Language Matters

At IQS Research we’ve found that a lot of people are not familiar with the definitions of some common terms used in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We have assembled the following list to help people understand the definitions and the sometimes subtle differences between terms you have probably already heard.

You should also know, that language (all language, not just the language around DE&I) is not static. As the dialogue about race continues, the meaning of some of these terms may also change.

Also, these terms are placed in categorical order, which generally is not alphabetical.

The Terms

Diversity – A diversity focus emphasizes the ways in which people differ, including psychological, physical, and social differences that exist among individuals, such as, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, mental and physical ability. Diversity oriented programs emphasize how diverse organizations are; these types of programs are not equivalent to racial justice or inclusion. It is possible to name, acknowledge and celebrate diversity without doing anything to transform the institutional or structural systems that produce and maintain, racialized injustices in our communities.

Equity – The effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual’s or group’s needs to achieve fairness in outcomes. Working to achieve equity acknowledges unequal starting places and the need to correct the imbalance.

Inclusion – A state of belonging, when persons of different backgrounds and identities are valued, integrated, and welcomed equitably as decision-makers and collaborators. Inclusion involves people being given the opportunity to grow and feel/know they belong. Diversity efforts alone do not create inclusive environments. Inclusion involves a sense of coming as you are and being accepted, rather than feeling the need to assimilate.

Race – A social construct that groups individuals into distinct categories based on physical characteristics, particularly skin color.

Ethnicity – A social construct that groups individuals based on cultural expression and identification such as religion, beliefs, language spoken, cultural origin or background, as well as memories of migration or colonization.

Person of Color – This term is used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white; the term is meant to be inclusive among non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism. When more specific identifiers can be used in place of this term, they should be. For instance, if an individual’s race is known, you should describe them as such (e.g. Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.) not as a person of color.

African American – A term that is typically describing Black people born in the United States who have a family history that directly links to African enslaved people who were brought to the United States between 17th and 19th centuries. This term should not be used to describe all Black people in the United States as not all Black people are African American. For example, some immigrant communities in the US may identify as Black, but not as African American.

Black – Black is an umbrella term for anyone belonging to the African Diaspora, regardless of nationality. Black is appropriate to use when referencing the general Black experience in the United States.

Hispanic – Refers to individuals who share the common language of Spanish. This is not synonymous with Latino/Latina/Latinx. Not all countries in Latin America speak primarily Spanish, for example, Brazil’s official language is Portuguese.

Latino/Latina/Latinx – Any individual of Latin American descent, regardless of their ability to speak Spanish.

Gender Identity– A personal conception of one’s own gender; often in relation to a gender opposition between masculinity and femininity. It is how people externally communicate or perform their gender identity to others.

Sex – The biological classification of male or female based on physiological and biological features. A person’s sex may differ from their gender identity.

LGBTQ+ – An acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.” The plus (+) is inclusive of all other expressions of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Disability – Disabilities are having a physical or mental limitation which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out typical day-to-day activities.

Updated 8/31/2020

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