WISE’s D&I Lexicon

This lexicon is a WISE Knowledge Base production that aims to help members navigate the D&I landscape.

Language sets the tone of any organisation, and successful D&I work needs to be couched in a lexicon that encourages a feeling of belonging. Bias is often built into common words and phrases, so half the battle around creating an inclusive environment is making staff more intentional about the language they use.  

This lexicon offers word definitions as well as advice on common phrases and should help build confidence when holding conversations around equity within a workplace. It is a guide rather than a manifesto, having conversations about diversity is more important than policing the words people use, and we’re all on a journey in terms of understanding how to create the best environment for all. Along with our other Knowledge Base guides, this should be regarded as an essential tool in your diversity and inclusion toolbox.  

A short list of D&I words 


Discrimination in favour of able-bodied people. 


When the design of an environment makes it easy to reach, enter, use and see for all users. 

Affinity bias 

The tendency to connect with people who look and seem like ourselves. We all have an affinity bias and WISE’s inhouse intro to diversity & inclusion course attempts to unpick this. 

Affirmative action 

The practice or policy of favouring individuals from groups known to have been discriminated against. 


Stereotyping and discriminating against individuals because of their age. 


Ally is a term used for people who support a social group other than their own. They acknowledge disadvantage and oppression, educate themselves, and take action on behalf of others. 


Apprenticeships are on-the-job based learning schemes. Many apprenticeship schemes are designed for women with a view to increasing diversity and inclusion within an organisation. 


An acronym that stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic or Black and Minority Ethnic. This term is widely used but has been criticised for being too reductionist. The nuanced experiences of a vast group of people are arguably not fully acknowledged by either acronym.  


A term used to define the experience of being accepted and included by those around you. Belonging means having a sense of social connection and identification with others. Organisations looking to create an inclusive environment hope to foster ‘belonging’ among staff. 


An obstinate or unreasonable attachment to a belief or opinion. In particular, prejudice against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group. 

Binary / non binary 

The classification of gender into two distinct and opposite forms – masculine and feminine. Most cultures and social systems use a binary gender classification but increasing numbers of people identify as non-binary. Non-binary people do not identify as either male or female and ask that other people use they/them or ze/zir pronouns.  

Black Lives Matter  

Black Lives Matter is a movement that aims to address systemic racism and violence against Black people and other groups with ties to Black culture. 

Cognitive diversity 

Cognitive diversity accounts for differences in perspective and the way we process information. 

Confirmation bias 

Seeking out or only noticing information that reinforces existing beliefs. 

Corporate social responsibility 

Good corporate responsibility will see an organisation expand their objectives to include more than profit. Corporate social responsibility normally aims to make a positive impact on communities and societies. 


This acronym stands for diversity and inclusion. Sometimes the acronym DEI, which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion is used instead. D&I tends to focus on changing an organisation’s culture with the aim of attracting and promoting talent from different backgrounds. 


A physical or mental condition that limits movements, senses, activity or emotions. 


Discrimination is a behaviour or action (usually negative) against an individual or group based on their shared characteristics. 


Diversity refers to innate diversity (such as race, age or gender) as well as cultural or experiential diversity leading to different types of knowledge and behaviour.  

Dominant culture 

A cultural practice that is dominant. In STEM fields the dominant culture tends to be established by white men because they are the dominant group. D&I practitioners want to broaden this culture and make it more inclusive.  


The fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. 

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) 

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are criteria or standards that some investors use to screen potential investments. Social and governance criteria tend to look at diversity and inclusion and how the company manages relationships between employees, suppliers, customers and the communities with which it interacts.  


A situation where all people are treated the same way. This requires that everyone starts out on equal footing with equal opportunities. True equality is almost impossible to achieve unless there are measures to address underlying power imbalances. 


Aims for a fair outcome for people or groups by addressing barriers that are specific to their characteristics, it thereby levels the playing field. If a company treats everyone the same without realising that certain people need specific support or services there will be inequality. Equity is the pathway to true equality. 


The belief in and advocacy for equality between the sexes. Although there are many strands of feminism, most aim for equality in the social, political and economic realms. 


Refers to what it is to be male or female with a society or culture. Gender stereotypes affect the roles, responsibilities, attitudes and behaviours a society deems appropriate for men and women, this inevitably impacts their career choices. Removing gender expectations within a workplace is key to creating an inclusive environment.  

Gender bias  

Prejudiced gender-based actions or thoughts leading to or unfair treatment, such as discrimination in the workplace. Gender bias can be conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit.  

Gender discrimination 

A distinction, exclusion or restriction made based on a person’s sex and/or gender identity rather than their skill or merit.  

Gender equality 

A situation that would see people being able to make choices and develop personal abilities regardless of the limitations set by gender norms. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration. 

Gender gap 

The disparity between women and men’s position in society based on gendered norms and expectations. The gender gap refers to an unequal distribution of opportunities, resources or outcomes. 

Gender identity 

A personal conception of oneself as male or female (or rarely, both or neither). The concept is intimately related to gender role, that is, the outward manifestation of personality reflecting the gender identity. 

Gender lens 

Pays attention to how gender differences will affect all elements of an organisation. This lens looks at the role of gender in shaping both power structures and initiatives and considers ways in which certain genders may be oppressed or advantaged by such.  

Gender mainstreaming  

This involves an organisation viewing all strategies and initiatives through a gender lens and ensuring the needs and interests of all genders are considered when embarking on new projects. WISE’s Ten Steps aims to help its members ‘gender mainstream’ their organisation in a bid to achieve gender equality.  

Gender norms 

These are the collective expectations and beliefs about how people should behave and interact based on sex or gender identity. The lack of females working in STEM is the result of outdated gender norms that WISE and other organisations are trying to address.  

Gender pay gap 

The gender pay gap is the difference between average earnings for men and women. The gap is caused by occupational segregation (with more men in higher paid industries and women in lower paid industries); vertical segregation (with fewer women in senior roles with better paying positions) and ineffective equal pay legislation. It is also often attributed to women working more part-time jobs and fewer hours. In the UK, all private and voluntary sector employers with 250 or more employees must publish data on their gender pay gap (although this was suspected in 2021 owing to COVID-19). These regulations were made law by the Equality Act 2010 and came into force in 2017. 

Gender privilege 

Gender privilege usually refers to heteronormative male privilege, meaning a set of advantages granted to men on the basis of their gender. 


The practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility. Organisations dominated by one type of person tend to suffer from groupthink. 


Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the default, preferred, or normal mode of sexual orientation. It assumes there are only two distinct, opposite genders and that sexual and marital relations are most fitting between people of opposite sex. 


Inclusion or an inclusive environment is the result of welcoming, respecting, supporting, involving, valuing and empowering other people in the workforce. Inclusive work environments lead to increased wellbeing and have a positive impact on innovation and the bottom line.   

Inclusive leader 

A leader or boss who is aware of their own biases and preferences. One who actively seeks out and considers different views and perspectives to inform better decision making. 


Having multiple intersecting identities that can affect the level of privilege or disadvantage a person experiences. These might include gender, race, and sexual orientation. Rather than defining men and women as homogenous groups, an intersectional approach recognises the differences within and among groups of men, women and gender non-conforming individuals and assesses how they are oppressed by power systems.  


The acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (or queer), intersex and other gender variants. The A stands for asexual or allied. LGBTQIA+ is a Eurocentric acronym. 


Mentoring is often used to help progress and develop women or people with protected characteristics. It often aims to develop broader leadership skills for personal or career development. Mentoring schemes are normally voluntary and see a more successful senior partner passing on experience and learnings to a less experienced person, a mentee, who will benefit from them.  


Subtle acknowledgments of a person’s importance and accomplishments that create a feeling of being valued and included.  


Microaggressions may seem to be harmless but are actually minor everyday slights and exclusions that make a person feel other and different.  


Neurodiversity describes the range of neurological differences that might include learning and developmental difficulties such as ADHD, autism or dyslexia.   


A person might feel oppressed as a result of unjust treatment or control. This can occur at the individual or systematic level. 


Within D&I, outreach work aims to engage young people (girls, or those normally excluded from certain working environments). It provides information on careers, opportunities or education that they might not ordinarily be aware of or consider right for them.   


A society in which men and those with masculine characteristics are privileged and thus hold more power. 

Person of Colour (POC) 

The term ‘person of colour’ is primarily used to describe any person who is not considered ‘white’. The term originated in the United States but has been adopted elsewhere in recent years, including the United Kingdom and Ireland. The term is considered problematic because of its ‘white-centric’ perspective.   

Pipeline problem 

The belief that the lack of diversity in STEM is the result of a scarcity of available talent. WISE believes that a pipeline can be improved by outreach work with schools and colleges and recruitment activities that will improve the retention and progression of women within the workplace.  


Refers to the conscious or unconscious attitudes and feelings one has towards an individual or group of individuals based on certain traits. 


This refers to a set of benefits given to people owing to their membership in a specific social group. This might include race, gender, sexual orientation, ability and religion. Privilege is also often related to wealth and class. 


WISE and other D&I specialists advocate a focus on the progression of women within an organisation. This will increase the number and profile of female role models and help to improve gender balance within leadership teams, thereby leading to an environment that is more welcoming for women at all stages of their career.  


Words we use to refer to people’s gender identity and / or expression in conversation such as ‘he’ or ‘she’. Some people may prefer to be referred to in gender-neutral language using pronouns such as they/their and ze/zir. Gender neutral pronouns can help generate a feeling of inclusivity.  

Protected characteristics 

The Equality Act 2010 has enshrined protection for the following nine characteristics in law: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation. It is now illegal for any organisation or workplace environment to discriminate against people on the basis of any of these characteristics. 


Prejudice or discrimination against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. 


The retention of female talent is a key aspect of D&I work within an organisation. Women will stay in an organisation that makes them feel included and respects their abilities.  


A person who comes back to work or education after time away. Within D&I, returners tend to refer to women who return to work after having children or caring for family members. 

Reverse mentoring 

Reverse mentoring pairs senior mentees with junior mentors selected to be as different from themselves as possible. The aim is to create lasting cultural change within an organisation. The best schemes encourage honest conversations and the development of a relationship between mentor and mentee. 


Sex is the biological category of female or male assigned at birth based on physical characteristics such as chromosomes and genitalia.  

Sexual orientation 

Sexual orientation is interpersonal and refers to people we are emotionally and/or physically attracted to. 


A sponsor is an advocate, normally internal, that champions a more junior person’s interests and helps connect them to leaders and special projects. The sponsor will help promote the junior person’s achievements within an organisation. 

Steering group 

Steering groups within organisations are often set up to include members with specific experiences, skills or knowledge to help steer work undertaken by others. Organisations wanting more gender balance often establish Women in Leadership steering groups to help oversee decisions made at a senior level and ensure they consider the progression, retention and promotion of women with the company. 


Stereotypes are ways in which members of a group are considered similar to each other and different to members of other groups. D&I projects aim to make people aware of and challenge their stereotypes. 


The practice of including one or a few members of an underrepresented group in a team or company, without their having authority or power equal to that of other group members. This places a burden on an individual to represent all others ‘like them’.  

Unconscious bias  

A systemic pattern where our brains stray from rationality in judgment leading to stereotypical attitudes for or against a person, group or concept. This pattern typically leads to ways of thinking that are unfair. Unconscious bias training helps people be aware of their stereotypes and biases.  

Underrepresented groups 

Refers to a group whose members are subjected to unfair treatment by the dominant group. 


The dislike of, or prejudice against, people from other countries leading to bias and discriminatory behaviour.  

Help with phrases  

A lexicon is important when thinking about the language one should use, but the approach one adopts in language can also lead to feelings of inclusion or the opposite.  Here are a few top tips to make your language more inclusive: 

  1. Default to person-first constructions that put the person ahead of their characteristics. So ‘a man who is blind’ instead of ‘a blind man’ or ‘a woman in our engineering team’ rather than ‘a female engineer’. This helps show that there is more to each of us than our descriptors. 
  1. When speaking about disability, avoid phrases that suggest victimhood, such as ‘afflicted by’ or ‘suffers from’.  
  1. Avoid the ‘universal male’ such as ‘guys’ to refer to people. This assumes that the normal, default human being is male thereby excluding people are aren’t male. 
  1. Don’t use gender stereotypes to describe attributes (such as ‘runs like a girl’, ‘stop being a big girl’s blouse’, or ‘man up’) and do find neutral ways of talking about strength or weakness.  
  1. When talking about occupation titles avoid gendered expressions like chairman. Opt for neutral expressions like chairperson instead.  


Although clearly not comprehensive, this lexicon will be a good starting point for any company or organisation embarking on a D&I journey; or any person interested in knowing more about the subject. The key takeaway should be that language matters. The careful use of words will help to foster respect for others regardless of characteristics, thereby boosting inclusivity and wellbeing within any group setting.  

Language is ever evolving so do let us know if you think any of these descriptions should be modified, or whether there are additional terms that you would like to be included.  

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