DEI Alphabet Soup: Decoded!  

assorted color candies

Wading through the world of ever-changing terminology and labels can be intimidating. This week we are looking at some commonly used terms that you may come across in the work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), to make it a little less daunting! Keep in mind that these definitions are contextual, meaning that they apply in the context of creating more welcoming and inclusive workplaces and professional spaces. In other contexts, each word may have a different meaning.

We are also aware that words’ meanings change over time as well! The following definitions are our current understanding of each term in a professional context. Today we will be summarizing some of the more generally applicable terms across DEI practice. Let’s start with breaking down this umbrella acronym! 

Diversity: refers to the variety of identities held by members of a group, team, or staff. 

Equity: is to be fair or impartial, accounting for each individual’s particular needs or (dis)advantages  

Inclusion: the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who are excluded or marginalized by systemic powers.

It’s also worth noting that making an acronym out of these three words is sometimes different, depending on the agency or field. The most common ones tend to be DEI and EDI. In different sectors, sometimes other words are added, to create different initialisms, such as: “accessibility” (to make “IDEA”) or “justice” (to make JEDI). 

Accessibility, accessible: refers to how easily a person or people can connect with an idea, service, or place. Common accessibility issues encompass motor (eg. wheelchair access to a building), visual (eg. colour blindness), auditory (eg. hearing issues), learning/cognitive (eg. dyslexia, dyscalculia), and more.  Something that is accessible, such as an event, takes into account these barriers and eliminates or accommodates for the barriers to increase access. 

Ally, Allyship: the practice of using one’s privilege to disrupt systems of oppression, to ultimately benefit members of an oppressed group, to which the ally does not necessarily belong. It can be helpful to think of “ally” as a gift word. This means that you cannot identify yourself as an ally, but you must be identified as allied with someone by that person or group. Allyship is a verb: it takes practice and vulnerability, and a willingness to make mistakes and not take criticism personally. 

Erasure: the act of disregarding or ignoring the presence of something, such as a particular identity. An example is the erasure of bisexual people in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community: some folks insist that bisexuality is simply a ‘gateway’ to being ‘fully straight’ or ‘fully gay or lesbian’, instead of appropriately recognizing bisexuality as its own separate, full, valid identity. 

Equality: the practice of providing the same treatment or resources to everyone, regardless of individual needs; not to be confused with equity

Justice: behaviour or treatment that is just, or fair; in this context, it differs from the goals of ‘equity’ in that it takes action a step further from fair treatment or accommodations for all, to strive for the removal of barriers which block out individuals in the first place. 

Microaggression: We really like this definition from an excellent resource called the Micropedia: “Microaggressions are everyday snubs and insults that marginalized groups face. They’re often very subtle comments or actions that come from implicit bias and/or stereotypes. They might seem like a compliment, a harmless comment, or a subconscious action.” Microaggressions can seem innocuous or minimally harmful in the moment, but like this mosquito bite analogy, can wear greatly on a person’s patience and resilience as they ‘stack up’. 

We hope that makes navigating the world of DEI a little easier on your learning journey! Come back for our next post where we will get into some more definitions related to different social identities and justice topics. Let us know if there are any terms you would like us to define! 

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