Note: This is not an exhaustive list of terms used in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Rather, it is intended as a quick-reference guide for terms that are used in DEI work that may not be well-known outside DEI spheres. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are defined first, then followed by other terms in alphabetical order. Links to external glossaries are provided at the end of this document.
At its most basic, diversity is the representation of difference in a given setting. In organizations, diversity means having a variety of people with different identity factors all inter-mixed among teams and levels of the organization. These identity factors include, but are not limited to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, cultural background, native language, national origin and citizenship, veteran status, differences in ablebodiedness and accessibility needs, neurodiversity, religious faith and practice or lack thereof, socioeconomic class, age and generation, education level, communication and learning styles, caregiver and family status, and more. Individual identities are made up of all these factors that establish each person’s perspective, values, and experiences of their environment.
Equity addresses institutional systems to ensure fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement of people regardless of their individual identities, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation in or entry of some groups into an organization. Equity begins with compliance but expands into reducing bias in processes, such as hiring or promotion. Equality is equal distribution or resources and opportunities; equity takes into account historically disadvantages of certain groups and distributes resources and opportunities to bring all groups to equal footing. Equity supports inclusion from the standpoint of fairness and equitable opportunities.
Inclusion is the iterative process of creating environments and cultures of belonging in which any individual or group with different identities will be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued. Inclusion enables individuals to be their authentic selves in the workplace and to fully participate by bringing diverse perspectives to the organization and its functions. Think of inclusion as perpetual team-building.
A note about proper nouns: While racial and ethnic group terms such as Asian and Hispanic have long been considered proper nouns, only recently have mainstream stylebooks adopted the capitalization of Black when referring to race (not the color of inanimate objects). In academic circles, White is usually capitalized for consistency and to prevent the erasure of Whiteness as a category of race. Some argue that capitalizing White is problematic because White supremacist groups tend to adopt this practice. Whiteness is problematic any time a group considers White people superior to other groups, regardless of capitalization. When referring to race, White should also be capitalized.
The intentional design or redesign of physical spaces, technology, policies, system, entity products, and services that increase one's ability to use, access, or obtain something.
This term indicates discrimination against people living with one or more disabilities (mental or physical) or social or institutional structures that do not accommodate people living with disabilities in equitable ways. Most people who live into old age become a person living with one or more disabilities.
Discrimination against people due to their age. Ageism targets different age groups based on the circumstances. For example, in the tech sector, older workers often feel discriminated against despite their experience and institutional knowledge because the industry skews toward younger workers. Conversely, in other industries, younger workers are negatively perceived when compared to workers from older generations.
Allyship is an act or series of acts of using one’s privilege to defend or support another or a group without the same privilege against oppression. Allyship includes reducing one’s complicity in the oppression of disadvantaged groups. Allyship is a behavior not a badge.
Actively engaging in activities that challenge and work to reduce racism in systems, structures, institutions, and behaviors.
Also called Inclusion Disruptor, a bias disruptor has the task of identifying biased comments or assumptions in a group or project and refocusing the group on nonbiased factors. For example, during a group of managers reviewing personnel for promotion, the bias disruptor would refocus the group on the skills needed for promotion to a position rather than an individual manager’s assumption that an employee won’t be dedicated because they have young children.
This acronym stands for Black Indigenous People of Color and has gained popularity in that it centers Blacks and Indigenous groups as having different and often more oppressive experiences than other groups under the People of Color umbrella, such as Latines, Hispanics, Asians, Middle Easterners, Pacific Islanders, etc.
Generally performed via social media as a form of public shaming, cancel culture is a withdrawal of support for (i.e., boycotting) public figures or companies after makin objectionable statements or engaging in controversial behavior that is offensive to one or more marginalized groups. Cancel culture is closely associated with the MeToo movement but originated on Black Twitter.
Cisgender is a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. The term “cis-het” may also be used to indicate someone who is cisgender and heterosexual.
The practice of altering behavior, appearance, and language to fit in. Codeswitching happens for many reasons, but in the DEI context, code-switching typically refers to the practice of people with marginalized identities changing their behavior, appearance, and language to assimilate to the dominant culture and gain access to advantages experienced by people with dominant identities.
A form of subtle racism that takes on the belief that we live in a post-racial society and everyone, regardless of skin color, is treated equally and judged by their character. Colorblindness ignores the reality that people in historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups are treated differently and experience racism and discrimination because of their skin color.
Prejudice and/or discrimination against an individual with darker skin color, tone, shade, pigmentation, or complexion.
This concept is usually applied to situations involving women in leadership positions in which women are held to different standards than men, but can also be applied in situations concerning other underrepresented groups. For example, if a woman acts assertively (as expected of a man), she is condemned as “aggressive” or worse, but if she acts nurturing, others view her as not leading. This dilemma can also be applied to any situation where someone is judged against a traditionally White male standard and punished for acting according to the standard or dismissed as ineffective for not acting in accordance with the standard.
A largely voluntary, employee-led group, normally arranged around a specific identity factor, that promotes a diverse and inclusive workplace aligned with organizational goals and objectives. ERGs are sometimes referred to as Affinity Groups or Business Resource Groups.
ESG takes into account a company’s environmental practices; social impact, which captures how the company interacts with outside parties; and the fairness of its internal governance structure. Measures of ESG are increasingly being used in evaluating a company’s performance.
The assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities. This includes the often implicitly held idea that heterosexuality is the norm and that other sexualities are “different” or “abnormal.”
A style of leadership that values and respects others, treats people with dignity and empathy, employs curiosity, and exercises emotional and cultural intelligence which helps others feel that they belong and can bring their authentic selves to the workplace.
In-groups are the dominant group in any setting whether that dominance is based on skin color, gender, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, ablebodiedness, religious faith, national origin, etc. Out-groups are the non-dominant groups. For example, men are the in-group in most companies and women are the out-group as a result of historical disadvantages that have kept women out of the workplace and out of leadership positions. The in-group is not always the most populous; instead, in-groups may have fewer people, but they have more power and access to resources.
This term takes into account the ways in which an individual can simultaneously experience multiple forms of identity-based oppression. This term was originated by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw who found that, for example, Black women were often in situations where their race and gender in combination made them targets of discrimination. Other examples might be a person living with a disability who is also woman, a transgender person who is also a veteran, etc.
This acronym stands for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and is frequently used in environmentalist work. (See entries for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). The Justice component is the outcome: when communities are more diverse, inclusive, and equitable, they are also just.
This term replaces Latino/Latina, which are problematic due to gender and the absorption of women’s identity into male-centric groups (i.e., a group of 10 women and 1 man would be referred to as “Latino” rather than “Latina” in Spanish). Latinx is unpronounceable in Spanish and cannot be made plural. Latine is both gender neutral and can be pluralized in Spanish.
This acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, intersex, undecided, asexual, pansexual, polyamorous, or any other sexual orientation. Older generations frequently leave off the Q because “queer” was often used as a slur, while younger generations have taken steps to reclaim the word “queer.”
Outright discrimination or overt action clearly identifiable as having prejudicial motives based on but not limited to one or more of the following identity traits: gender, gender identity, race, socioeconomic class, ablebodiedness, immigrant status, religion, sexual orientation, etc. See also, Microaggression.
Any group that is different by mainstream cultural “norms” that may be perceived as deviant and is generally less valued due to that difference of identity.
A small or subtle act or series of acts with underlying hostile or derogatory messages that demonstrate the dominance of a privileged group toward a marginalized group or individual. Microaggressions can take the form of verbal, behavioral, or environmental actions that are discriminatory, insulting, or invalidating.
Misgendering is calling a transgender person by their birth-assigned gender, using nouns or pronouns, rather than their chosen gender identity. Deadnaming is the practice of referring to a transgender person by their former name rather than the name they use to align with their chosen identity. Deadnaming demonstrates a refusal to accept transgender people’s shift in identity.
Mx. is a gender-neutral title of courtesy. Some non-binary individuals use this title, while others prefer to use no title at all.
This term recognizes the vast range of neurological variations in human beings. Most commonly, neurodiversity indicates a person living with a neurological condition such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and more. Rather than being “cured” or considered abnormal, neurodiversity promotes acceptance and equitable treatment of people with neurological variations.
This term refers to someone who doesn’t identify as either a woman or a man on the gender spectrum. A non-binary person may identify as both feminine and masculine. Note: Although the term women+ is gaining in popularity in some medical and technology spaces, non-binary people may be uncomfortable with this term since it combines their identity with womanhood and perpetuates the idea that being non-binary is “women lite.” The intent is to be more inclusive, but that is not necessarily the result of its use.
This is a person-centered term for someone who lives with one or more disabilities that may or may not require accessibility accommodations. Some in the disability community prefer “identity-centered” terminology and would say “disabled person.” It’s best to ask people’s individual preferences.
An umbrella term meaning anyone who is non-White. Use cautiously with the following caveats in mind: 1) POC preserves a White/non-White binary that tends to cast Whiteness as the “norm” and marginalizes other groups while erasing their distinctiveness; 2) It is more productive to refer to the specific group, such as Blacks or Asians, being referenced than to use POC.
Privilege is constituted by advantages that inhere to individuals based on arbitrary factors such as skin color, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, gender, ablebodiedness, etc. and are upheld by systems of power. Privilege is a freedom from fear arising from a person’s identity being different from the dominant group. Most privilege is invisible to the individual who possesses it.
Psychological safety is a component of inclusion. It indicates that an individual employee feels valued for their experiences and perspectives and feels supported in a situation that fosters health confrontation and constructive critiques without fear of repercussions.
The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal – that routinely advantage White people while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.
Supplier Diversity connects companies with suppliers whose owners come from underrepresented groups. Suppliers from diverse backgrounds offer valuable perspectives on business, marketing, and supply chain practices, in particular when interacting with members of their communities. Supplier diversity is a component of ESG and helps to create intergenerational wealth in low-to-middle income communities.
Refers to the symbolic or performative practice of demographic diversity in spaces where people from marginalized communities aren’t truly welcome or invited to fully participate. Their presence only serves to prevent criticism or give the illusion of diversity.
When White individuals experience stress after hearing about experiences of discrimination or oppression lived by persons of color. The usual responses include, but are not limited to: anger, shame or guilt (may be outwardly expressed as tears), withdrawal, silence, or argumentativeness. These behaviors function to re-center White individuals and dismiss the lived experiences of people of color.
Historically the phrase “stay woke” comes from the Black community as an encouragement for individuals in the community to be aware of the discriminatory conditions they face and to continue to resist. However, more recently, “woke” has been co-opted by some non-Black groups and is used in a derogatory manner about DEI and issues surrounding race and racism. The use of “woke” in popular culture is a classic example of cultural appropriation and should not be used outside of the Black community.
Please keep these ideas in mind to make your vocabulary more inclusive.
Please refrain from using the following terms in the ways indicated below.