National Capital Chapter

The Ethics of Equity

By Samantha Villegas, APR

By now I hope everyone has heard of the term equity, specifically as a value from which to base operational decisions. While you don’t see the word equity in the PRSA Code of Ethics, do not be mistaken: equity absolutely is a core business ethic, just like integrity and truthfulness. And it’s woven into our Code in many ways. Before I share how, I want to clarify that equity and equality are not synonymous.

Equity vs Equality

Equality means everyone gets the same treatment. It refers to the decisions you may make as an employer or PR team leading a project. Equity means everyone gets the same experience. It refers to the impact the decisions you make have on your staff or your audiences.

Equity in our Values

I see equity in two of the Code’s values: Loyalty and Fairness

In Loyalty, we are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest. To me this means, as we serve the public interest, we’re mindful that the different decisions we make impact different groups of people in different ways. An even hand isn’t necessarily a fair shake.

The Fairness value refers to our dealings with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.

Let’s consider a common occurrence in our communities that I think lays bare the lack of these two values, and the lack of equity in them:

A government agency hosts a meeting on a topic of interest to many residents on a Tuesday night at 7 pm.

That seems fair because it’s the same date and time for everyone and everyone is welcome to come. But can everyone come? Can the working single mother attend? How about the senior citizen who takes public transportation – does it run at that hour? Does it have a safe drop off near the government building? Is there ample parking for those who drive? Is there closed captioning for people with hearing impairments and textured walkways for people with sight impairments? Does the seating accommodate wheelchairs? Can the man who works the night shift attend?

And that’s just the physical access. What about the intellectual access? How accessible is the language the agency uses when they speak? Is there jargon? Acronyms? Colloquialisms that don’t translate for those who don’t speak perfect English? The average U.S adult reads at a 6th to 8th grade level depending on the source – would the talking points meet that grade level on a Flesch-Kincaid scale? The decision to have this meeting on a weeknight certainly seems fair, but doesn’t serve all the public interest and isn’t truly fair to all.

Equity in the Code Provisions of Conduct

Let’s now consider equity in the Code’s provisions: Free Flow of Information, Competition, Disclosure, Safeguarding Confidences, Conflicts of Interest, and Enhancing the Profession.

What are some ways the idea of equity shows up in these provisions? The answer is in the audience – who’s included, who’s consulted, and how are they impacted.

  • Free Flow of Information – how are you ensuring all audiences have access to the information? Look at the communications channels you are using. Do they favor one group over another?
  • Competition – Where do you advertise for vacancies? Are you casting a net wide enough to consider all types of PR professionals who may meet your qualifications? Do those channels appeal to all ages? All races? All geographies?
  • Disclosure – This speaks to how honestly you are sharing information. Have you stopped to consider whether unconscious bias is baked into your assessment of what to disclose and how much to disclose? Are you pre-judging who would care or need to know information as you assess who to share it with?
  • Enhancing the Profession – This is perhaps the most obvious place where opportunities to be equitable abound as chapter leaders, mentors, employers and employees. A key indicator is how diverse are the people around us, not just diverse in thought, but diverse in demographics and lived experiences, too. Lots of agreement should be a red flag not a green light.

Equity in Employment Policy

The PRSA Code of Ethics is not the only place where equity exists; it should also be woven you’re your company policies, procedures, and culture. Here’s another example:

Your company is rewriting some of its leave policies. For snow days, it will now close when the federal government closes. Those who choose not to work on a snow day when the federal government remains open can use their paid time off for those days.

This is fair. But is it equitable? Some questions to consider:

  • What if schools are closed and the employee has young children at home. Is it fair that through no fault of their own, they have to take PTO to be home with their children, when employees without children do not?
  • What if an employee lives in an area that does not get plowed very quickly. Is it fair to make them risk an accident when other employees do not face the same risk?
  • What if the employee has not been given a laptop and cannot work from home when roads are questionable. Is it fair to make them risk an accident when employees with laptops do not face that same risk?

Equity and The Golden Rule

You may have thought equity is just the latest business buzzword batted around board rooms or taught in Ted Talks. Maybe that’s true. But equity is also rooted in one of the oldest and most widely known rules we live by – The Golden Rule. As the philosopher Samuel Clarke put it, “Whatever I judge reasonable or unreasonable for another to do for me; that, by the same judgment, I declare reasonable or unreasonable, that I in the like case should do for him.” But the Golden Rule is about equality – I do to you, what I would want done to me. Equity requires a slight modification to account for the impact felt by the audience. This was coined by Apprentice CEO Dave Kerpin in 2013 as The Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would want done to them.”

Parting Thoughts

Equity is more than a trend, it’s a core business ethic to embrace. And while it’s not called out by name in the PRSA Code of Ethics, rest assured, it’s in there. Let’s continue the conversation. Reach out to me with your experiences or questions on seeking equity or just ethics in general. You can reach me at or message me on Linked In.