Words have power. Using the correct terminology can eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) the instances of misunderstandings. We encourage employers to become familiar with the verbiage indexed below so that you can powerfully communicate the value of diversity equity and inclusion in your workplace, thereby building a Culture of Respect!

Ability | possessing the means or skill to something. Abilities are not permanent and can fluctuate throughout one’s life.

Ableism | prejudiced thoughts, discriminatory actions, and exclusion based on differences in ability, including differences in mental, cognitive, emotional, and/or physical abilities, stemming from a belief that disabled individuals are inferior to non-disabled individuals.

Accessibility | The extent to which a facility is readily approachable and usable by individuals with physical disabilities, such as self-opening doors, elevators for upper levels, or raised lettering on signs.

Advocate | an advocate is someone who speaks up for themselves and members of their identity group.

Age-ism | prejudiced thoughts, discriminatory actions, and exclusion based on differences in age. Though usually thoughts of in terms of prejudice and discrimination against older persons, ageism can also impact other age groups, such as children or younger adults who are stereotyped as being unable to make complex decisions.

Ally | a person of one social identity group who stands up in support of members of another group. Allies are typically a member of an advantaged social group(s) who uses their social power to take a stand against injustice directed at targeted groups (For example, whites who speak out against racism, or men arguing for equal pay for women).

Androgynous | Identifying and/or presenting as neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine.

Bias (Conscious Bias/Explicit Bias) | the attitudes or beliefs we have about a group that we’re consciously aware of. Bias can present as prejudice, or an inclination or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment. Much of the time, these biases and their expression arise as the direct result of a perceived threat. When people feel threatened, they are more likely to draw group boundaries to distinguish themselves from others.

Bisexual | a descriptor for a person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.

Cisgender | “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as,” and is, therefore, an antonym of “trans-.“ The term “cisgender” is used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth, or people who are not transgender. For example, if you were told you were “male” at birth and still identify that way, you would be cisgender.

Class-ism | prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on a difference in socioeconomic status, income, class; usually by upper classes against lower.

Culture | culture is the pattern 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.

Disability | a person experiences disability when an impairment substantially limits a major life activity or major bodily function, or when there is a history or perception of such a limitation. An impairment may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or some combination of these, and may be present from birth or occur during a person’s lifetime.

Discrimination | the unequal treatment of members of groups based on a race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, national origin, age, physical/mental abilities and other categories. Discrimination is an action that can follow prejudiced thinking.

Diversity |  diversity describes the myriad ways in which people differ, including the psychological, physical, and social differences that occur among all individuals, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, religion, economic class, education, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, mental and physical ability, and learning styles. Diversity is all-inclusive and supportive of the proposition that everyone and every group should be valued. It is about understanding these differences and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of our differences.

Equality | equality is the condition under which every individual is treated in the same way, and is granted same rights and responsibilities, regardless of their individual differences.

Equity | refers to a heightened focus on groups experiencing disproportionate impact in order to remediate disparities in their experiences and outcomes. Equity takes into consideration the fact that the social identifiers (race, gender, socio-economic status, etc.) do in fact affect equality. In contrast to equality, where everything is evenly distributed among people, in an equitable environment, an individual or a group would be given what was needed to give them equal advantage. This would not necessarily be equal to what others were receiving. It could be more or different. Equity ensures that everyone has the resources they need to succeed.

Ethnicity | a social construct which divides individuals into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical base.

Gay | a descriptor for persons who are emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender.

Gender | an idea created by society (A.K.A. a social construct) that tells us what certain genders are “supposed” to be like, based on a group of emotional, behavioral and cultural characteristics (like how we express our feelings or how we dress).

Gender-expansive | conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary gender system.

Gender expression | external appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Gender-fluid | according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a person who does not identify with a single fixed gender; of or relating to a person having or expressing a fluid or unfixed gender identity.

Gender identity | one’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither gender – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Gender non-conforming | a broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category. Other terms include “gender variant” or “gender diverse.”

Genderqueer | genderqueer people typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as “genderqueer” may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female or as falling completely outside these categories.

Gender transition | the process by which some people strive to more closely align their internal knowledge of gender with its outward appearance. Some people socially transition, whereby they might begin dressing, using names and pronouns and/or be socially recognized as another gender. Others undergo physical transitions in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions.

Humility | a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

Inclusion/Inclusiveness | a culture that promotes a sense of belonging, respect and values its people by accepting their individual contributions; authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power.

Intersectionality | the idea that various biological, social, and cultural categories– including gender, race, class, ethnicity and social categories– interact and contribute towards systematic social inequality. This concept recognizes that individuals: 1) belong to more than one social category simultaneously and 2) may experience either privileges or disadvantages on that basis depending on circumstances and relationships.

Intersex | An umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations, where reproductive or sexual anatomy, hormones and/or a chromosome pattern can’t be classified as typically male or female. In some cases, these traits are visible at birth, and in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal variations of this type may not be physically apparent at all. While some people can have an intersex condition and also identify as transgender, the two are separate and should not be conflated.

Lesbian | a woman who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to other women.

LGBTQIA+ | a common acronym standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, intersex, and agender/asexual/ally. LGBTQIA+ is seen as an inclusive and accepting way to refer to the diverse groups within the queer community.

Microaggressions | brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation and religious slights and insults. These messages may be sent verbally (“You speak good English,” and “Where are you really from?”) or nonverbally (clutching one’s purse more tightly), and are usually outside the level of conscious awareness of the individual.

Micro-insults | verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a colleague of color how she got her job, implying she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system.

Micro-invalidations | communications or environmental cues that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of marginalized groups. For example, a white person asserting to minorities that “they don’t see color” or that “we are all human beings.”

National Origin | the country a person was born in or where their ancestors lived, encompassing their country of origin, culture, ancestry, linguistic characteristics, accent, or physical appearance.

Non-binary | an adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories. While many also identify as transgender, not all non-binary people do. 

Prejudice | a prejudgment or preconceived opinion, feeling, or belief, usually negative, often based on stereotypes, that includes feelings such as dislike or contempt and is often enacted as discrimination or other negative behavior; or, a set of negative personal beliefs about a social group that leads individuals to prejudge individuals from that group or the group in general, regardless of individual differences among members of that group.

Queer | a broad term that is inclusive of people who are not straight and/or cisgender. In the past this word was used as discriminatory. Today the word is often used in a positive way by folks who identify as queer as well as by allies of queer/LGBTQ people, however, some people still feel that it is a word that carries negative weight

Religion | a system of beliefs, usually spiritual in nature, and often in terms of a formal, organized denomination.

Sexual orientation | describes a person’s physical, romantic, emotional, and/or spiritual attraction to another person. Everyone has a sexual orientation

Stereotype |  widely held beliefs, unconscious associations and expectations about members of certain groups that are presumed to be true of every member of that group, and that present an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude or uncritical judgment. Stereotypes go beyond necessary and useful categorizations and generalizations in that they are typically negative, are based on little information and are highly generalized and/or inflammatory.

Transgender | an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. Additionally, not all genderqueer or non-binary people identify as transgender – and some people who have transitioned to their true gender choose to identify as just a “man” or “woman” instead of transgender.

Transitioning | the social, legal, and/or medical process a transgender person may go through to make their gender identity fit their gender expression, presentation, or sex. This word means many different things to different people, and a person doesn’t have to experience all or any of these common transitioning elements to identify as their true gender.

Unconscious Bias (Implicit Bias) | attitudes, stereotypes, and beliefs that can affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

* Many of the terms in this glossary have evolved over time, and continue to evolve, often meaning different things to different people. This list is not all-inclusive, nor are the definitions provided universal. They are provided as a starting point for discussions and understanding.

** Remember, the only person who has the power to label someone, is the individual themselves. Consider asking someone what they mean when they use a term, especially when they use it to describe their identity. Always be respectful of how someone chooses to identify, and use their preferred identity, name, and pronouns.