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We need gender equity now. Those are words often uttered in social justice circles, and recently, across a number of headlines. What does that mean? More broadly, how is gender equity different than gender equality?

If gender equality is the end, gender equity is the means.

Gender equality “does not mean that women and men will become the same, but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female.”

Gender equity means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different, but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations, and opportunities.

When we talk about opportunity, we’re talking about ensuring opportunity is not limited simply on the basis of gender. We are talking about correcting for gender biases so that economic outcomes improve for all.

Why do we need equity?

Let’s start at the beginning. In no country are women in equal. In fact, the World Economic Forum projects it will take 170 years to reach gender equality globally, and 158 years in North America. That means it will take five more generations for us to see gender equality – or my great, great, great, great, grandchildren. That’s not only bad news for our daughters – it’s bad news for our sons because gender equality impacts the economic pie for all.

Many of the measures concerning gender equality interplay with the economy and more specifically, the workforce.

Here’s the current state:

In addition to women attaining 57% of bachelor degrees and above in 2015 (that trajectory is projected to continue), they are also the majority of university students in nearly 100 countries. Women are an educated cohort, particularly in the U.S., but they are not making it up the talent pipeline. Why not? Gender bias is causing a leaky pipeline.

How does equity lead to equality?

If gender equity is about fairness, then what we are talking about here is making up for the gap between gender bias and reality. How can we hack the system to give women an equitable shot?

Overall, gender mainstreaming is a very useful strategy. Why? It overlays the gender lens across any action, policy and more. Let’s take an example:

Raising the social security retirement age in the U.S.

Seemingly, this affects women and men equally. Not the case. Not only do women have lower social security benefits, they also live longer, and find it harder to get a job in their later years due to age and gender bias. Raising the social security age disproportionately adversely affects women. If we understood that data, we might make different decisions so that retired women aren’t twice as likely to live in poverty.

Gender mainstreaming our workplace policies including hiring, pay, performance, and promotion enables positive leaps toward gender equality.

Why does gender equity affect all of us?

In addition to the 40% of U.S. households with children under the age 18 where women are the primary or sole breadwinner, in the median U.S. household with a mother working outside of the home, women contribute nearly 40% of their family’s total earnings. Women’s earnings and economic opportunity matter to the majority of families in the U.S.

In fact, in the U.S. we could increase our GDP by $2T to $4T by closing the gender gap (since 1970, it did increase by $2T because women increased their labor force participation and hours). That impacts not only families with children where women work but all families and the U.S. as a whole because it increases the economic pie including jobs and earnings.

Couple that with the growing skills gap in the U.S. (5 million workforce shortage by 2020), women as a growing majority of the educated workforce (noted above) and the fact that they are leaving the labor force (women’s participation in the labor force dropped from 59.2% in 2004 to 57% in 2014, it is projected to drop again to 55.8 by 2024), and we have an issue. The U.S. will struggle to grow its economy without the full participation of women and equity matters (even Tim Cook cited this risk specific to STEM earlier this year).

On the path to gender equality, we need gender equity. In order to have gender equity, we need to change the narrative and focus away from fixing women and put it squarely where it belongs – fixing the system. A system that has generated a leaky pipeline and suppressed economic opportunity at all levels – individual, family, company, and country.

Katica Roy is an ambassador for gender equity in the workplace and beyond. She is the CEO and co-founder of Denver-based Pipeline, a SaaS platform that leverages artificial intelligence to drive economic gains through closing the gender equity gap. Let’s fix leaky pipeline – share your thoughts on how we can improve the narrative.

This article previously appeared on Ellevatenetwork.com

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