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Key DEI Terms


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Access definitions of key terms in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

The following definitions are being provided as a guide on how to communicate on topics regarding DEI effectively and appropriately. Please note that this list is a condensed overview of commonly used terms and should not be considered all-inclusive. It is important to note that DEI language is always evolving based on cultural nuances and emerging trends.

Sections below include foundational terms in DEI, bias terms, and terms related to race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, and disability. Also included are common DEI terms in disaster behavioral health.

Foundational Terms

Diversity is the practice or quality of creating a community comprising people of different ages, cultural backgrounds, geographies, physical abilities and disabilities, religions, sexes, gender identities, sexual orientations, etc.

Equality means resources are provided so that all individuals have equal access (each person receives exactly the same resources in exactly the same amount).

Equity means that resources are distributed based on the tailored needs of a specific audience. Equity recognizes that some communities will need more—or different—access compared to other communities.

*Equity and equality do not have the same meaning. Equality is based on giving everyone exactly the same resources, while equity involves distributing resources based on the tailored needs of a specific population.

Inclusion is the act or practice of behaviors and social norms that ensure people feel welcome. In the workplace, inclusion is the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.

Bias Terms

Bias is an inclination or preference that interferes with impartial judgment.

Conscious bias, or explicit bias, refers to the attitudes or beliefs someone knowingly holds. In other words, individuals are aware of their attitudes or beliefs and express them directly.

Unconscious bias, or implicit association/bias, refers to unintentional or automatic mental associations an individual has. Unconscious bias operates outside of a person’s awareness and may not directly correlate with their beliefs and values. Unconscious bias is expressed indirectly since it seeps into a person’s attitudes and behaviors, causing an individual to make assumptions based on limited information to fill in gaps and make decisions.

Microaggressions are everyday verbal, physical, and symbolic insults and slights, whether intentional or unintentional. 

Race and Ethnicity Terms

Antiracism is the policy or practice of actively and consciously opposing racism and promoting racial equity.

BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

Ethnicity is a set of cultural and linguistic traits that individuals belonging to a particular social group share. 

People of color (POC) is used primarily in the United States to describe individuals who are not White.

Prejudice is an unfavorable belief formed without basis. It is a prejudgment or unjustifiable attitude of one individual or group toward another.

Race is a set of traits that define an individual or group of individuals as belonging to a particular social category. Like gender, race is a “social construct,” meaning that how racial groups are defined and how people are assigned to them varies dramatically across countries, cultures, and historical time. 

Racism is a complex system of beliefs and behaviors that result in the oppression of people of color and benefit the dominant group.

Racial equity is the societal condition in which the distribution of resources and opportunities is neither determined nor predicted by race, and in which structures and practices in society provide true fairness.

Social justice is a vision of a society that distributes equal resources to all individuals.

Systemic racism is a form of racism that is embedded into the complex system and structures of an organization, society, etc., and institutionalized procedures or processes that disadvantage people of color, perpetuating racial inequality.

Undocumented is a foreign-born person living in a country without legal citizenship status.

Gender Identity- and Sexual Orientation-related Terms

Several of the definitions in this section come from the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Expression Glossary of Terms (PDF | 326 KB) by the SAMHSA Center of Excellence on LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health Equity.

Cisgender refers to a people whose assigned sex at birth aligns with their gender identity.

Gay refers to a person who is attracted to people of the same sex. It often refers to men who are attracted to other men.

Gender is a set of socially constructed characteristics, such as norms and behaviors, typically associated with being masculine, feminine, androgynous, or other.

Gender bias is behavior that shows favoritism toward one gender over another. Most often, gender bias is the act of favoring men and/or boys over women and/or girls.

Gender expression is the physical manifestation of gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. 

Gender identity is one’s internal sense of being a man, a woman, neither of these, both, or another gender(s). Gender is a social—not biological—construct.

Heteronormativity is the assumption that heterosexuality is natural, ideal, or superior to other sexual preferences.

Lesbian refers to a woman who is attracted to other women. LGBTQ+ is used as an umbrella term to identify lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning individuals as a group. Typically, this abbreviation describes a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, underscoring the diversity of sexuality- and gender identity-based cultures.

LGBTQ+ can also refer to individuals who are non-heterosexual or non-cisgender, instead of exclusively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

LGBTQIA is an abbreviation that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual and/or ally.

Misgendering is referring to or using language to describe a transgender person that doesn’t align with their affirmed gender—for example, calling a transgender woman "he" or "him."

Non-binary refers to a person whose gender is neither only male nor only female.

Pronouns are the words that stand in for other words. Because many personal pronouns have gender (e.g., she, her), people generally like others to use pronouns that match their gender. In addition to “she/her,” personal pronouns include “he/him” and gender-neutral pronouns, such as “ze/hir” or “they/them.” Some people use specific pronouns, any pronouns, or none at all.

Queer embraces a range of genders and sexualities who may not identify with a specific LGBT+ label. It acknowledges the fluidity of gender and sexuality, including people who are not exclusively straight and/or non-binary people. Previously used as a slur, this term is now used by choice and with pride by parts of the LGBTQ+ community.

Sex assigned at birth is the biological category (female, male, or intersex) given at birth based on biological characteristics (i.e., physical anatomy and hormones).

Sexual orientation is a person’s physical, romantic, emotional, and/or other forms of attraction to others. 

Transgender refers to individuals whose gender identity differs from the gender they were thought to be when they were born. Use the name and personal pronouns transgender people use for themselves. If you aren't sure which pronouns to use, ask politely.

Two-spirit is used by some Native Americans to refer to Native Americans who have both a male and a female spirit, or qualities of both genders. While the term was coined in 1990, it is an umbrella term to encompass various terms used for generations in some Native American tribes to identify people who embodied two or more, or alternate, genders. Not all Native Americans or Native American tribes use or recognize the term.

Disability Terms

Disability, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, which the law defines as including seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, interacting with others, and working, among other activities. Many individuals with disabilities prefer to be called individuals with disabilities or people with disabilities, but some do also refer to themselves as “disabled.” Some people also prefer the term “differing abilities” to highlight the fact that all individuals have different abilities (vs. some having abilities and others not having those abilities). 

Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences, such as autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are the result of normal, natural variation among humans.

Commonly Used DEI Terms in Disaster Behavioral Health

Cultural competency is the integration and transformation of knowledge about individuals and groups of people into specific standards, policies, practices, and attitudes used in appropriate cultural settings to increase the quality of services.

Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color.

Intersectionality is the complex, cumulative intertwining of social identities which result in unique experiences, opportunities, and barriers. People may use “intersectionality” to refer to the many facets of our identities, and how those facets intersect. Some use the term to refer to the compound nature of multiple systemic oppressions. 

Underserved is used to describe people who have limited or no access to acceptable and affordable resources or services, including disaster behavioral health services. The term should be used carefully and, where possible, specifics should be provided (e.g., people who are medically underserved, people living in Health Professional Shortage Areas).

Underrepresented refers to populations that are underrepresented in relation to their numbers in the general population.

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