggests that we share identity with individuals with whom we associate. And as a result, we are more likely to trust and influence those individuals compared to individuals and groups with which we do not associate. In conversations, we tend to find communication more comfortable and more productive with those we consider “us” versus “them.” According to social identity theory, as individuals, we are more motivated to be receptive and mentally able to process more fully communications with those we identify.

Creating a sense of shared social identity is an essential element to communicating effectively. A social identity experiment with 45 individuals found that perceived similarity facilitated communication quality, and perceived differences lowered communication quality. This study from 2015 reinforced earlier studies that perceived shared identity leads to shared understanding resulting in effective communication. When it comes to communication and social identity, perception is reality.

The Equity Challenge

Equity is one of those words that has become more popular yet is not well understood. I do not mean equity from the financial ownership of assets perspective. I mean equity as in the fairness and freedom from bias or favoritism. Although often confused with the word equality, equity is not mean equality.

Eq·ui·ty: fairness and freedom from bias or favoritism.

  • Bias: A preconceived opinion or blind spot against someone or something.
  • Favoritism: Leading and serving as equals without differences between groups you associate with and groups you don’t.

Inequities in business are more than moral failures, legal risks, or social concerns. They are business value and survival matters—the inequities in business impact employment opportunities, leadership roles, and wages. Business leaders play an instrumental role in creating and ensuring equity in the workplace.

Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, disability, gender orientation, and other characteristics negatively impacts employment opportunities for traditionally omitted groups. Changes are needed to improve employment, leadership, and wage equity in businesses. Although modern companies place a significant emphasis on preventing ethical failures such as those connected to inequity, they still transpire.

Unlocking the Equity Challenge

Creating a sense of shared identity is essential to effectively communicating and a key to unlocking the equity challenge in America. Business leaders and policymakers need to take a more comprehensive approach to understand equity challenges and create a shared identity with those they do not associate.

In a divisive climate, how can leaders create a shared identity?

You may be thinking that diversity limits shared identity, and it is better if we create ambiguity. However, empirical evidence supports that people can still perceive shared identity that connects them even when they are noticeably different. The key is to establish a belief that our differences make us stronger and the expectation that we can be stronger together.

Research suggests that people’s participation in the development of a shared identity makes the adoption of the shared identity easier. It is when people feel alienated and not involved that they resist. Change imposed is change opposed. Research also suggests that creating diversity based shared identity is best introduced at the grassroots level versus a top-down approach. It is more effective to develop a shared identity at the lowest levels of society and organizations such as teams and small groups.

We can each be more effective in our conversation when we approach the discussion from a shared identity created by taking the time to get to know each other and sharing and an expectation and belief that our differences are what make us stronger together. Creating a shared identity begins by “us” drawing an inclusive circle.

“He drew a circle that shut me out-

 Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

 But love and I had the wit to win:

 We drew a circle and took him In!” 

Outwitted by Edwin Markham



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Greenaway, K. H., Wright, R. G., Willingham, J., Reynolds, K. J., & Haslam, S. A. (2015). Shared Identity Is Key to Effective Communication. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin41(2), 171–182. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167214559709

NAGLE, J., & CLANCY, M. C. (2012). Constructing a shared public identity in ethno nationally divided societies: Comparing consociational and transformationist perspectives: Constructing a shared public identity in ethno nationally divided societies. Nations and Nationalism, 18(1), 78-97. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8129.2010.00474.x

Rink, F., & Ellemers, N. (2007). Diversity as a basis for shared organizational identity: The norm congruity principle. British Journal of Management, 18(s1), S17-S27. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8551.2007.00523.xvan Dick, R., Ciampa, V., & Liang, S. (2018). Shared identity in organizational stress and change. Current Opinion in Psychology, 23, 20-25. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.11.005


Jeff Doolittle, MBA has extensive knowledge and expertise in leadership development, talent management, and coaching to grow individuals and organizations. Jeff has experience from start-ups to Fortune 50 public, Forbes 25 private, for-profit, and non-profit organizations across diverse industries. Jeff Doolittle is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI. He can be reached at info@organizationaltalent.com or by calling (616) 803-9020. Visit his blog at https://www.organizationaltalent.com/blog-1 for more ideas to stimulate individual, team, and organizational effectiveness.