Equity, diversity and inclusion glossary
At Delta we’re often asked for concise definitions that underpin the language we use when talking about equity, diversity and inclusion and related topics. Below, we’ve listed definitions for many of the most commonly used equity, diversity and inclusion terms.
Beliefs, processes and practices that generate the idea that there is an ideal non-disabled body or mind, therefore, discriminate against individuals who do not fit in such ideology.
Accessibility refers to the practice and support of making physical or digital environments, resources, information, activities, and/or services easy to access, see, use and benefit from for as many users as possible.
A change in environment, service or equipment which is customarily made to enable a disabled individual to have equal opportunity, access, or participation.
Active listening is the practice of engaging closely with what a speaker is saying and indicating understanding through various methods. Active listening is built on three core conditions: acceptance, genuineness, and empathy. Active listening is necessary to create a safe, comfortable environment to enable someone to talk openly.
Advisory services refer to professional consulting or guidance comprising expert advice, insights, and recommendations. Delta’s unique combination of research and practical expertise means we are well-positioned to provide strategic advice to your organisation on leadership, equity, inclusion and culture transformation. We draw on academic research, insights from your organisational data and employees’ lived experience, together with our own practical expertise and knowledge of best practice within the wider equity and inclusion landscape to shape and operationalise your strategy.
For more information about our advisory services, please see here.
Treating individuals differently based on their age. This often comes from negative and inaccurate stereotypes or perception towards older people.
An ally is someone that aligns with and supports a cause with another individual or group of people. More specifically, they are not a member of a marginalised group, but they want to support them. They do so by taking action to help those within the group.
Being anti-racist means acknowledging that racism is a hierarchy of inequality based on skin tone and that to disrupt the hierarchy, action needs to be taken. If an individual is aware of racism but does not actively challenge it in some way, the status quo remains, meaning that the passive individual is sustaining it.
Find out other racial terms here.
Most people experience anxiety at some time. It is a natural response that is useful in helping us to avoid dangerous situations. It can range from mild uneasiness through to terrifying panic attacks. It can vary in how long it lasts, from a few moments to episodes over many years. This can be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause constant fear and worry. They are characterised by a sudden feeling of worry, fear, and restlessness.
Used to describe someone who has no or little sexual attraction. This can also be described as “ace”. It is important to note that Asexual people are not necessarily the same as “Aromatic people”, who has no or little romantic attraction. Asexual individuals do not always define as Aromatic; and Aromatic individuals also do not always define as Asexual.
Assimilation demands that minorities become a part of the bigger majority group. This requirement or expectation to fit into ‘the norm’ suggests that difference does not count and is not valued within society.
Assimilation takes effort and time – to truly blend in and make aspects of their life disappear, assimilators risk sacrificing their full energy and their full self. Like diversity, assimilation can also lead to a waste of talent.
Benevolent racism occurs when a positive trait is applied to a group of people based on their race. This is often rooted in media portrayals or stereotyping and while the traits themselves may be superficially understood as positive (e.g. seeing a race as being athletic or particularly good at maths), they still have the effect of forcing their objects into a tired stereotype or a prejudice by reducing their multiplicities and contingencies. Benevolent racism may not seek to intentionally cause harm to its objects but it still does.
Benevolent racism is often insidious within societies thanks to widely unchallenged media depictions and cultural stereotypes.
Bias is a personal inclination for or against an object, perspective, person or group. Although bias can be positive, i.e., in favour of a perspective or person, it is usually referred to when it is applied in a negative or unfair way.
Read more about bias here.
An attraction to people of the same gender and other identities. Bisexual people might define themselves using other terms, such as Bi, Pansexual, or other non-monosexual identities.
Building Blocks comprise a series of virtual or in-person stand-alone workshops, typically supplemented with Delta Action Circles.
These are specifically curated to develop a team or individuals’ capacity for inclusion and equity across a selected range of topics. Building Blocks are available in-house (exclusively for your employees) or as open workshops that can be attended by any member of the public.
To find out more about our Building Blocks Workshops, click here.
Used to describe a group of people whose gender identity is corresponded to their sex assigned at birth.
A concept believing that every individual identifies their gender in correspondence with their sex assigned at birth. This is problematic, as those people whose gender identity is different from their sex assigned at birth (i.e., transgender individuals) are considered as “abnormal” within this assumption.
Discrimination or prejudice based on an individuals’ socio–economic status in society. Our society is built on the belief that people with better socio-economic factors, such as income, wealth or education, are superior to others. Although the degree of inequality can vary, classism can be found across all societies.
Coaching is a collaborative and interactive set of structured conversations in which a coach works with individuals or groups to help them achieve specific performance and professional goals. At Delta, we believe that coaching is a key enabler for performance in diversity, for leaders and managers who belong to under-represented or majority status groups. We offer inclusive and culturally intelligent executive coaching in one to one/individual, 3-person and group (Delta Circles) formats.
To find out more about our coaching solutions, click here.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a form of talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but it can be helpful for other mental and physical health problems.
Colour blindness refers to the assertions made by an individual that they ‘do not see colour.’ Usually, this is meant as a rejection of racist prejudices but it is problematic for two key reasons. Firstly, refusing to acknowledge difference can lead to a potentially damaging homogenisation of society which leads to a wilful blindness to different experiences, histories and cultures. Secondly, this inevitably leads to a refusal or an inability to recognise the different forms of discrimination faced by people of colour on a daily basis.
Colour blindness can ignore the experiences of people of colour, leading to an inability to see the systemic racism that governs society. This can make challenging these systems and shining a light on them into a harder task that becomes clouded by issues of white privilege and white fragility.
Coming out refers to someone revealing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to other people for the first time.
Covering is an assimilation tactic. It might include techniques like disguising an accent or using generic pronouns to refer to a same sex partner.
Like assimilation, covering takes effort and time – to ‘cover’ entails sacrificing one’s full energy and one’s full self, leading to a waste of talent.
Delta uses cultural competency in the context of our executive coaching approach. It means being able to understand, empathise and evaluate the various experiences of people across ethnic (including white) groups and the effect that these may have on their career progression.
When we accept that many career experiences in the UK are influenced by cultures and stereotypes, then we can put in solutions for individuals, teams and businesses. These solutions might include culturally competent executive coaching, or using this understanding to get the best out of geographically distributed teams.
Typically following Delta-facilitated workshops, Delta Circles bring the participants back together in smaller peer-support, facilitator-led groups to embed learning and promote change. Delta Circles are facilitated by an experienced coach and subject-matter expert who ensures a supportive and challenging place for learning and provides insights for practical business application of the workshop content.
To find out more about our coaching solutions, click here.
Depression is one of most common mental disorders. It is characterised by persistent sadness and a lack of interest/pleasure in previously enjoyable activities.
Disability is a physical, mental or neurological condition that has a long-term (12 months or longer and be recurring) adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day–to–day activities. Disabilities can be visible or hidden. It is important to bear in mind what language to use – e.g., a disabled person or a person with disabilities – and it is always best to ask the person how they want to be described.
Diversity refers to human heterogeneity – or, put simply, all the things that make humans different in identity, personality, experience, emotions, culture and background.
How confident and proficient people are in understanding and articulating differences in career outcomes for diverse groups, for example: women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQIA+) employees, disabled and Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic staff (Atewologun 2018).
Our engaging and interactive workshops help you equip your targeted audience with skills and knowledge to act in achieving your EDI objectives. Workshops are delivered by experienced Delta facilitators who are experts in the field and offer participants opportunity for discussion and confidential conversation in a safe space. Pre-work is provided ahead of each workshop to enhance participants learning experience, and there is evaluation after each workshop to measure the impact.
When someone engages with emotional labour, they would feel that they need to manage or hide their true emotions to complete your task. In the context of diversity, equity and inclusion, this is often cited to emphasise that how under-represented individuals are emotionally exhausted, and their exhaustion is often ignored, because they are typically expected to fight against inequalities at the front line by sharing their lived experiences and educating others.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Cognitive empathy involves knowing how other people think and feel, while emotional empathy involves understanding and feeling another’s emotions.
Ethnicity refers to the cultural, social, and sometimes ancestral characteristics that distinguish one group of people from another. It is a complex concept that includes various factors, including shared language, religion, traditions, customs, and historical experiences. Ethnicity often involves a sense of identity and belonging among individuals who share these common traits.
Frame of reference
Your frame of reference is the context within which we interpret the world, evaluate various decision options, and reach conclusions. Our individual frames of reference are influenced by a range of factors, such as our family situation, education, culture, and our life experiences.
Gay refers to individuals who are attracted to someone of the same sex. The term is typically associated with men who have romantic/sexual attraction towards men; however, some women choose to use gay as well, rather than lesbian.
Same as race and ethnicity, gender refers to human characteristics that are socially and culturally constructed. It is often displayed in relation to masculinity and femininity, gender has been historically used in society to categorise people into mostly “female” or “male” based on the sex assigned at birth. It is important to highlight, however, that gender identities beyond the female-male binary frame have been recognised across different cultures throughout human history.
A social and cultural belief that there are only two gender identities – men and women – exist. This system is inaccurate, as there are other gender identities outside the gender binary which have existed across different cultures, though many cultures still employ this binary categorisation.
A term describing the feeling of discomfort or unease experienced by people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. When such a sense of distress becomes strong it can cause poor mental health or mental ill health for those individuals.
Referring to people whose gender identity is not fixed and can shift or change over time or depending on the situation. Gender fluid people display and identify their gender differently, such as more inclined to masculinity on some days, and more femininity on other days.
An individual’s congenital feeling or sense of their own gender. It is a personal thing; therefore, should not be determined by others. One’s gender identity does not necessarily match their sex assigned at birth.
An alternative way of referring to minority ethnic individuals including Black, Asian, Brown, dual-heritage, indigenous people. They are often labelled as “minority”, although those groups collectively constitute most of the global population. Whereas the term “minority” or “minoritised” connotes the White-centeredness (that White is majority and others are minority), therefore indicates that non-White people’s identities are always inseparable from White-centredness, the term global majority enables non-White individuals’ identities to exist not in relation to that of Whiteness by affirming their power as most of the global population.
A concept which determines heterosexuality as the preferred and “normal” mode of sexual orientation. Heteronormative social and institutional systems operate based on the assumption of the gender binary believing romantic and sexual relations should be formed between a man and woman.
Also referred to as ‘straight’, a term that describes someone who has romantic and /or sexual attraction towards the opposite sex.
Prejudice, intolerance or irrational fear of members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
An antonym of heterosexual, meaning an individual who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to someone of the same gender. The term was originally used offensively and belittlingly; therefore, the term “gay” is used more generally.
Inclusion happens when all our differences matter or count in a meaningful way. Inclusion happens when you experience a sense of belonging to a group (e.g. your team at work) while also being valued for your uniqueness (i.e., inclusion is not just about belonging). This is a tricky balance, but when achieved, it pays many dividends including empowerment, creativity and retention.
An Inclusion Ecosystem© is a collaborative network of leaders, individuals and teams across your organisation who practise inclusive behaviours and work towards building equitable systems, to embed a culture of inclusion for optimised performance in your business. Change happens over time, and, in people and practices. So, to create and sustain inclusive cultures for business performance, our signature Inclusion Ecosystem© approach means we work at multiple levels with people (e.g., senior leaders, line managers, minoritised professionals) and practices (e.g., processes, policies and everyday behaviours).
To find out more about our Inclusion Ecosystem © programmes, click here.
Focus groups and interviews with individuals, teams and groups across the client organisation to capture anonymised accounts of your culture from the perspective of majority and under-represented group members using our signature ‘Contrasted Samples’ approach. We present our findings in a report to clients in a compelling way, using storyboards, frameworks or tools that foster understanding and engagement, for sustainable inclusive change.
To find out more about our research approach, click here.
Institutional racism is the fact that racist hierarchies (which can have significant and long-lasting effects) are embedded as normal in society (e.g. people moving away from areas that are populated by immigrants to areas that have higher valued property so they can send their children to better-funded schools with higher rates of university success , leading to the chance of getting a better paid job, meaning that you have less contact with police, are able to afford better health care, etc.).
Understanding institutional racism helps break down the myth of meritocracy. In other words, it reveals that high achievers have ‘made it’ because the system has helped them, not just because they are just good but because wider societal organisation has positively skewed their chances of achieving greatness on the basis of luck (plus their hard work).
There is a certain ‘risk’ to our personal and social status in every interaction that we engage at the workplace – such as sending emails, attending meetings, participating in discussion, giving a presentation to a client or providing feedback. This ‘interpersonal risk-taking’ is central to the way in which teams and organisations operate from day to day. But these everyday interactions do carry a certain amount of risk because they can generate a fear of humiliation or rejection from our colleagues. Research suggests that a climate of psychological safety can help organisations manage these interpersonal risks.
Intersectionality recognises that:
- People belong to multiple social categories at the same time (this means, evidently, we all have gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and are born into a certain socio-economic class)
- These social categories are overlapping and interconnected, not independent (this means, for example, that a Muslim woman with autism is not Muslim one day and someone with autism the next day – she is always a Muslim woman with autism, and other identities)
- Everyone’s experience is unique, because experiences of one social category are also linked to membership of their other categories.
We need intersectional skills, mindset and know-how to understand and address the complexities of diversity in our businesses. It’s not about having all the answers for all the differences between and within groups at work; rather, it’s about having the insights and skills to ask the right questions and devise the right solutions that leverage this complexity. Delta aims for inclusive excellence for our clients using an intersectional lens.
Find out more about how we apply an intersectional lens to our work here.
Intersex people are individuals who have biological attributes or sex characteristics (i.e., genitals, chromosomes and/or reproductive organs) that do not necessarily fall into a traditional male/female binary.
Invisible disability (Hidden disability)
An umbrella term referring to a physical, mental neurological disability an individual can have that is not necessarily visible from the outside. The examples of this include cancer survivors, people living with HIV, heart disease etc., or people who have poor mental health conditions.
When describing someone who has Latin American heritage in English language, gender identification of the person was necessary to refer them as either “Latino” or its feminine form “Latina”. However, the term “Latinx” was coined to be a gender-neutral term, enabling the speaker and the listener to avoid the gender binary. Although some criticise this new term as difficult to pronounce or insulting to Spanish language, many LGBTQ+ members who are Latin American ancestry embrace the Latinx term.
Used to describe a woman whose romantic and/or sexual orientation is towards women. Some women prefer to use the term gay rather than lesbian to define themselves.
The acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, (gender) queer or questioning, asexual or ally and + for other gender variants. The order of the letters Q, I, and A and addition of + can differ depending on LGBTQIA+ communities. It is important to remember that the acronym is combination of types of gender identity and sexual orientation (i.e., L, G, B, and A refer to someone’s sexual orientation, whereas T, I, and Q + are gender identity).
As human beings we all have lived experiences. They are gained through direct events or interactions in our everyday lives. However, the reality is that some people’s lived experiences are often more visible and valued than those of others. Lived experiences of people from certain identity groups are considered ‘normal’ – i.e., White, male, cisgender, straight, non-disabled etc. To address this, lived experiences are used as a strategy to legitimise and make the life experience of under-represented individuals visible, and ultimately to balance out inequality.
Medical model of disability
A belief that the disabled person experiences challenges because of their own physical/mental impairments. This model focuses on what is “wrong” in the person, rather than in society. Therefore, the right to autonomy, choices and free informed consent in their own lives are taken from them.
Mental health encompasses all types of health related to the way we think, feel, and behave. We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. We can have good mental health or experience poor mental health, or a mental health condition (this is known as mental ill health).
Mental ill health
The difference between poor mental health and mental ill health is generally the degree and length of time the difficulties experienced impact a person’s wellbeing and functioning at work and outside. Mental ill health is when poor mental health has impacted a person to the point where it could be a diagnosable mental health condition. However, it doesn’t mean there is always a diagnosis sought. Mental ill health generally has more of a significant detrimental impact on a person’s work and personal life than periods of poor mental health, which may be situation specific or time limited.
Meritocracy is a concept that envisions a society and a workplace where progress, opportunities and status only reflect individuals’ abilities and assumes that every individual has an equal and equitable opportunity to achieve success. However, in reality, power and success are due to more than individuals’ abilities. Delayed progress or accelerated advancement in life and work are linked to social factors including family, history and background, and social environment and relationships. Thus, meritocracy is often described as a myth or an ideal because success today is determined heavily by social identities and social systems rather than just an individual’s innate potential.
Microaggressions are small, everyday reminders that your difference is not valued. Examples of microaggressions might include talking over you, mispronouncing your name, others taking credit for your work, etc.
The damaging effects of microaggresssions are increased by their subtlety where those at the receiving end may begin to question if events were actually imagined or whether they actually even happened at all.
Individuals who identify with a specific neurodevelopmental condition such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), autism, dyspraxia or DCD (developmental coordination difficulty), dyslexia, dyscalculia, Tourette’s Syndrome, amongst others.
Natural variations in the cognitive processes of the human brain that encompass all neurotypes.
A social movement that promotes a more positive stance in the unique way neurodivergent people engage with and interpret the world around them. The neurodiversity movement seeks social justice for everyone irrespective of neurocognitive function.
The belief that no one type of brain is superior, right or more normal than the other. The way neurocognitive functioning of the brain is perceived is a social construct. Like other forms of diversity, neurodiversity is subject to power inequities.
The different types of brain function such as neurodivergent, neurotypical etc., which all sit under the umbrella term of Neurodiversity.
Individuals that represent the majority population that do not identify with a neurodevelopment condition.
NICE is the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. This is the independent organisation responsible for driving improvement and excellence in the health and social care system.
Used to describe a person who does not feel comfortable identifying either as a man or a woman. Non-binary identity is broad, and some identify with some parts of binary gender, whilst others refuse it completely.
Othering occurs when an individual is recognised as not fitting in the mainstream norms and labelled as “other”. Research shows that othering has detrimental effect on the mental health and well-being of individuals who may experience it, as they tend to feel excluded or alone. This is particularly likely to happen to those whose identities are under-represented.
Unlike coming out, outing refers to someone’s gender identity and/or sexuality being disclosed to other people without their consent or approval.
An attraction to people of all genders or to others regardless of their gender. Pansexual individuals have romantic and/or sexual attraction which is not limited by sex or gender of others. The prefix “pan” is argued to reject the gender binary system (i.e., men and women).
Poor mental health
Poor mental health is a state that has a negative impact on the way we think, feel, or behave. Poor mental health can cause distress or inability in work settings and impact our day to day interactions with colleagues. It can also impact daily living outside work significantly, including social and family settings.
Positive action, on the contrary to positive discrimination, is a lawful activity. This refers to actions taken before final decisions are made to encourage minoritised individuals to take part in certain activities such as recruitment or promotion by mitigating or removing disadvantages, barriers or inequalities that are often faced by them. These actions also intend to increase the talent pool for organisations in relation to hiring or promotion.
Examples of positive action include providing a mentorship programme to female employees only, or organising career days in black communities because the participation rate in some sectors from the black population is much lower than other racial groups.
A condition of not having to worry that people will treat you negatively based on your identities, such as race/ethnicity, gender or disabilities.
Using a persons preferred gender pronouns is fundamental to show your respect to that person and create an inclusive environment.
In a world which is built upon cisnormativity and heteronormativity, it is very easy for us to unconsciously and instantly assume and categorise others into two gender categories – man or woman – without asking their consent. Therefore, using correct pronouns is even more critical for those who identify themselves outside of the gender binary and it has direct impact on their mental health. It is also important to note that people decide their pronouns, not based on how they “prefer” to be identified, but based on how they need to be identified.
Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor who coined the term, defines psychological safety describes it as: “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” At the very core of psychological safety is a sense of confidence that our voices are heard and valued at work. Psychological safety therefore encourages team members to speak up, ask questions, learn, contribute, and challenge others respectfully more because they don’t fear negative consequences. When there is psychological safety in a group, there’s also an established culture of trust, respect, inclusion, value and support for one another that reduces the fear of interpersonal risk.
Find out more on how help organisations establish psychological safety here:
An umbrella term used for individuals who do not identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender. The term can also be used as a way of rejecting traditional ideas about sexuality and gender in society.
Questioning refers to any individual who is on the process of questioning and exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Race is a social construct that categorises groups of people based on shared physical characteristics, such as skin colour, hair texture, and facial features. It is important to note that race does not have a scientific or biological basis; rather, it is a concept created by societies to classify and differentiate people.
Race is often used as a means to distinguish and group individuals into broad categories, such as Black, White, Asian, Indigenous, and more. However, it is essential to understand that race is a complex concept that includes cultural, historical, and social aspects.
Race confidence enables one to recognise and reduce inequities in everyday processes. Individuals who have race confidence are the ones who can understand and spot inequal situations and disrupt them.
Race fluency is the confidence and proficiency in articulating differences in career experiences and career outcomes by race.
Changes and adjustments that an employer or service provider makes to mitigate or remove disadvantages that disabled individuals might be facing and ensure one’s disability does not substantially disadvantage them.
A biological category (male, female or intersex) assigned at birth based on an individual’s chromosomes, genitalia and reproductive functions.
An individual’s sexual orientation towards others. It is important to note that one’s sexual orientation can be different from their romantic orientation.
Social model of disability
A belief that the disabled person (or the person with disabilities) is disabled by society/their environment. Based on a belief that disabled people are inherently equal, this model looks at barriers in society which make disable people disabled. The model also encourages to proactively consider what we can do to eliminate those barriers and how we can support disabled people.
Structural racism is often used as a synonym for systemic racism. However, while the two terms are closely linked, structural racism tends to place more emphasis on historical structures of racism and how they have contributed to and continue to inform and shape systems in society today.
Understanding the foundations that racist systems have been built on can be a first step to discrediting and undermining them in the society in question.
Often linked to institutional racism and structural racism, systemic racism occurs where the systems (e.g., policies, laws, etc.) that are entrenched within a society display an insidious bias or privilege towards certain members of the community depending on skin colour. Systemic racism occurs not at an individual level, but rather through the default biases built into cultural and societal systems (such as healthcare). These systems then have a disproportionate effect on people of colour who exist within these systems.
Find out other racial terms here: https://deltaalphapsi.com/our-insights/a-glossary-of-racial-terms-as-defined-by-delta-alpha-psi/. Or see the Delta glossary.
An umbrella term describing people whose gender identity is not the same as, or who feel uncomfortable with identifying with, the sex that they were assigned at birth.
A way of describing the process that trans individual may undergo to live according to their gender identity, rather than the gender they were thought/assigned to be at birth. This process varies significantly depending on individuals. For instance, transitioning means telling other their true gender identity or behaving differently according to their gender identity for some, while for others it includes medical intervention
Strong prejudice or hatred against transgender people and the general idea of transness. Transgender and other gender non-conforming individuals may become a victim of discrimination or harassment showed by people who have negative beliefs or feelings on these identities. Trans people may use other gender identities to define themselves, such as non-binary, gender fluid, transgender man (also as trans man, or FTM, an abbreviation of female-to-male), or transgender woman (also as trans woman, or MTF, an abbreviation of male-to-female). The medical term ‘transsexual’ used to be referred especially to those whose bodily characteristics have been altered; however, many people nowadays prefer using other terms.
White fragility is a term describing the emotional reaction (e.g. anger, defensiveness, dismissal/silence) caused by realising that racism affects us all and whether you have been intentional about it or not, you have benefited from a system that puts your skin tone above others.
Understanding the concept of white fragility helps in developing an understanding of why it has taken so long to have these conversations. This is also a key reason why societies with a white majority tend to have low race fluency.
White privilege is the condition of not having to worry that people will treat you negatively on the basis of your skin tone.
White privilege helps for perspective taking, and is important for successful white people to understand. It can be thought of as the benefits of swimming with the current as opposed to swimming against the current, especially when this leads to impatience or frustration with those swimming against the current, and blaming them for ‘not swimming fast enough’.
Not sure where to begin?
We can help.