Diversity, equity and inclusion terminology

In order to facilitate communication and avoid misunderstandings around sensitive issues, it’s important that everyone is using the same language. We’ve pulled together a glossary to help you and your team get on the same page.


Ableism The system of oppression that stigmatizes, marginalizes, and dehumanizes people on the basis of their perceived lack of “normal” abilities.

Ally — Someone who speaks up on behalf of someone else; using one’s own voice to project others’, less represented, voices.

Anti-Bias An active commitment to challenging prejudice, stereotyping and all forms of discrimination.

Bias — An inclination or preference either for or against an individual or group that interferes with impartial judgment. Treating someone negatively because of their actual or perceived group identity.

Bias Incidents — Any actions committed against a person or group that are motivated in whole or in part, by bias against the person’s or group’s sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, race, religion or disability.

Bigotry An unreasonable or irrational attachment to negative stereotypes and prejudices.

Bullying The repeated actions or threats of action directed toward a person by one or more people who have (or are perceived to have) more power or status than their target in order to cause fear, distress or harm. Bullying can be physical, verbal, psychological or any combination of these three. Bullying behaviors can include name-calling, obscene gesturing, malicious teasing, rumors, slander, social exclusion, damaging a person’s belongings, threats and physical violence.

Cissexism The system of oppression that privileges and normalizes cisgender people while punishing and exploiting transgender people, treating them as deviant, wrong and unacceptable.

The institutional, cultural, and individual set of practices and beliefs that society uses to assign different values to people according to their socioeconomic status; and an economic system which creates excessive inequality and causes basic human needs to go unmet.

Color-Blindness — Term that explains the attempt to disregard racial characteristics in an effort to refute racial discrimination and/or promote meritocratic ideals. Proponents of color-blind practices believe that treating people equally inherently leads to a more equal society and/or that racism and race privilege no longer exercise the power they once did, while opponents of color-blind practices believe that color-blindness allows those in power to disregard or ignore the history of oppression and how it is experienced today.

Cultural Competence — The ability to effectively engage and work with people of different cultural identities and backgrounds in culturally relevant ways; to ensure that information, products and services are offered in ways that respect and promote the cultural values of the intended recipients.

Culture — The patterns of daily life learned consciously and unconsciously by a group of people. These patterns can be seen in language, governing practices, arts, customs, holiday celebrations, food, religion, dating rituals and clothing.

Cyberbullying — Using a computer or other electronic medium to send mean, hurtful or threatening messages or images about another person for the purpose of hurting or embarrassing the person, to pretend to be someone else in order to make that person look bad and/or to intentionally exclude someone from an online group.

Disability — An objectively measurable condition of impairment, physical or mental.

Discrimination — The denial of justice and fair treatment by individuals and institution in many arenas, including employment, education, housing, banking and political rights. Discrimination is an action that can follow prejudicial thinking.

Diversity — Means different or varied. The population of the United States is made up of people from diverse “races,” cultures and places.

Equality — Aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.

Equity — The creation of opportunities for historically excluded and underrepresented populations to have equal access to and to participate in educational programs that are capable of achieving parity in educational outcomes and experiences; includes race-conscious awareness of how race and ethnicity can affect the opportunities available to an individual. 

Ethnicity — Affiliation with a group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality or geographic distribution.

Gender Identity and Expression — A person’s actual or perceived gender-related characteristics, identity or expression whether or not typically associated with the person’s sex at birth.

Harassment — Words, conduct or action (usually repeated or persistent) that, being directed at a specific person, annoys, alarms or causes substantial emotional distress in that person and serves no legitimate purpose.

Hate Crime — A criminal offense committed against a person or group that are motivated in whole or in part, by bias against the person’s or group’s sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, race, religion, or disability.

Heterosexism — A system of oppression that privileges heterosexual identities, relationships and characteristics while marginalizing, stigmatizing and invalidating queer ones.

Homophobia — The fear, hatred or intolerance of lesbians and gay men and/or behaviors that fall outside of traditional gender roles. Homophobic acts can range from name calling to violence targeting LGBTQ+ people.

Identity — A sense of self, of who one is. In the context of diversity, the term identity relates to the various cultural and social group memberships used by people to define, describe or categorize themselves or others, including race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientations, abilities and age.

Implicit Bias — Unconscious unintentional prejudgments about a person based on group affiliation; inflexible positive or negative belief about a particular group of people; operates below the conscious level; “emphasizes ‘all’ people” in this group. Exposes stereotyped thinking.

Inclusion — Involves the active, intentional and ongoing engagement with diversity, where each person is valued, respected and supported for his/her/their distinctive experiences and perspectives to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to experience personal fulfillment and participate fully in the workplace and learning environment.

Microaggression — A statement, action or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group.

Multicultural — Means many or multiple cultures. The United States is multicultural because its population consists of people from many cultures.

Name-Calling — The act of using words, including labels, jokes or other expressions, to describe, demean, taunt or verbally harass a person or group of people.

National Origin — Related to the country in which a person was born or from which the person’s ancestors came.

Prejudice — A prejudgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or groups toward another group and its members. Such negative attitudes are typically based on unsupported generalizations (or stereotypes) that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics.

Race — A group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality or geographic distribution.

Racism — A form of oppression based on the socially constructed concept of race exercised by a dominant racial group over non-dominant racial groups. Racism operates on internalized, interpersonal and institutional levels.

Religion — A system of faith and worship, especially such a system recognized and practiced by a particular church, sect or denomination.

Scapegoating — Blaming an individual or group for something based on that person or group’s identity when, in reality, the person or group is not responsible. Prejudicial thinking and discriminatory acts can lead to scapegoating.

Sex — The characteristics of structure and function that distinguish a male from a female organism.

Sexism — The system of oppression which privileges and empowers men while devaluing and exploiting women. Misogyny is a part of sexism and involves the widespread hatred of and contempt for women and womanhood.

Sexual Orientation — A person’s identity in relation to the gender or genders to whom they are sexually attracted.

Social Justice — The principle that every individual and group is entitled to fair and equitable rights and participation in all aspects of society. The social justice movement seeks to ensure equity and the fair distribution of advantages, including social, educational, economic, civil, and political opportunities. Its focus is to increase understanding of oppression and inequality and to take action to overcome them.

Stereotype — An oversimplified image or statement applied to a whole group of people, without regard for the individual. Stereotypes imply all people in the group are identical, based on some dimensions of diversity they share. Stereotypes often contain a judgment.

Structural Violence — Psychological, physical, and emotional harm that results from unjust and exploitative institutions and systems. Structural violence is born out of an unequal distribution of and access to goods, resources and opportunities, which historically has favored wealthy, white Americans and translates into the way social, economic and political systems are formed.