Resource: Glossary of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) Terms

Bookmark this page as a reference guide. The list is not comprehensive and continuously updated. The glossary serves as a starting point for communication and learning [last updated 23 March 2022].


Able-Bodied: A person without a disability.

Ableism: A discrimination against people with disabilities as they are considered altered or needs “fixing”. This belief assumes able-bodied persons to be “normal”. It leads to a lack of accessibility and understanding of people with disabilities (PwDs).

Aboriginal: They are the first occupants of a geographical area. Using “Abo”, its shortened version is considered offensive and insulting.

Accent: The unique way of expression characterised by the inflection, tone, or emphasis on pronunciation distinct from the listeners. Labelling an individual as having a thick accent can be misconstrued as a form of stereotyping where they are thought of as an “other” or “lesser”.

Accessibility: The degree of “openness to access” of a particular product, service, or environment by as many people as possible. Assistive technology, such as computer screen readers, is an accessible design that guarantees both direct (unassisted) and indirect access. Universal design, meanwhile, ensures that all people have access to an environment to the greatest extent possible.

Accommodation: Refers to improving the way things are traditionally done, which allows an individual with a disability to have equal opportunity, access and participation.

Acculturation: Process by which a person picks up a second culture. 

Affirmative Action: Putting tangible steps in place to remove discrimination. 

Age/Ageism: Refers to the chronological number of years since a person’s birth, wherein people are identified discriminatorily as “too young” or “too old.” 

Agender: A person without a gender. 

Ally: A person outside a particularly disadvantaged group who expresses support for them. 

Asexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction. However, it is not synonymous to never or will never engage in sexual behaviours. 

Atheism/Atheist: Contrary to notion, it is not a religion. It is a belief that belies the existence of God/a person who denies the presence of God. 

Bias: An unfair or damaging prejudice favouring or against one thing, person, or group compared with another. Unconscious bias or implicit bias influences judgment beyond the person’s conscious awareness or control. 

Baha’i: It is a religion founded by Mirza Husayn-’Ali Nuri that highlights the spiritual unity of humankind and the oneness of God. Baha’i believes in the equality of men and women. 

Bigotry: It is an irrational belief to negative stereotypes and prejudices about other groups of people. 

Birth Defect: a derogatory term for disability since birth. 

Bisexual: A person who is attracted to two or more genders. 

Black Lives Matter: A human rights movement originating in the African-American community that campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people. 

Blind: Should be used only for a person with total loss of sight. Otherwise, use visually impaired, partially sighted, or a person with low vision for people who are legally blind as they have partial sight. 

Braille: It is a system for writing and printing for visually impaired people – character and letters are formed by raised dots felt with the fingers, not limited to English. Capitalisation required. 

Buddhism: Centred on Gautama Buddha’s teaching, this religion of eastern and central Asia believes that suffering is intrinsic. Mental and moral purification can liberate them from it. 

Catholic: The term pertains to the Roman Catholic church but may also refer to other Catholic Christian denominations like the Eastern Orthodox churches. 

Caucasian: Often wrongly used as a synonym for white people because of the inaccurate notion that the origin of the Indo-Europeans was the Russian Caucasus Mountains. It used to label one of the geographical types of human beings, which comprised people from Europe, Africa, India, tall stature, straight or wavy hair, etc. 

Christianity: It started around 2000 years ago as a breakaway sect of Judaism. Christians believe that Jesus sacrificed and died to save humanity from the original sin. They also believe in heaven and the possibility of joining God in heaven if they repent their sins before Him. 

Cisgender: A person whose gender identity matches the sex the person had or was assigned at birth. For instance, a person identified as female at birth, who identifies as a woman, is a cisgender woman.

Class: A group identity usually based on economic or social status. 

Closet, in the Closet: Describes gender and sexual minorities who do not want to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Code-Switching: Occurs when a person switches between languages or dialects (codes) while speaking. It usually happens when the speaker is incapable of expressing themselves in one language/dialect or when the speaker is upset, tired, or excited. The speaker may also switch to express solidarity with a specific group. 

Cognitive Disability: A kind of disability that affects learning and similar brain functions. Avoid using mental retardation. Instead, use their specific disabilities.

Coloured, Coloured Person: A derogatory term used to describe non-white people. Use people of colour or person of colour instead. 

Coming Out: A shortened version of “coming out of the closet,” which means to reveal one’s formerly hidden sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Culture: The patterns of daily life learned consciously and unconsciously by a group of people, manifested in language, governing practices, arts, customs, food, religion, holiday celebrations, dating, clothing, and more. 

Cultural appropriation: It generally involves adopting aspects of a minority culture by someone outside the culture, having an insufficient understanding of its context or respect for the meaning and value of the original. Considered harmful when done in a way that promotes disrespectful cultural or racial stereotypes.

Cultural Competence: When you respond accordingly to people of varying cultures, ages, races, religions, sexual orientations, abilities, and ethnicities in a manner that recognises their difference and allows them to feel respected and valued. 

Cultural Myopia: The notion that one’s particular culture is appropriate to all situations and significant to all other individuals. 

Cultural Sensitivity: Showing respect and appreciation of various cultures that differ from your own. 

Deaf: Refers to a person with total hearing loss. Since many have cases of mild or partial loss of hearing only, please use, person with hearing loss, partially deaf, or hearing impaired. Avoid using deaf-dumb or deaf-mute. 

Disability: An impairment that limits an individual from performing one or more major life activities. Please address them as a person with a disability, disabled person, or differently-abled. Avoid victim of, suffers from, stricken with, or afflicted with. 

Disadvantaged: Refers to a group that lacks resources to meet basic needs or has insufficient access to the full benefits of economic, social, and political opportunity. 

Discrimination: A prejudice-based action committed by a dominant group member against a subordinate group member, thereby limiting their opportunities, confidence, access, and ability to perform in society. 

Diversity: The condition of being different or having differences in age, class, ethnicity, gender, health, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, religion, physical size, education level, job and function, personality traits, and other human differences. 

Diversity v. Inclusion v. Belonging: Diversity means having representation across all dimensions of human difference. Inclusion, meanwhile, means that everyone is included, visible, heard and considered. Belonging refers to everyone being treated and feeling like a full member of the larger community, allowing them to flourish.

Diversity Competence: Capability to work effectively with differences and to successfully utilise a diverse workforce.

Diversity as Economic Empowerment: It creates value for patients, employees, and stakeholders through innovative technology, and operational expertise. It provides access to market shares and new talent and regulates the organisation to critical consumer or constituent groups. 

Diversity as Inclusion: It listens to the needs of its constituents and does not view diversity as merely a public relations or marketing strategy. 

Diversity as Representation: Having the representation of diverse groups (particularly race and gender) upholds equal opportunity recruitment and compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity. 

Dominant: Pertains to the group having power or control over key aspects of a culture or a political system. They derive benefits and privileges from the formal and informal societal structures, processes, and practices. Typically sees themselves as superior, ideal, or model people and while others are flawed, inferior, or less than themselves. 

Equity: Providing fair treatment for all while striving to identify and eliminate inequities and barriers.

ERG: Abbreviation for Employee Resource Group. It is an employer-sponsored or accepted affinity group for those who share interests and concerns common to a particular race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. 

Ethnicity: Human classification that is based on shared cultural heritage, such as place of birth, language, customs, etc. 

Eurocentric/Eurocentrism: That which places Europe as a centre of the world. A form of systemic oppression due to the preference for the European culture over others. 

Feminist/Feminism: A social movement advocating equal rights and opportunity based on the belief that women are equal to men. Often applied in a derogatory way to people who support this belief. 

Gaslighting: It is a deliberate attempt to undermine a victim’s sense of reality or sanity. These are behaviours that undermine the success, self-confidence, self-esteem or wellbeing of the target in a workplace context. Forms include withholding (critical information, meeting invitations, silent treatment), isolation (exclusion, causing conflict with coworkers), and discrediting (consistently shooting down the target’s ideas, ignoring or taking credit for them).

Gay: A person attracted to people of the same gender. Though it usually refers solely to men, women may also identify as such. 

Gay Marriage: It is the term for the marriage of same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage is more appropriate. 

Gender: A social construction that assigns particular characteristics, norms, and roles to sex and genitalia. Avoid using sex as a synonym. 

Gender Norms: Describes the various roles that women and men and non-binary/gender-nonconforming people play in society, which is shaped by the meaning that society gives to biological differences. It includes the behavioural, cultural, and psychological traits usually associated with one’s biological sex. 

Gender and Sexual Minorities (GSM): Any non-heterosexual and/or trans individual. It covers homosexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, transgender people, and other non-binary individuals. 

Gender-Neutral Terms: Terms that do not designate the gender of the subject.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Pronouns that do not designate gender. Singular “they/them” is considered grammatically correct and should be the default pronouns —unless the person has explicitly expressed their preferred pronouns. 

Gender Expression: Pertains to how gender identity is expressed in external characteristics and behaviour, which are socially defined as feminine or masculine, regardless of sexual orientation. 

Gender Identity: Self-identification as a woman, man, or other non-binary gender, regardless of biological sex. 

Gender Nonconforming: People whose gender expression is not based on societal gender norms. It can be any gender. 

Genocide: The systematic and planned eradication of an entire national, racial, political or ethnic group. 

Glass Ceiling: It is the maximum position and/or salary women, and other underrepresented persons are allowed to reach, without any chance of further promotion or advancement. 

Group Identity: A category of differences that describes a set of shared physical traits, characteristics, or attributes. Everyone has multiple group identities including, age, ability, class, education level, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, language, religion, and sexual orientation.  

Gender Nonconforming or Gender Non-binary: Describes how one identifies or expresses oneself outside the binary gender categories of male/masculine and female/feminine.

Handicapped: While it is not derogatory, the use of “disabled” or “differently-abled” are preferred. 

Hate Crime: An act by a person or group against the person or property, which enacts an expression of hostility due to race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, gender, or ethnicity. 

Hindi: Official language of India. 

Hinduism: The dominant religion in India centred on dharma, basic principles of cosmic or individual existence within nature, with its resulting ritual, social observances, mystic contemplations, and ascetic practices. 

Hispanic: Describes the multiracial, culturally mixed group of people who speak Spanish. 

Homophobia: Being uncomfortable with, as well as having fear, hatred, or intolerance of, sexual minorities. 

Homosexual: Person attracted to people of the same gender. 

Immigrant: Person who resides in a nation, country, or region, different from their origin. 

Inclusion/Inclusiveness: Speaks of the concept where the focus is on all members playing a part in a group’s or an organisation’s mission. It is also a level of respect that provides an opportunity to share unique perspectives and contributes to individual strengths. 

Indigenous: Descendants of native people from any region. 

Intersectionality: Describes the ways in which multiple identities intersect and cannot be disentangled. As such, addressing the overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination and inequality will be more effective.

Intersex: A person whose bodily or hormonal sex characteristics cannot be classified as male or female. Causes include external differences in genitalia, hormonal conditions, such as androgen, or insensitivity syndrome or chromosomal variance. 

Islam: A religion founded by the prophet Muhammed, believed to be the last in a long line of holy prophets such as Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Followers are devoted to the Koran and worship Allah. The two main divisions are the Sunnis and the Shiite, differentiated by what they believe is the succession after the prophet. To clarify, Islam is the religion while Muslim refers to an adherent of Islam. 

-Isms: The suffix “-ism” denotes the condition of systemic oppression derived from the prejudices embedded in an organisation or society’s culture. It is hinged on the assumption that the dominant group possesses innately superior qualities. The outcomes are to advantage one group over another. 

Judaism/Jewish/Jew: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob founded Judaism in 2000 B.C. It upholds belief in a monotheistic God, who leads his people by speaking through the prophets. They believe that a messiah will someday come and bring the world to a state of paradise. The term Jew can be both religious and ethnic. They can be of any race or nationality. 

Jihad: Arabic word for struggle or striving. Contrary to the notion that it refers to violence or war against other religions, Jihad describes the efforts, whether internal or external, exerted to be a good Muslim or believer. It includes the work done to inform people about the faith of Islam. 

Latino/Latina: Person of Latin American descent, regardless of their ability to speak Spanish.

Latin@/Latinx: Latin@ (“lah-tee-nez”) and Latinx refer to transgender or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina to describe a person of Latin American origin or descent.

Lesbian: A woman who is sexually attracted to women. 

Leveraging Diversity: Means using the different perspectives, experiences, and abilities that people bring to the workplace to improve organisational effectiveness and performance. 

LGBTQ: An acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.

LGBTQAIP+: Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, asexual, intersex, and pansexual. Countless variations of this acronym exist, but LGBT is the most widely accepted and used. 

Microaggression: A comment or action that unconsciously or unintentionally expresses or reveals a prejudiced attitude toward a marginalised group member. Some common occurrences include insults, stereotyping, overlooking or excluding someone, which may cause isolation and alienation to those on the receiving end.

Micro Affirmation: A micro affirmation is a small gesture of inclusion, caring or kindness – such as listening, providing comfort and support, being an ally. 

Migrant: A person who migrates. They are mistaken for immigrant or emigrant. 

Misogyny: Refers to the hatred of women, often demonstrated in sexual discrimination, denigration and sexual objectification of women. 

Model Minority: It is the stereotyping description of a particular subordinated group, which is being favoured by the majority culture. The model minority is chosen according to how well they are perceived to uphold majority group behaviours. 

Multicultural/Multiculturalism: As a synonym for diversity, it focuses on recognising the importance of all cultures regardless of differences. It reflects the interests, contributions, and values of members of diverse groups. 

Neurodiversity: When neurological differences are recognised and respected as any other kind of human differences or variations. 

Non-binary: Refers to people whose gender is neither female nor male. Hence, outside of the gender binary. They fall under the transgender umbrella. 

Oppression: Systematic mistreatment of particular individuals. It’s a complex system of sustained and pervasive beliefs, laws or policies, behaviours, and feelings.

Organisational Cultural Competence: It is the capacity to function effectively with all cultures and to creatively utilise a diverse workforce. 

Patriarchy: A structural and ideological system that maintains the privileging of particular kinds of masculinity and cisgender men. Where cisgender men have institutional control and dominance. 

People of Colour: Refers to all racial and ethnic groups other than white. 

Political Correctness: Encourages broad social, political, and educational change, thereby correcting historical injustices in race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. Political correctness is rooted in compassion, respect and empathy. 

Privilege: An unwarranted power advantage derived from historical oppression and exploitation of other groups. A right or immunity is granted as a benefit. 

Pronouns: Words referring to a person after initially using their name. Gendered pronouns include she and he, her and him, hers and his, and herself and himself. 

“Preferred gender pronouns”: (or PGPs) are the pronouns that people ask others to use about themselves. Some people state their pronoun preferences as a form of allyship.

Psychiatric Disability: Acute or chronic mental illness. Use psychiatric disability, psychiatric illness, emotional disorder, or mental disorder. 

Queer: People who wish to describe themselves as neither heterosexual nor cisgender use this umbrella term. Sometimes, considered to be derogatory and should not be used unless a person identifies as queer.

Race: Group identity related to the local geographic or global human population. They are distinguished as a group by their genetic physical characteristics – skin colour, hair texture, facial features, etc. 

Racism: Systematic discrimination based on race. Racial prejudice + power = racism. 

Religion: It is an organised belief system based on certain doctrines of faith or a belief in a supreme being or God. 

Sexism: Systemic oppression based on sex and/or gender. Gendered prejudice + power = sexism.

Sexual Attraction: A component of sexuality that refers to the Innate sexual desire towards a particular gender(s). 

Sexual Identity/Orientation: A component of sexuality that refers to an identity based on emotional, romantic, and sexual desires, which is often determined by a person’s sexual attraction.

Sexual Preference: A term that is often based on the incorrect assumption that people choose their sexual orientation. 

Social Construct: A perception of a person, group, or idea that appears to be natural but has been established through cultural and social practice and norms. Although social constructs do not have a basis in physical reality, they have real implications because their existence is socially upheld and enforced. 

Social Justice: The eradication of oppression.

Stereotyping: A standardised impression of a person or group that represents an oversimplified opinion, image, attitude, or uncritical judgment. 

Straight: A person who is attracted to people of a gender different from their own. Synonymous with heterosexual. 

Transgender/Trans: Someone whose gender identity is something other than their sex Assigned at Birth (SAAB), which is typically based on physical sex characteristics. Trans is an umbrella term that can describe people who identify as transsexual, genderqueer, agender, and various other non-binary genders. 

Transsexual: A trans person who wishes to have sex reassignment surgery. Sometimes considered offensive by members of the trans community. 

Transvestite: A person who adopts the dress and social behaviour typical of another sex more commonly known as cross-dressing. Considered a derogatory term for transsexual or transgender people. 

Tribe: A unit of social organisation consisting of families, clans, or other groups who share a common ancestry, culture and leadership. 

Underrepresented: Often used as a replacement term for minority, it refers to group identities whose numbers are demographically fewer than the larger majority groups, characterised by lack of access to the full benefits of the economic, social, and political opportunity. 

White Fragility: Describe the privilege that grows to white people living in a society that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. It builds an expectation of always feeling comfortable and safe, thereby lowering their ability to tolerate racial stress and resulting in a range of defensive reactions.

White: People of European origin. Not synonymous with Caucasian. 

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