Diversity Definitions

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect.

It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences.  These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive and nurturing environment.

It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.

The following words and definitions have been gathered from a variety of sources to help define, improve understanding and eventually move toward agreement upon a common language; the hope is that by discussing and agreeing on terms and definitions that misunderstanding will be less and our communication will be stronger.

  • Affirmative Action-actions undertaken with conviction and effort to overcome effects of past practices, policies or barriers to equal employment opportunity; employment equity initiatives, creation of a diverse workforce (some legally or compliance driven), measures to actively promote under-represented groups to ensure that a workforce reflects the community.
  • Ally-Someone who speaks out, in words and actions, on behalf of someone else.
  • Anti-bias-an active approach to challenging prejudice, stereotyping, bias and the “isms”
  • Attitudes-an overall learned core disposition which guides an individual’s thoughts, feelings and actions towards specific others and objects.
  • Bystander-someone who witnesses an act of injustice and does not say or do anything.
  • Culture-is a frame of reference consisting of learned patterns of behavior, values, assumptions and meaning; they are shared to varying degrees of interest, importance and awareness with members of a group; it is expressed in what we do, how we do it, what we say, and how we say it; it is how we identify ourselves.
  • Disability-an inability to perform some or all of the tasks of daily life and/or a medically diagnosed condition that makes it difficult to engage in the activities of daily life.
  • Discrimination (an action) -refers to judgments about individuals that spring from prejudice rather than merit and thus restrict their rights or otherwise exclude, penalize or exploit them; unequal treatment of workers because of race, religion, nationality, gender, appearance, membership, political affiliation, sexual orientation or some other unfair bias.
  • Diversity-the condition of being different or having differences within, among and between people. The essence of diversity is recognizing and responding to the needs of different cultural and occupational groups within the workforce so that they will stay with an employer, be productive and have effective working relationships. Diversity focuses on a broader set of issues than does equal opportunity or affirmative action; various diversity dimensions include race, gender, national origin, religion, age, ability, veteran status, ethnicity, real or perceived sexual orientation, educational background, income, marital status, military experience, communication style, work style, etc.
  • Equal Opportunity-equal opportunity is a legally mandated employment practice that prohibits an employer from segregating, classifying or limiting job applicants or employees based on their age, race, color, national origin, gender, veteran status, disability or religion in any manner that would deprive them of employment or adversely affect their status as employees.
  • Equity Principle-the principles that underlie anti-discrimination laws and practices -that all employees must be treated equally and afforded equal opportunity 
  • Gender-traditionally, gender has referred to grammatical classifications in languages, and sex has referred to the biological classifications to which gender is analogous; anthropologists have used gender to distinguish cultural categories from biological ones. Cultural and biological categories are interrelated, of course, and thus at times it can be difficult to decide which word is more appropriate. Gender has become the preferred form in the 21st century.
  • Gender Identity-how one thinks of one’s own gender. This conviction is not entirely contingent upon the individual’s biological gender/sex.
  • Human Rights-Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 1-30, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights; endowed with reason and conscience; encompasses a broad spectrum of economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights
  • Inclusion-the behaviors and practices that seek out, invite, welcome, allow, engage, involve or in other ways include the participation of others in information sharing, events, dialogue, input, creative initiatives, support, problem solving, decision making, and sharing of resources and control.
  • “Ism”: a movement, doctrine, or system of belief
            • Racism -Prejudice + power; the systematic mistreatment of any group of people which isolates and divides human beings from each other; the systematic discrimination and exploitation of human beings on the basis of race…etc;  prejudice or animosity against people who belong to other races; the belief thatpeople of different races have different qualities and abilities.
            • Anti-Semitism -behavior that discriminates against any “Semite”; culturally it has come to focus on policies, views, or actions that harm or discriminate against Jewish people.  
            • Heterosexism: the system of oppression that reinforces the belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships, thereby negating gays’, lesbians’, and bisexuals’ lives and relationships.
    • Minority-in a strict sense, minority is defined as a smaller number than the majority, however in the context of affirmative action a definition commonly used is “groups that have experienced oppression or have limited to no power or influence”
  • Multicultural Education-is a long-term life commitment and dynamic process; it is for all people, inclusive, beginning of self respect and respect of other culture, it is building awareness, respect, interest and appreciation of the cultures of a variety of racial, ethnic and social groups and a willingness to create policies, programming and practices that that encourage the expression, exchange of information and inclusion of differing cultural perspectives
  • Perpetrator-Someone who says or does something against another person; sometimes called a ‘bully’ in school or in the workplace.
  • Prejudice (a feeling)-to pre-judge; any preconceived opinion of feeling, favorable or unfavorable, formed without knowledge, thought or reason (stereotype).
  • Privilege-an advantage, right or benefit that is not available to everyone; based upon inclusion in a cultural majority.
  • Race-a local, geographic or global human population distinguished as a more or less distinct group by genetically transmitted physical characteristics. Race has also been defined as a group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality or geographic distribution.
  • Sexual Orientation-how one thinks of oneself in terms of to whom one is sexually or romantically attracted. Orientation is not dependent on physical experience, but rather on a person’s feelings and attractions.
  • Stereotype (idea)-an oversimplified generalization about a person or group of people.
  • Target-Someone who is the focus of mistreatment.
  • Valuing Diversity-the recognition that it is not only ethical and fair to make one’s organization accessible to all people, but that their differences in identity, perspective, background and style are in fact valuable qualities and human resources that can significantly enrich and strengthen the organization and its capacity to achieve excellence
If you have ideas or suggestions for this of terms and definitions, feel free to contact the Affirmative Action and Staff Development Office.
Last Update: November 17 2009
For additional information, contact: Debbie Colucci