DEI Glossary: Fundamental Terms and Concepts You Should Know

What do diversity, equity, and inclusion mean, and how are they important in the workplace? This article outlines the meanings of these three terms and other fundamental concepts you should be familiar with to create an inclusive workplace.

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace becomes possible only when managers understand these terminologies and know what these fundamentals entail.

What Do We Mean by DEI?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are more than a marketing catchphrase to attract talent to a company. Businesses are using them to make their workforces more efficient, as shown by surveys; diverse teams are 87% better at decision-making than non-diverse teams.

However, DEI only benefits your organization when you understand these terms and other relevant concepts. Here’s how experts describe DEI: 

  • Diversity: It refers to the variation in human characteristics across a population and can include different factors, e.g., age, sex, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • Equity: This word is often confused with equality, but they are strikingly different. Equality implies that every person or group is given the same resources or has access to the same opportunities. Equity, on the other hand, recognizes each person has different circumstances and, therefore, has access to the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Equity focuses on fairness, justice, and sameness.
  • Inclusion: Inclusion refers to providing opportunities to people in traditionally marginalized communities in society. This could include people with disabilities and members of religious or ethnic minorities.

You can leverage distance learning programs to advance your DEI knowledge. As a business manager, you can pursue a diversity and inclusion online course to learn key concepts and gain practical insights into implementing DEI policies in the workplace. These courses help you recognize these concepts and create a tolerant work culture. Here are some fundamental terms and concepts explained for your know-how:

Some Fundamental DEI Terms

  • AAPI: It stands for the descendants of Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander people who can trace their origins to these geographic locations, i.e., the diaspora of these places. (Source)
  • Ableist: An ableist discriminates against individuals with disabilities or treats them inferiorly because of ableism, i.e., the belief that typical abilities are superior.
  • Accomplice: Accomplices are allies who speak in favor of marginalized communities and challenge the status quo openly by risking their societal reputation and physical well-being.
  • Accountability: Accountability means holding organizations responsible for performance against their pre-established objectives and the obligation of the power holders to take responsibility for their actions properly. (Source)
  • Ageist: This person holds negative perceptions of older adults and says that society must only be structured to accommodate the needs of young people.
  • Ally: A person who vocally supports social justice and practically strives to end discrimination.
  • Bias: Bias is “inclination, prejudice, preference, or tendency” against certain people based on their association with the groups and ideas one dislikes. (Source)
  • BIPOC: This acronym stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
  • Bisexual: These people can feel attracted to and engage in relationships with more than two sex and/or gender but not necessarily at the same or to the same extent.
  • Cisgender: It means a person whose gender identity matches their assigned-at-birth sex. This term also goes by “cis,” e.g., cishet white men (in which cishet refers to cisgender heterosexuals).
  • Cultural Intelligence (CQ): The ability to work effectively in and across different cultures without biases. A person with a high CQ isn’t necessarily a cultural expert but can deal effectively with people from different cultures. (Source)
  • Deadnaming: Refers to someone with the name they used before transitioning. For instance, calling Elliot Page by the name Ellen Page will be deadnaming.
  • Discrimination: It means treating people unfairly and negatively because of their sex, race, gender, and other factors, e.g., religion, nationality, and disability. (Source)
  • Gender: It’s described as “a person’s self-representation as male or female,” unlike sex, which comes from the reproductive organs and functions derived from the chromosomal complement. (Source)
  • Genderfluid: This person isn’t associated with a fixed gender but can transition to another gender. This person’s gender may change, and they may start to express themselves accordingly. (Source)
  • Heteronormativity: It’s the belief that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation or superior to all other sexual orientations. For instance, assuming that bisexual people should marry the opposite sex to have kids.
  • Heterosexist: A person who discriminates against people with non-traditional sexual orientations and believes that heterosexuality or “straightness” is the norm.
  • Homophobic: The quality of holding negative views about gay, lesbian, transgender, and non-binary folks.
  • Inclusive language: Using words that don’t maintain gender stereotypes or exclude certain people, e.g., women. Instead of saying layman, you can say laypeople. It’s also called gender-neutral language.
  • Indigenous: This word refers to the communities native to a certain place.
  • Institutional racism: It happens when institutions – schools, police, and governments – mistreat people based on racial differences.
  • Marginalization: Small, subtle, covert, hard-to-prove and barely recognized cases of discrimination are referred to as marginalization, treating people insignificantly to isolate them. (Source)
  • Microaggression: These are everyday insults, letdowns, and offensive actions or remarks faced by some marginalized groups.
  • Misgendering: It’s the act of deliberately or accidentally calling people by the wrong pronoun, e.g., using he/she for someone who uses they/they.
  • Non-binary: It’s an umbrella term used for people who don’t conform to traditional binary beliefs about gender.
  • POC: This acronym stands for the people of color- not only African-American people but also other non-whites.
  • Prejudice: These are preconceived notions held against someone, and all humans are guilty of it.
  • Privilege: It’s the system favoring some historically dominant communities, e.g., straight white men.
  • Queer: This term was and is used for people with non-traditional sexual and gender identities, e.g., gay, lesbian, non-binary, and transgender. Several LGBTQIA+ members have reclaimed this term even though it was deemed derogatory in the past.
  • Safe space: Creating a diverse, inclusive, and gender-neutral environment where everyone feels safe to express themselves without fearing discrimination.
  • Social justice: Social justice means actively working to implement DEI in society.
  • Systemic racism: This happens when the system discriminates against historically oppressed groups, e.g., non-whites.
  • Tokenism: Having a person of marginalized communities without letting them participate meaningfully in group activities, e.g., adding one female to a male-only group without letting her speak her mind.
  • Transgender: Unlike cisgender individuals, transgender individuals do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. (Source)
  • Transphobic: A person who holds negative views regarding transgender people.
  • Unconscious bias: These biases are held unconsciously by people. Also called implicit biases, prejudices like these stay in one’s subconscious and unintentionally favor some people over others. (Source)
  • Undocumented: An alternative term for aliens, i.e., people living in another country illegally.
  • White privilege: White privilege refers to the unfair societal advantages white people enjoy simply due to their Caucasian descent. It means that white-skinned individuals have certain advantages in society a non-white person lacks. (Source)

In short…

DEI is at the heart of what makes organizations successful. It’s essential in the way it nurtures positive relationships among teammates and also provides a framework for systematically addressing disparities and institutionalizing equity. Understand how diversity, equity, and inclusion impact organizational performance since, in some ways, these three principles promote collective intelligence and lead to innovation.

However, when done wrong or without a systemic plan, it can negatively affect an organization. So before you say your workplace promotes this trinity of workplace values, be sure you know what it means and some terminology to do it right. One wrong word, and you could find yourself in a costly lawsuit!

Alex Jones

Business Advisor


  • BBA in Industrial Management from the University of Texas at Austin


  • Business Advisor
  • Real Estate Expert


Alex has gained experience of being an entrepreneur and real estate investor. He helps various business owners to expand their business and guide them to achieve the success they desire. He also writes to help all the aspiring entrepreneur belonging to any industry ranging from real estate, health sector to Information and technology.

Words from Alex Jones

  • “Never wait to fulfill any of your dreams, start working for them today. Don't make an excuse to do it a year later as a year later, you are going to regret that wish I would have done this a year before.”

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