The terms we use to describe the equity lens are part of a movement toward the more descriptive, aspirational ideals of access, equity, and inclusion and away from vague, diversity-focused language.

Access ensures that individuals from a broad range of backgrounds can gain access to public institutions, spaces, and services, and have full participation in political, social, economic, and cultural life.

Diversity is having a wide range of attributes, qualities, or beliefs within an individual, group, or community. Having diversity within a specific context does not ensure equity or inclusion.

Equality proposes that we offer the same exact opportunities and supports to everyone. This approach assumes that all people are all starting from the same place with the same needs and that the same opportunities and support will allow them to live full, healthy lives. As we know, social, political, and economic inequalities mean that this is not the case.

Equity is more messy and complex. It asks us to understand where individuals actually are and what their specific needs may be, and to then provide opportunities and support that meet their specific needs and thus allow them the chance to live full, healthy lives. Unlike equality, equity strives to ensure that everyone has access to equal results and outcomes regardless of their starting point.

Inclusion is the degree to which a group, institution, or organization makes genuine space for individuals from all backgrounds to fully participate in decision-making processes and social planning.

dimensions of diversity

Intersectionality is a term coined by American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in the late 1980’s. The term is used to describe the ways in which social identities--such as gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, etc--intersect and overlap in ways that do not allow these identities and related systems of oppression--such as sexism, racism, classism, bigotry, homophobia, etc--to be examined separately.

Privilege is the existence and experience of unearned benefits, advantages, opportunities, rights, and freedoms that are granted to dominant groups in a given context. You do not have to be aware of privileges to experience them.

Stereotypes are assumptions or generalizations made about an entire group/community.

Systematic Barriers are obstacles that work to exclude groups/communities of people from being able to fully engage in social, political, and economic systems, as well as to benefit fully from these systems. These barriers are often hidden and sometimes unintentional, but they provide the framework for how society works.

Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice Glossaries

Below you will find links to a variety of glossaries that define key terms relevant to equity, diversity, and social justice work. Since defining the key terms of this work is a complex, messy process, there is value in having access to a range of definitions used by different institutions and groups for these terms. It’s also important to recognize that as more voices that were traditionally marginalized in large organizations and groups are being included in these conversations, that the definitions of terminology is necessarily fluid and changing as truly diverse voices and experiences are being used to frame the way we think about these terms.

A Working Glossary of Diversity and Social Justice Terms from University of Massachusetts Lowell -This glossary provides working definitions to key terms across a wide range of social justice areas.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation Racial Equity Resource Guide Glossary - This glossary provides definitions for key terms related to work specifically in the area of racial equity.

University of Washington at Tacoma’s Diversity and Social Justice Glossary - This is a comprehensive glossary of terms, rooted in lived experiences, related to equity work which acknowledges that definitions, because they are rooted in lived experiences, are fluid and will change over time.

University of Kansas Library Social Justice Glossary - This glossary provides definitions for key terms for anyone interested in learning more about social justice work. There are also other resources related to social justice work that are linked on the top of the glossary page.

North Seattle College Proposed Diversity Action Plan: 2018-2022. 

Racial Equity Tools Glossary