EDI Key concepts and definitions
The words we use matter in all things. As equity, inclusion and diversity work has become a more well researched and defined, several terms and concepts have become common. You will likely hear these terms throughout our EDI journey and will be encouraged to understand and use them to help frame and discuss our work.
Use the A-Z jump links below to find the terms your curious about:
Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on differences in physical, mental and/or emotional ability that contribute to a system of oppression; usually of able‐bodied/minded persons against people with illness, disabilities or less developed skills.
A person who supports and celebrates equity seeking groups, interrupts and challenges oppressive remarks and actions of others, and willingly explores biases within themselves. Being an ally requires action: telling colleagues that their jokes are inappropriate; advocating for the health, wellness and acceptance of people from underrepresented or marginalized groups. An ally takes action to support people outside of their own group.
- The visual illusion of allyship without the actual work of allyship. Also known as performative allyship or ally theatre.
Strategies, theories, actions, and practices that actively challenge systems of oppression on an ongoing basis in one’s daily life and in social justice/change work. Anti-Oppression work seeks to recognize the oppression that exists in our society and attempts to mitigate its effects and eventually equalize the power imbalance in our communities. It challenges the systemic biases that devalue andEDI marginalize difference. Oppression operates at different levels from individual to institutional and so does anti-oppression work.
Systems of Oppression
- Systems of oppression are discriminatory institutions, structures, norms, to name a few, that are embedded in the fabric of our society. All the “-isms” are forms of oppression. In the context of social justice, oppression is discrimination against a social group that is backed by institutional power. That is to say, the various societal institutions such as culture, government, education, etc. are all complicit in the oppression of marginalized social groups while elevating dominant social groups.
The active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably. Learn more about anti-racism at UBC on our anti-racism website.
“Policies and practices rooted in Canadian institutions such as, education, health care, and justice that mirror and reinforce beliefs, attitudes, prejudice, stereotyping and/or discrimination towards people of Black-African descent.”
“The term ‘Anti-Black Racism’ was coined by Dr. Akua Benjamin, a Ryerson Social Work Professor. It seeks to highlight the unique nature of systemic racism on Black-Canadians and the history as well as experiences of slavery and colonization of people of Black-African descent in Canada.” (Black Health Alliance)
Indigenous peoples in Canada’s experience of racism and its impacts on their daily lives are unique due to the ongoing impacts of colonization. Anti-Indigenous racism is often the underlying cause of many social determinants of health for Indigenous communities.
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Bias is an inclination to think something or someone is better or preferred. Bias inhibits impartial judgement, thought or analysis. See unconscious bias.
Acronym for Black, Indigenous, and People Of Colour. UBC typically uses the term IBPOC to reflect the importance of our partnership with Indigenous peoples.
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Identifying with the same gender that one was assigned at birth. A gender identity that society considers to “match” the biological sex assigned at birth. The prefix cis- means “on this side of,” in reference to the gender binary model. A term used to identify people who are not trans, and the experiences of privilege granted based on being cisgender.
Colonialism is an intentional process by which a political power from one territory exerts control over a different territory. It involves unequal power relations and includes policies and/or practices of acquiring full or partial political control over other people or territory, occupying the territory with settlers, and exploiting it economically.
Theft of cultural elements—including symbols, art, language, customs, etc.—for one’s own use, commodification, or profit, often without understanding, acknowledgment, or respect for its value in the original culture. Results from the assumption of a dominant (i.e. white) culture’s right to take other cultural elements.
A concept that originated and is primarily used in the healthcare domain. The concept emphasizes the power imbalance inherent in the patient/client-practitioner relationship. A culturally safe environment is spiritually, socially, and emotionally safe, as well as physically safe for people; where there is no assault, challenge, or denial of their identity, of who they are, and what they need.
The term was developed by Maori nurse Irihapeti Ramsden in the context of nursing care provided to Indigenous peoples in New Zealand. The term has since been extended and applied to Indigenous peoples in other countries where service inequalities persist. This concept shifts power and authority to the Indigenous patient receiving care, who is given the ultimate say in whether care provided was culturally safe or not. It centres upon sharing: shared respect, shared meaning, and shared knowledge and experience, of learning together with dignity and attention.
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The active resistance against colonial powers, and a shifting of power towards political, economic, educational, and cultural independence and power that originate from a colonized nation own indigenous culture. This process occurs politically and applies to personal and societal, cultural, political, agricultural, and educational deconstruction of colonial oppression.
Differences in the lived experiences and perspectives of people that may include race, ethnicity, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical disability, mental disability, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, class, and/or socio-economic situations.
EDI Skills and Competencies
The attributes, knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, values, and/or principles that demonstrate an understanding of equity, a commitment to diversity, and an ability to create inclusive environments. There is no one set of EDI skills and competencies used across contexts.
Common aspects of EDI skills and competencies are demonstrated/observed at an:
- Individual level (e.g. individual awareness and / or education)
- Interpersonal level (understanding, valuing and working with others in groups)
- Organizational / institutional level (understanding inequity and demonstrating skills that foster equitable and inclusive policies and practices)
- Societal level (contributing to systems change and social justice)
Diverse Abilities/Disabilities (visible and invisible)
The disability rights movement have made many strides in emphasizing a people first approach to framing disability (e.g. “persons with disabilities” vs. “disabled person”). An anti-oppressive and empowerment model also considers systemic and physical barriers as the primary cause of oppression and marginalization of people who live with disabilities rather than locating the problem with the person.
Equity refers to achieving parity in policy, process and outcomes for historically and/or currently underrepresented and/or marginalized people and groups while accounting for diversity. It considers power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes, in three main areas:
- Representational equity: the proportional participation at all levels of an institution.
- Resource equity: the distribution of resources in order to close equity gap.
- Equity-mindedness: the demonstration of an awareness of, and willingness to, address equity issues.
The process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of work. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with superiors and clients. For many BIPOC individuals, this includes managing feelings and expressions when encountering incidents of racism, white fragility, and microaggressions daily.
Refers to groups of people who share cultural traits that they characterize as different from those of other groups. An ethnic group is often understood as sharing a common origin, language, ancestry, spirituality, history, values, traditions and culture. People of the same race can be of different ethnicities.
A person’s internal and psychological sense of themself as man, woman, both, in between, neither, or another understanding of gender. People who question their gender identity may feel unsure of their gender or believe they are not of the same gender they were assigned at birth.
Refers to social roles, structures, language etc. that reinforce the idea that heterosexuality is the presumed norm and is superior to other sexual orientations.
Inclusion is an active, intentional, and continuous process to address inequities in power and privilege, and build a respectful and diverse community that ensures welcoming spaces and opportunities to flourish for all. Workplace Inclusion is an atmosphere where all employees belong, contribute, and can thrive. Requires deliberate and intentional action.
The intertwining of social identities such as gender, race, ethnicity, social class, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, which can result in unique experiences, opportunities, and barriers. A theory coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s to draw attention to how different systems of oppressive structures and types of discrimination interact and manifest in the lives of marginalized people; for example, a queer black woman may experience oppression on the basis of her sexuality, gender, and race – a unique experience of oppression based on how those identities intersect in her life.
Acronym used to refer to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and Two-Spirit (2S) people. Additional letters, or a + sign, are sometimes added to this acronym (i.e. LGBTQ+, LGBTQI2S, etc.). Making fun of the length of this acronym can have a trivializing or erasing effect on the group that this longer acronyms seek to actively include.
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A social process by which individuals or groups are (intentionally or unintentionally) distanced from access to power and resources and constructed as insignificant, peripheral, or less valuable/privileged to a community or “mainstream” society. This term describes a social process, so as not to imply a lack of agency. Marginalized groups or people are those excluded from mainstream social, economic, cultural, or political life.
Examples of marginalized groups include, but are by no means limited to, groups excluded due to race, religion, political or cultural group, age, gender, or financial status. To what extent such populations are marginalized, however, is context specific and reliant on the cultural organization of the social site in question.
Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. Individuals engaged in microaggressions target marginalized groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, class, and religion, often on a subconscious level.
A term created by sociologist William Peterson to describe the Japanese community, whom he saw as being able to overcome oppression because of their cultural values.
While individuals employing the Model Minority trope may think they are being complimentary, in fact the term is related to colorism and its root, anti-Blackness. The model minority myth creates an understanding of ethnic groups, including Asian Americans, as a monolith, or as a mass whose parts cannot be distinguished from each other. The model minority myth can be understood as a tool that white supremacy uses to pit people of color against each other in order to protect its status.
A continuum or spectrum of gender identities and expressions, often based on the rejection of the gender binary’s assumption that gender is strictly an either/or option of male/men or female/women, based on sex assigned at birth. Non-binary can be both a specific term of identification, and/or an umbrella term.
People of Colour
Often the preferred collective term for referring to non-White racial groups. Racial justice advocates have been using the term “people of color” (not to be confused with the pejorative “colored people”) since the late 1970s as an inclusive and unifying frame across different racial groups that are not White, to address racial inequities. While “people of color” can be a politically useful term, and describes people with their own attributes (as opposed to what they are not, e.g., “non-White”), it is also important whenever possible to identify people through their own racial/ethnic group, as each has its own distinct experience and meaning and may be more appropriate.
Refers to the social, economic and political advantages or rights held by people from dominant groups on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, social class, etc. Unearned social power (set of advantages, entitlements, and benefits) accorded by the formal and informal institutions of society to the members of a dominant group (e.g., white/Caucasian people with respect to people of color, men with respect to women, heterosexuals with respect to homosexuals, adults with respect to children, and rich people with respect to poor people).
Privilege tends to be invisible to those who possess it, because its absence (lack of privilege) is what calls attention to it. In other words, men are less likely to notice/acknowledge a difference in advantage because they do not live the life of a woman; white people are less likely to notice/acknowledge racism because they do not live the life of a person of color; straight people are less likely to notice/acknowledge heterosexism because they do not live the life of a gay/lesbian/bisexual person.
Refers to a group of people who share the same physical characteristics such as skin tone, hair texture and facial features. Race is a socially constructed way to categorize people and is used as the basis for discrimination by situating human beings within a hierarchy of social value.
The term “racism” specifically refers to individual, cultural, institutional, and systemic ways by which differential consequences are created for different racial groups. Racism is often grounded in a presumed superiority of the white race over groups historically or currently defined as non-white. Racism can also be defined as “prejudice plus power.” The combination of prejudice and power enables the mechanisms by which racism leads to different consequences for different groups
- Occurs between individuals. When private beliefs are put in interaction with others, racism resides in the interpersonal realm. Examples: public expressions of racial prejudice, hate, bias, and bigotry between individuals.
Systemic Racism (also known as institutional racism)
- Refers to the ways that whiteness and white superiority become embedded in the policies and processes of an institution, resulting in a system that advantages white people and disadvantages BIPOC/IBPOC, notably in employment, education, justice, and social participation.
An acronym that stands for Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities; often used in institutional settings (i.e. health care or education), SOGI, or SOGI Minorities, is used in place of LGBTQ2S+ acronyms. SOGI may be preferred as it decreases the risk of erasure, since the LGBTQ2S+ acronym omits identities or terms of self-identification. SOGI as an acronym fails to capture the spectrum of romantic orientations, and intersex folk. Alternatives: SGM (Sexuality and Gender Minorities).
A stereotype is a conventional, intuitive, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image of a group of people. For example, women are not as capable trades’ workers because they lack the needed physical strength. One who stereotypes wrongly thinks that most or all members of a group (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender, age, etc.) are the same.
The practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups to give the appearance of equality within a workforce.
A tactic used by those who have white privilege to silence those who do not by focusing on the tone of what is being said rather than the actual content. Tone policing does not only have to be spoken out loud publicly. People with white privilege often tone police BIPOC in their thoughts or behind closed doors.
Unconscious Bias/Implicit Bias
An implicit association, whether about people, places, or situations, which are often based on mistaken, inaccurate, or incomplete information and include the personal histories we bring to the situation. Unconscious (or implicit, hidden) biases are mental processes that operate outside of our consciousness, intentional awareness, or control. Unconscious biases include:
- Affinity bias: The tendency to show favour and/or feel more kinship towards people who are more like us. It may be based on some aspect of identity that we share with that person, or it could be similar interests and backgrounds.
- Attribution bias: How people explain the behaviour or outcomes for themselves or others. For example, attributing a person’s success to their natural abilities, versus seeing that success as the result of luck or favouritism.
- Confirmation bias: The tendency to more easily accept, search for, interpret, or favour information that aligns or agrees with one’s existing beliefs and opinions.
- Performance bias: An assessment of people’s competence based on some aspect of their appearance or identity.
Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. Universal design constitutes the equitable access to spaces, objects, environments, and services.
A phrase coined by author Robin DiAngelo, defined as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.”
The centering of whiteness and white people, white values, white norms, and white feelings over everything and everyone else. The belief, whether conscious or not, that whiteness is “normal” and BIPOC are “other.”
A colonialist idea that assumes that BIPOC need white people to save them; that without white intervention, instruction, and guidance, BIPOC will be left helpless, and that without whiteness, BIPOC, who are seen and treated as inferior to people with white privilege, will not survive.
Historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of colour by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.
Curated by The Commons Consulting and the VPFO EDI Committee from the following sources:
- Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre Black Health Alliance How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
- BC Government: Addressing Racism
- Me And White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
- National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health
- Racial Equity Tools
- SFU Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG)
- Simmons University Library
- UBC Equity & Inclusion Office
- University of Washington
This is not an exhaustive list. We are always looking for opportunities to add to this resource. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have suggestions for additions or changes.