Being clear in the language we use is key to building a shared understanding of what we are aiming to achieve. Be open in your communication, actively listen to others, and be willing to explain or update the terms you use as language continually evolves. Below are some definitions of commonly used D&I terms and links to additional resources and further guidance on terminology.


Demographic diversity refers to different characteristics – for example: race/ethnicity, gender, disability, LGBT+, religion or belief, age, socio-economic background). The focus is often about ensuring fair representation.

Cognitive diversity refers to different knowledge, perspectives, ways of thinking and problem-solving. Evidence shows that cognitively diverse teams perform better on complex, knowledge-based work.

There is overlap between cognitive diversity and demographic diversity, as what we know, the way we think and the perspectives we have are, to some extent, influenced by our identity and background.


Inclusion means creating an environment in which people feel valued, respected and safe.

There is a saying ‘diversity is a fact and inclusion is an act’. Inclusion is needed to make diversity work.

If people do not feel included, they will not stay, or if they do, they will not share their diverse perspectives and the benefits that diversity can bring will not be realised.


Equality usually refers to creating equal opportunities, which includes taking steps to overcome barriers or to accommodate different needs.

However, some understand equality simply as treating people the same, regardless of differences in starting points and needs.


Equity is about ensuring different people have what they need to have a chance of succeeding. Sometimes it is contrasted with equality, where equality is taken to simply mean equal treatment.


Bias is showing favour or prejudice to one group over another, usually in a way that is considered unfair or not rational.

Many kinds of bias arise from how we think and can influence how we behave. Policies and processes can also be biased if they lead to outcomes that are unfairly skewed towards one group.


Intersectionality describes how some characteristics intersect to create multiple and distinct forms of disadvantage or advantage.

It draws attention to the distinct experiences (for example, of Black women or disabled women) within larger groups (women) that might have previously been presented as homogenous.

Psychological safety

Psychological safety means people feel safe to speak up and share their ideas. Interpersonal risks, such as fear of criticism or ridicule, are minimised.

A lack of inclusion for women or minority groups can mean they are less likely to experience psychological safety, whilst steep hierarchies have a similar effect for more junior staff.

Psychological safety for all has been shown to be a key ingredient for high performing, diverse teams.

Positive action

Positive action means taking proportionate steps to level the playing field for some groups, where you reasonably believe they have different needs, are under-represented or have faced historic disadvantage. It is allowed under the Equality Act.


Ally is someone from a majority group who visibly demonstrates support for equity and inclusion. They show an openness and willingness to learn and use their advantage to give voice to others.


Microaggressions are subtle behaviours that cause, often unintended, harm. They are frequently experienced by minority groups and the harm comes from the repeated signalling that they are not really valued or accepted.

Examples of microaggressions include repeatedly asking someone from an ethnic minority ‘where are you from?’ or assuming that the woman in the room is there to take notes.


The two basic definitions of discrimination in the Equality Act are:

  • direct discrimination – treating someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic than others in similar circumstances
  • indirect discrimination – occurs when someone is treated in the same way as others, but because of their protected characteristic this puts them, and others like them, at a particular disadvantage. It can be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim


Harassment is defined in the Equality Act as unwanted conduct that is related to a protected characteristic or is of a sexual nature, which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating a humiliating, degrading or hostile environment for them.


Bullying is unwanted behaviour from a person or group that is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting, or is an abuse or misuse of power, which undermines, humiliates or causes physical or emotional harm to someone.

Further resources

This guidance includes a terminology and language section, explaining many terms and concepts relating to disability inclusion:

Ornate curved staircase leading to Law Society Library in 113 Chancery Lane: stained glass window and gold-framed portraits with central marble pillar
Ornate curved staircase leading to Law Society Library in 113 Chancery Lane: stained glass window and gold-framed portraits with central marble pillar