Diversity and Inclusion
Our uncertainty of the right words to use to talk about diversity and inclusion can be paralyzing. Most of us are worried we’ll handle it wrong, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing – and as a result, most of us simply don’t talk about race, religion, disability or sexual orientation at work.
But that’s not helpful. In fact, it’s one of the biggest barriers holding organizations back from creating the conditions diverse teams need to thrive.
As Mellody Hobson says in Color Blind or Color Brave? not talking about our differences is dangerous because it means we also ignore related issues like discrimination and the very real barriers to equality.
One thing we see time and time again is that the organizations that tackle diversity head-on and make talking about it part of daily routine are also the organizations with the most inclusive environments.
We want to make it easy for everyone to talk freely about differences without feeling intimidated. And we also want to make it easy to talk about the practice of embracing diversity and increasing inclusion.
That’s why we’re on a mission to build the most comprehensive diversity and inclusion glossary on the web – covering everything from terms to describe race or sexual orientation to types of bias and processes you can use to rectify them.
This is our starter for 10, but we’ll be adding to it and updating it regularly so if you have any feedback or suggestions for tweaks or additions, we’d love to hear from you!
AAPI or API
“Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders” or “Asian-Pacific Americans”. This label has widespread usage across educational and political contexts and was intended to cast off the derogatory “oriental” term in the 1960s. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders share a number of intersecting histories and issues, though some consider the term too broad or reductionist. By reductionist we mean it reduces the nuanced and complex experiences of an individual to an overly simplistic, broad term.
Discrimination against disabilities and people with disabilities, stemming from the belief that there is an ideal non-disabled body or mind.
The design, development or state of physical or digital environments, resources and services that are easy to reach, enter, use, see, etc. for all users.
The tendency to connect with people who look and seem most like ourselves.
A group of people who share the same interest or purpose such as gender, age, religion, race or sexual orientation.
The practice / policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously.
Stereotyping and discriminating against individuals on the basis of their age.
Ally is a term used for people who support a social group other than their own, by acknowledging disadvantage and oppression and taking action on the behalf of others.
Allyship is using your position of privilege to help people from other groups who are typically discriminated against.
Refers to a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction. This can be shortened to Ace, an umbrella term used to describe a variation in levels of romantic and/or sexual attraction, including a lack of attraction.
Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
Using a false assumption to explain someone’s behavior.
Behavioral diversity relates to personal experiences that help shape our world view to be more open-minded and accepting of others who are different than us.
A feeling that you are valued for who you are within a group or community.
An attraction towards more than one gender. People may also describe themselves as bi, queer, and other non-monosexual identities. See also Pansexual.
Attitudes for or against a person, group or concept especially in a way considered to be unfair.
Bicultural refers to having a combination of two distinct cultures. See also Multiracial.
A person with a fear of or antipathy toward bisexual people and bisexuality.
A term meaning “Black, indigenous, and people of color”. This term emerged in 2020 as an alternative to “people of color” to highlight that Black and indigenous groups have unique experiences of racism. However, BIPOC receives some of the same criticism as people of color for being too broad. See also Black and People of color.
A broad term for all people with ethnic origins in the African continent. Less commonly this term is used to refer to all people around the world who are not of white European descent. Note that we encourage capitalizing Black (when you’re talking about race) — this is consistent with usage for other ethnic groups like Asian, Arab, Latinx. In the US, the term Black or Black American is typically preferred over African-American for two reasons: it better describes folks who are many generations removed from African ancestors and don’t identify with Africa, and the term African-American has been criticized by some for being an overly politically correct alternative or even a euphemism for Black.
BME or BAME
An acronym that stands for Black [and Asian] & minority ethnic. As with people of color (see below), there’s been some pushback to these terms in recent years for being too broad and reductionist. By reductionist we mean it reduces the nuanced and complex experiences of an individual to an overly simplistic, broad term.
Refers to a person with an overtly/stereotypically masculine or masculine-acting woman.
Cisgender or Cis
Refers to a person whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. Often used by cisgender allies who by using this term recognize that trans people exist and matter.
Cognitive diversity accounts for differences in our perspective and the way we process information.
Seeking out or only noticing information that reinforces our existing beliefs.
Preconceived, usually negative, feelings towards people because of a group they belong to, like their religion, race, ethnicity or age.
Corporate social responsibility
A corporate business’s responsibility to create a positive impact in its wider community. This includes requirements that are self-imposed and legally mandated.
The act of intentionally downplaying or not revealing something that makes you different from the dominant culture.
The practice and outcome of productively challenging ideas. By having healthy arguments, groups can come up with a range of ideas.
Alignment between an individual’s attitudes, values, behaviors, and beliefs and an organization’s core values and culture.
Calling someone by their birth name after they have changed their name, often associated with trans people who have changed their name. See also Transgender.
An acronym that stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Variations can also include B for belonging and J for justice.
A scattered population that originated from a different geographical area.
A broad term that the World Health Organization describes as, “the interaction between individuals with a health condition (e.g., cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and depression) and personal and environmental factors (e.g., negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social supports)”.
Many often use the word disability to refer to a physical or mental condition only but this fails to acknowledge the many barriers disabled people face that are a result of external factors.
Discrimination is the behavior or action (usually negative) against a certain individual or group based on their shared characteristics. Discrimination can happen as a result of conscious prejudice or unconscious bias.
Diversity refers to the variation between people. This includes parts of our identity that are considered ‘innate’ (like race, age, gender, etc.), and aspects that are ‘acquired’ like cultural fluency and languages spoken.
The most common cultural practice where multiple cultures also exist. This might be a language in a country, a tradition in a geographic region or a set of social norms in a workplace.
The work we put into managing personal emotions at work. Originally coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild to describe the need for people to manage emotions in specific professions, the term is now used more broadly. It’s commonly associated with the emotional effort marginalized people have to put in at work to educate others or protect themselves against bias. See also Emotional tax.
The combination of being on guard to protect against bias, feeling different at work because of gender, race, and/or ethnicity, and the associated effects on health, wellbeing, and ability to thrive at work.
Employee Resource Group
A largely voluntary, employee-led group that promotes a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational goals and objectives.
The state in which everyone is treated the same way, typically working with the assumption that everyone starts out on equal footing with equal opportunities.
Working toward fair outcomes for people or groups by addressing their unique barriers.
The fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a shared cultural tradition.
The tendency to believe that your own ethnic group is centrally important and measure all others using the standards and customs of your own.
Femme is a term used in LGBTQIA+ community to describe someone who expresses themselves in a typically feminine way.
Describes someone who is attracted to people of the same sex as them. Also a generic term for lesbian and gay sexuality – it is typically associated with men but some women define themselves as gay rather than lesbian. Note that homosexual is sometimes used but has medical connotations and a history of being used pejoratively.
Gender is a social and cultural construct. Society has historically divided people into two categories: “female” and “male” — though people who identify as a gender beyond the female-male binary have been traced across different cultures and throughout history as seen in Hijra communities in India. Today, there are over 50 genders that are recognised and used in the English language.
Gender dysphoria is the discomfort felt by people who don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender dysphoria is usually associated with transgender or genderqueer people.
How a person chooses to outwardly express their gender, within the context of societal expectations of gender.
Gender identity is personal: it’s how we feel about ourselves.
Gender privilege usually refers to male privilege, meaning a set of unearned advantages granted to men on the basis of their gender.
Someone whose gender identity does not fit the gender binary of “male” and “female”. This can mean identifying as neither or both “male” and “female”, or a combination of genders.
The practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.
Acronym for Gender and Sexual Diversity.
Publicised by astronomer Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, hepeating is a combination of the words “he” and “repeating”. Hepeating is a situation where a man repeats a woman’s comments or ideas and then is praised for them as if they were his own. See also Mansplain.
‘Straight’ privilege and cis-gendered privilege is the receiving of advantages that are favorably granted to someone solely because of their heterosexual orientation or the gender they identify with.
A person who is sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex. Also referred to as straight.
A strong dislike or fear of homosexual people. See also Homosexual.
Refers to a person who is sexually attracted to people of the same sex. Note that the term can be considered offensive by some because of its history of being used pejoratively. Also see Gay, Lesbian, Bi.
Inclusion is the practice of including people in a way that is fair for all, values everyone, and empowers each person to be themselves.
A form of leadership that intentionally welcomes and incorporates the contributions of all stakeholders within an organization to encourage teams to voice different perspectives, discuss difference of opinion, and inform the overall business strategy.
The tendency to respond more positively to people from our in-groups than we do to people from our outgroups.
Innate diversity is the range of differences in people that we consider inherent like gender, age, race, physical ability and sexuality.
Coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, the term intersectionality refers to having multiple identities that intersect like gender, race, and sexual orientation, which sometimes can offer advantages in some ways, but disadvantages in other ways.
The term used to describe a person who may have the biological attributes of both sexes or whose biological characteristics do not fit within traditional societal assumptions about what it means to be male or female.
A psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their contribution to their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear that they will be exposed as a “fraud”.
Pronounced “Latin ex”, Latinx is a gender-neutral term to refer to people of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity in the United States. In English, Latinx is sometimes preferred as Latino can sound less inclusive because of its grammatically masculine root. In Spanish, Latino can also refer to a group of different genders. Note that Latinx is still a new term and not everyone agrees with its use, with some preferring to be called Hispanic.
Refers to a woman who is attracted to women. Note that some women define themselves as gay or queer rather than lesbian.
The fear or dislike of someone because they are or are perceived to be a lesbian.
The acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual or allied + other gender variants. This is the most inclusive, all-encompassing term for the gay community, including those with non-cis gender identities.
Mansplain is a combination of two words – “man” and “explain”. Mansplaining refers to a man explaining something to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing. See also Hepeating.
The acronym for Middle East and North Africa, typically used to refer to the region. This broad term is often used to refer to culturally similar groups in the region and can be more inclusive than Arab, which excludes groups who do not speak Arabic.
A mentor supports and guides you in your professional world either within or outside your organization. See also Sponsor.
Microaffirmations are small and often subtle actions of inclusion that give the receiver a feeling of being valued and a sense of belonging. These can be as small as making eye contact or acknowledging an accomplishment.
Microaggressions are seemingly harmless but impactful everyday slights and exclusions that negatively highlight an individual’s Otherness.
Multiracial, mixed heritage, dual heritage, mixed-race, mixed-ethnicity – or simply “mixed”
Terms describing a person who has parentage or ancestors from more than one ethnic and/or racial group. Note that some people can get confused between interracial and biracial. An individual can be described as biracial if their heritage is mixed; interracial, on the other hand, is used to describe relationships or interactions between individuals from different racial groups.
A term coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer to refer to the variation in our cognitive function. The word neurodiversity treats conditions that are classified as a developmental disability like autism or long-term mental health issues like bipolar disorder as part of human neurodiversity rather than a deficiency.
Refers to a person who doesn’t identify as only male or only female, or who identifies as both.
A state of being subject to unjust treatment or control either at an individual or systematic level.
Treating a person or group of people as different and usually inferior because they don’t fit in the dominant culture. Othering creates an us-versus-them dynamic that excludes someone who is different.
The tendency to view people from outside our own group as less similar and, as a result, have negative biases against them.
Refers to a person who is attracted to all genders or is attracted to others, regardless of their gender. The key difference between bisexual and pansexual is that bisexual means attraction to more than one gender, but not necessarily all. ‘Pan’ is Greek for all.
People of color (PoC)
An all-encompassing term for any group that isn’t white.
Refers to the (conscious or unconscious, positive or negative) attitudes and feelings one has towards an individual or group of individuals based on certain traits.
One or a set of unearned benefits someone has solely because of their membership in a specific group. These groups are identity based and include race, gender, sexual orientation, ability and religion, as well as privilege related to wealth and class.
Words we use to refer to people’s gender in conversation – for example, ‘he’ or ‘she’. Some people may prefer others to refer to them in gender-neutral language and use pronouns such as they/their and ze/zir. Note that most see their pronouns as just that, not their “preferred” pronouns.
Psychological safety, a term coined and defined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, is interpersonal trust that makes individuals feel they won’t experience negative repercussions for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.
A term to refer to people who don’t identify with traditional categories around gender identity and sexual orientation. Note that it may be viewed to be derogatory by some, though it has gone through a recent phase of reclamation.
Refers to anyone who is questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. Racism can be further defined as systemic or institutional, acknowledging that policies and structures can lead to racist outcomes.
The act of taking control of words and phrases and its associations by a social group who historically have experienced the same language used against them pejoratively. Reclaiming language is also known as linguistic reappropriation.
Sex is the biological category (female or male) given at birth based on physical characteristics, i.e. chromosomes and genitalia.
Sexual orientation is interpersonal and is based on who we are or aren’t romantically, emotionally, and/or physically attracted to. Note that a person’s romantic orientation can also be different from their sexual orientation.
One or a set of advantages held by a person or group because of their experience and their individual or family’s social and economic status.
A sponsor is a powerful internal advocate who looks after your interests, helps connects you to leaders and special projects, and amplifies your amazing work to other senior people in your business. The difference between sponsors and mentors is that mentors give guidance and advice but don’t necessarily have the same influence to effect change that sponsors do.
Stereotypes are cognitive representations of how members of a group are similar to one another and different from other groups. Importantly, people can be aware of the stereotypes they hold.
Fear caused by the perceived risk of conforming to a stereotype about the social group you belong to.
Also known as heterosexual, straight refers to a person who is emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to someone of the opposite sex.
Trans or transgender
Refers to a person whose gender is not the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may also describe themselves as gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, two-spirit, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois. Note that some people use the term transsexual, which is old medical terminology but trans or transgender is typically preferred.
The steps a trans person takes to live in the gender with which they identify. For some, it could involve medical intervention, such as hormone therapy and surgeries, but not all trans people want or are able to have this. This is also called gender affirmation.
The fear or dislike of people or an individual based on the fact they are trans, including the denial/refusal to accept their gender identity.
Deep-seated assumptions we make about people who are different than us without even realizing it – usually called implicit bias or unconscious bias.
Refers to a group whose members are disadvantaged and subjected to unequal treatment by the dominant group, and who may regard themselves as recipients of collective discrimination.
The unquestioned and unearned set of advantages and benefits bestowed on people solely because they are white. Often people with this privilege can be unaware of it as these privileges are perpetuated systemically across institutions including in the law, work, medicine, and more.
White supremacy or white supremacism is the racist belief that white people are superior to people of other races and therefore should be dominant over them.
An atmosphere where all employees belong, contribute and can thrive. It requires deliberate and intentional action.
Dislike of or prejudice against people from a different country than your own.
Zero sum game
The idea that if one person gains something, another person loses something. When doing D&I work, sometimes dominant groups believe that an organization helps make underrepresented groups feel more included, they lose power, influence, and clout.
While collating this glossary of terms, we learned a lot and took note from the following sources:
Catch up with more Inclusion Works podcasts
Each week, we dip into the unanswerable, nuanced and gray areas of inclusion and offer, not answers, but inklings.