We've been exploring language in the D&Ictionary segment of our monthly newsletter.

It can be challenging to navigate vocabulary within the diversity and inclusion sphere, but it's important to recognise how valuable language is in driving inclusion.

We hope by offering more information, we can increase both education and awareness of diversity and inclusion and the topics that fall within it.

There are many different approaches to terminology and there's no conclusive definition for many phrases.

Take a look below at what we’ve covered so far. We'll continue to update this page.

Being your whole self

Being 'your whole self' or 'bringing your whole self to work' is a term that's often heard within conversations on diversity and inclusion. As a concept, it means that you're in an environment where you feel safe and comfortable to be completely authentic.

'Environment' can refer to a physical location such as your place of work or public spaces, although feeling at ease to behave in this way can sometimes be dictated by external factors like culture, for example.

Environment can also mean an internal place of self-acceptance and positive mental health.

Unfortunately, people often believe they must conceal or disassociate themselves from personality traits, characteristics and physical features for fear of judgement and discrimination. This is the most common reason people feel they're not being, and cannot be, entirely themselves.

Feeling as if you're being inauthentic can have a huge negative impact on many areas of a person’s life, but the benefits of feeling as though you can be your whole self have even greater effect, for example:

  • you're often more productive
  • your mental health improves
  • your relationships and wellbeing improve

In addition, people commonly become role models in their lives and workplaces which, in turn, allows others to feel accepted and authentic about who they are.

Most people tend to suppress some parts of their personality in different situations, and this is normal. What's unhealthy, and has a negative effect on both the individual and the organisation, is when someone feels they must suppress something all the time.

It takes equal effort from both individuals and organisations to create environments and situations that are conducive to the idea of 'being your whole self', especially in the context of diversity and inclusion.

Disabled people or people with disabilities?

Terminology, especially in this context, is important as it can reflect a society’s attitude towards a particular group. It can, however, become confusing when preferred terminology differs from one society to another.

Disability terminology is used in different ways in different countries, like in the US and UK for example. The historical and political journey that the disability movement in each country took often helps to explain the differences.

In both countries, political movements arose from self-organised groups of ‘disabled people’ (a UK term) who sought political rights and independent living.

In the US, the disability movement made a conscious decision to describe themselves as ‘people with disabilities’ (or PWD), arguing that this recognised them as people first and does not define them primarily in relation to their characteristic or disability. People-first language would refer to someone as "a person with a disability".

In the UK, the preferred term of the disability movement is ‘disabled people’: emphasising that the person is disabled not necessarily by their body, but by a world that does not accommodate them.

The term ‘disabled people’ is located in an understanding of the UK social model of disability, which draws an important distinction between disability and impairment.

Historically, society has taken a medical approach to defining disability (for example, someone is paralysed, therefore they are disabled). The social model argues that someone’s impairment (being paralysed) simply describes their medical condition but if they were given the right equipment and accommodations, they would not necessarily be disabled.

Not all disabled people are familiar with the social model of disability, or preferred terminology, and they may choose to refer to themselves in a different way.

‘The disabled’ is a term that is almost universally regarded as offensive because of the way it can objectify, ‘other’ and de-humanise people.

Thank you to Legally Disabled for its contribution to this feature.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME)

The acronym 'BAME' stands for Black, Asian and minority ethnic. This term is often used to describe all ethnic minorities, particularly in the context of diversity and inclusion initiatives focused on race and ethnicity.

This term is commonly used and considered to be 'politically correct'. However, while it's not overtly offensive to use, grouping together all ethnic minority races can be damaging.

Working from the assumption that all races under this umbrella acronym are the same will make it challenging to identify the personalised issues faced by individual races and communities. Every race has vastly differing experiences which must be acknowledged to ensure they are addressed.

It is not always inappropriate to use these acronyms, as some projects may indeed focus on all ethnic minorities. In the right context, using these acronyms is suitable. It's helpful to always consider which issues you are trying to address and who is directly affected by them.

It is not discriminatory to address specific races by their race, so if you're focusing on supporting issues predominantly faced by a specific race, then make sure that is communicated clearly.

Inspiration porn

Disabled people want to educate the public and increase accessibility and acceptance of disability in society.

However, the way in which disability is depicted has been disputed amongst disabled people.

Most have experienced discomfort with the 'positive' stories about disabilities which, although well intended, can be demoralising and embarrassing. In recent years, these depictions have acquired the provocative term 'inspiration porn'.

Inspiration porn is an informal term created by the late disability activist Stella Young. Like pornography, it objectifies the subject (the disabled person) whilst providing a benefit for the viewer (the non-disabled person).

It's usually seen in media portrayals of disabled people in memes, news stories, videos, pictures and articles whereby the disabled person is a source of motivation for able-bodied people.

Coverage with this narrative coveys messages which are damaging to the disabled community, suggesting that disability is a bad thing and that living with one is extraordinary.

One of the main problems with inspiration porn is that underlying issues, such as accessibility and inclusion, are not addressed. It fails to bring attention to the real problems disabled people face every day.

It does not mean we should not highlight successful disabled people. However, it may be more helpful for organisations to include ideas from actual disabled people when considering any media portrayal. This will help in ensuring a meaningful and representative narrative is conveyed.

Furthermore, if you tell a story of a disabled person’s perseverance and success over difficult barriers they may have overcome, you should address why they've faced those barriers. Consider suggesting what changes could be made to remove those barriers so that disabled people do not face them again in future.

It’s important and valuable to show what tools and support disabled people need to function every day and use this to begin to normalise disability.

Read the full article

Implicit and explicit bias

Biases exist within all of us and are usually either unconscious (implicit) or conscious (explicit).

Implicit bias informs decisions and behaviours without awareness and can even directly contradict a person’s cognitive beliefs and values.

Explicit bias is intentionally using bias to discriminate and can be either overt (such as by harassing or bullying someone) or subtle (by actively excluding or ignoring someone).

All biases are learned stereotypes and prejudices stemming from past experiences and interactions as well as environmental factors and/or circumstances such as upbringing or wider societal influences.

During any experience, situation or interaction, your brain will unconsciously collect all available information to prepare for and inform future experiences. It uses this information to fill in blank spaces when anticipating an outcome, like what type of person would be best suited for a role you’re recruiting for.

The issue with allowing this preconceived information to fill in gaps and influence your decisions and behaviour is that it's often incorrect, discriminatory and perpetuates inequality.

It's important to be aware of what your biases might be and how to challenge them. Awareness is key to dismantling stereotypes that have developed in your mind over a significant amount of time. Just as it took time to build them, it'll also take time to undo them. You should be constantly alert to how your biases could be affecting your ability to be objective.

Our biases can come to the fore most when we're under pressure and our cognitive ability is impaired.

Organisations need to also consider how decision-making processes can be designed in a way to minimise the influence of bias, and regularly analyse data and review outcomes to check whether any group seems to be unjustifiably favoured or disadvantaged.

Inclusion allies

Allies are an effective and meaningful way to show a commitment to inclusion within your organisation and, as individuals, in society.

Anyone can be an ally and they can exist in many capacities. Primarily, they provide support to minority groups by signposting, raising awareness of issues and challenges, amplifying the voices of minority groups, and actively working against discrimination and inequality among many other things.

Within an organisation, we often see inclusion allies dedicated to particular strands (for example, LGBT+ and women), which is a valuable way to ensure tailored support, knowledge and activity.

Visible support from those at senior level or in majority groups meaningfully contributes to an inclusive and psychologically safe environment, letting people in minority groups know that they can be themselves, they are heard, and they are valued.

To allow for the most success with an ally initiative, it’s important they have a presence within every team in your organisation and at varying levels of seniority, weaving inclusion into your organisation in a visible way across the entire business.

In a professional context, it's a clear message that people have permission, and are welcomed, to feel included.

Two types of cognitive bias

Confirmation bias

This type of bias means people will often seek out and prefer information which supports their existing values or beliefs.

Confirmation bias can also impact how you recall or interpret information, for example: disregarding data, evidence or even people/groups of people if they do not conform to a preconception you may hold.

This can affect your ability to change your views, how you empathise and see different perspectives. These are exceptionally important traits during your professional life, especially in leadership positions.

It's completely natural to have confirmation bias but it's important that we do not allow it to influence us negatively.

Try to be curious about opposing views and experiences to your own and practise listening and understanding when others are sharing their thoughts and perspectives.

Bandwagon bias

Bandwagon bias is a form of 'groupthink' where you are influenced by the most widely held decision within a group of people.

Often, individuals in these situations will ignore their own beliefs and thoughts in place of conforming to the majority. This frequently happens to maintain harmony within a group, fulfil the basic need of human beings to belong or, similarly, to avoid rejection.

As we're by nature social creatures, it's particularly easy to succumb to bandwagon bias. This bias can negatively affect several things within a professional context.

A group identity can suppress individual ideas and creativity, inhibiting problem solving and perpetuating stereotyping. It can also make it difficult to identify obstacles and future issues both from overconfidence and resistance to new information which may impact the group decision or belief.

It's vital to create environments, teams and groups where people feel comfortable to share ideas, ask questions and, feel valued as an individual and as a member of the team. It's important to encourage both of these identities to exist in tandem.

As the decision maker or leader, you could do this by avoiding starting with your own views and ideas and instead encouraging everyone else to share theirs.

Avoid discouraging critical thinking, questions and new information. Instead, reward these behaviours by reacting positively to these types of contributions.

Models describing disability

There are a number of models used to describe disability and the way it's perceived.

The models are a means of defining disability, which can be helpful – especially for non-disabled people, in creating policies and strategies to best support disabled people.

As with all aspects of a person’s identity, choosing which model best represents you and your disability is an extremely personal choice.

Social model

The social model is the view that disabled people are disabled by society and its limitations, both physically (for example, by inaccessible buildings) and in the attitudes/behaviours of individuals.

It's the social and environmental barriers which prevent disabled people from equal opportunities and experiences rather than a person’s impairment or disability inhibiting them.

It's then the responsibility of society, and the people, employers and environments that exist within in it, to actively help in removing these obstacles and allowing disabled people equitable participation in society.

This model is often preferred by disabled people as not only does it promote inclusion, and collaboratively working together to achieve it, it also works to undo negative perceptions of disability and disabled people.

Medical model

This model of disability says that people are disabled by their health condition and looks at what is ‘wrong’ with the person, not what the person needs.

This model puts much of the emphasis on disabilities being the responsibility of the individual experiencing it. Thus, it's not the role of society to adapt and evolve to ensure equal experiences between disabled and non-disabled people, but that of the disabled person to work to be as non-disabled as realistically achievable.

This model also suggests that the disabled person must be 'cured' or medically treated to become as 'normal' as possible so they may lead a life like that of a non-disabled person.

This viewpoint can perpetuate discrimination, particularly that disabled people are 'abnormal', and exclusion.


Do you have a suggestion for a word, term or phrase we could discuss? Email our diversity and inclusion team to make a suggestion.

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