What the Tokyo Olympics can teach us about gender equity

"Gender equity does not mean that men and women become the same. Instead, it means access to opportunities and life changes are neither dependent on, nor constrained by, their sex." Writes Gen Chief of Strategic Projects, Vicky Ernst.

With women accounting for nearly 49% of the 11, 090 participating athletes in the Olympics this year, Tokyo marks a turning point as the most gender-equal Olympics in the games’ history. Additionally, they hosted a total of 18 mixed-gender events, demonstrating their commitment to being the most gender-balanced Olympics in history as well.

Seeing two male and two female athletes on each competing team in the triathlon mixed relay and watching as the athletes gave their best in their individual races to win for their team left me in awe – gender equity in action, in an international stage, no less, is nothing short of inspiring.

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Equity and equality

When it comes to the topic of diversity and inclusion, buzzwords such as equality and equity are thrown around, often without clarification as to the distinction between the two words.

To put it simply, equity is a process that begins by recognizing the advantages and barriers that exists, resulting to an unequal starting place for each of us and making a commitment to address and correct the imbalance. This commitment to consistently engage with our communities to ensure that regardless of our identities, we all can grow, contribute and develop results to gender equality.

Women making up almost half of the athletes who participated in the Olympics for the first time ever since the Games started in 1896 could not have happened If the committee didn’t acknowledge the voices of the athletes who asked for equal qualification opportunities and medal opportunities. Gender equality does not mean that men and women become the same. Instead, it means access to opportunities and life changes are neither dependent on, nor constrained by, their sex.

Striving for a level playing field

At Gen, we’d like to think that we are taking measures to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities – one example is the standard practice of blind hiring throughout the whole organization. Yet we are also aware that like the Olympics, we can always do more to be equitable in our processes. Ensuring equal participation and enjoyment by women and men of socially valued opportunities, resources and rewards will always be an ongoing process.

With Gen being a global village where employees come from different cultural backgrounds, the unevenness of the playing field might be amplified. We acknowledge that as individuals in our respective communities, it is our responsibility to reach out to other members of our organization and learn about their identity and culture, and the struggles they might have experienced because of it. This first step of recognizing that we all don’t start from the same place aims to provide actionable insights to the leadership team in ensuring that we have equitable processes in place across the organization.

“There is nothing more equal than a male and female competing as one team on the same field of play.” – Kit McConnell, International Olympic Committee Sports Director


Image of Vicky Ernst

Vicky Ernst

Strategic Projects

Leading Strategic Projects, Vicky drives Arcadis Gen's strategies through the lens of our customers, people, and markets. Additionally, she is also passionate about inclusion and belonging in the workplace and beyond, and strongly promotes this culture of connectedness.

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