Applying an Equity Lens to your Organizational Structure

By Kennedy Soileau, Cheif Communications Officer, Washington State Health Care Authority 

Applying an equity lens to your organizational structure

Many factors shape an organization’s culture, including its size, mission, leadership structure, policies, procedures, and competitive landscape. While these factors have long been recognized, a new element should factor into your organization’s structure: the equity lens.

What is an equity lens?

At the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA), every employee is required to apply an “equity lens” to their work. But what does that really mean? At HCA, the equity lens refers to a way of examining and analyzing our policies, programs, practices, and decisions through the perspective of equity. It involves considering the impact and consequences of our actions on different groups of people, particularly those who have historically experienced systemic disadvantages or discrimination.

To assist staff in practicing the equity lens, we developed the Health Equity Lens Toolkit, a guide that poses questions to consider when developing new efforts or revising existing ones. Examples of these questions include:

  • What are the intended outcomes and possible unintended outcomes of the action?
  • Will any groups or communities disproportionately benefit from the action?
  • What is the strategy to mitigate harmful outcomes?
  • Which communities have been informed, involved, and represented in the decision-making process? If not, why not?
  • What are the tribal implications for this action?

Case example: Applying an equity lens to our Plain Language policy

One effective way to influence organizational culture is through regular updates to policies and procedures. At HCA, our policies are up for review every three years. The organization has nearly 200 policies and procedures, and the Communications Division is responsible for six of them.

Recently, our Plain Language policy came due for renewal, and we decided to apply an equity lens to it. With the toolkit in hand, we evaluated the policy’s potential impacts on various groups of people, and we made several small but important changes:

  • Adding our Inclusive Lexicon Guide. The Communications Division has been using an Inclusive Lexicon Guide for several years, yet it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in our Plain Language policy. We added the guide to the References section to bring awareness that such a guide even exists and should be used when writing for external audiences.
  • Defining “culturally appropriate” and “culturally sensitive.” In the definitions section, we added these two terms to acknowledge others’ lived experiences, recognizing that words have different meanings for different communities and cultures. It reminds us to consider the values, beliefs, norms, perceptions, and experiences of others.
  • Removing the assumption that clear English translates clearly into other languages. Our previous policy noted a benefit of Plain Language is to “enable understanding in other languages by translating from clear, concise English documents.” This assumes that clear, concise English translates well into other languages. We changed this to say that Plain Language “…can enable more culturally appropriate translations.”
  • Recognizing that active voice is not always preferred. Rather than requiring active voice, we encourage active voice with the caveat that some cultures prefer passive voice, and it’s important to understand your audience’s preference.

These small changes to our Plain Language policy help solidify our commitment to equity and enables us to take concrete action toward equity.

If we can do this for our Plain Language policy, imagine the impact we could have on our communities when we take an equity lens to all our policies and procedures.

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