DEI Common Language

Words have energy and power. A single word can change everything about a conversation, interaction, or exchange of information. A first step to having productive, strategic exchanges about diversity, equity, and inclusion is adopting an accepted, shared language that guides how we engage, communicate, discuss, report, and measure across various topics and types of data.

Cultural competency around DEI language is an evolving skill that requires using a clearly defined yet malleable vocabulary to allow for change as our language evolves. This suite of modules offers guidance on effectively engaging in dialogue and communicating ideas and information on topics specific to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The first installment in this series provides baseline definitions of terms commonly used in discourse and communication about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Our Common Language…

      • promotes clear and open dialogue with others
      • puts people first, making all feel included and valued
      • is free from words or phrases that explicitly or implicitly stereotype, discriminate, or express prejudice
      • helps to avoid misunderstandings or misinterpretations
      • can help to build trust across lines of difference
      • requires an ongoing commitment to learning and evolving


Definition: Differences expressed in myriad forms, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, language, culture, national origin, religious commitments, age, (dis)ability status, and political perspective
  • Colleagues from multiple generations
  • Religions practiced by individuals on a team
  • Educational backgrounds of those in the same role
  • Unseen mental or physical abilities/disabilities
  • Differences in communication styles among staff




Definition: Promoting justice, impartiality, and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources, ensuring an equal opportunity for success for all persons, regardless of sex, marital status, gender expression, and any other characteristics or identities
  • Inclusive, competency-based hiring practices
  • Accommodations for health conditions
  • Policies that accommodate a wide variety of needs
  • Support for individual cultural and religious events
  • Opportunities for everyone to grow into positions of leadership




Definition: Creating an environment where all perspectives are respectfully heard, differences are welcomed, and where every individual feels a sense of belonging, and is valued as a fully participating member of the community
  • Engagement and learning opportunities
  • Participation in inclusive and diverse cultural celebrations
  • Implementation of stay interviews into unit operations
  • Elevation of those who have fewer opportunities to be heard
  • Celebrate individual employee successes




Definition: People-first language that is free from words, phrases, or expressions that stereotype or express forms of bias or prejudice. In a more general sense, language that acknowledges, accepts, affirms, and celebrates differences of those in our community
  • Gender neutral language
  • Personal pronouns
  • Factual attributes instead of labels
  • Plain (non-colloquial) language




Definition: Languages, customs, beliefs, rules, arts, knowledge, and collective identities that make interactions and environments meaningful. More broadly, a set of unspoken rules that shape values, habits, patterns of thinking, behaviors, and styles of communication
  • Dance
  • Music
  • Spiritual practices
  • Dress Traditions Arts (culinary, folk, visual)




Definition: Patterns of behavior that are supported by the shared experiences, values, and beliefs of an organization. Broadly speaking, the shared attitudes, standards, and priorities of teams, departments, units and other employee groups within an organization
  • Communication
  • Sense of belonging
  • Inclusive leadership
  • Transparency Mission and values
  • Employee engagement




Definition: Grounded in the respect and appreciation of cultural differences, the set of interpersonal skills or attributes that allows one the ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures
  • Understanding the social norms of other cultures
  • Acknowledging and appreciating differences in communication styles across cultures
  • Respecting the religious beliefs and practices of others
  • Actively engaging with others from diverse backgrounds
  • Practicing constructive uncertainty




Definition: Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with marginalized groups in the struggle for justice
  • One who:
      • Speaks out in support of those whose voices are seldom heard or acknowledged
      • Takes action when witnessing behavior or language that is degrading or offensive
      • Speaks less; Listens more Shares the spotlight and credit when appropriate




Definition: Operates on personal, interpersonal, cultural and institutional levels, and gives unearned advantages, favors, and/or benefits to members of dominant groups, often at the expense of members of nondominant groups
  • Often based on:
      • Socio-economic status
      • Gender
      • Age
      • Religion
      • Sexual identity




Definition: Process by which individuals or groups are (intentionally or unintentionally) excluded, isolated, or distanced from access to power and resources granted to those in majority and/or privileged groups.
  • Giving someone credit for another person’s ideas
  • Refusal to acknowledge the contributions of some, but praising the contributions of others
  • Use of derogatory, offensive, or bullying language
  • Speaking to an individual without acknowledging others in shared space




Definition: The complex ways in which multiple forms of discrimination combine, overlap and/or intersect in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups; a framework for understanding how issues like sexism, racism, and classism can overlap in multiple ways.
  • LGBTQI+ women with disabilities reported significantly higher levels of sexual harassment than both men with disabilities and non-disabled men and women.
  • White women in the US earn 81 cents for every dollar a white man earns; the same figure for American Indian, Alaska Native, Black, African American, and Hispanic women is 75 cents.