D&Ictionary

In our monthly newsletter we've been exploring language within our D&Ictionary segment.

It can be challenging to navigate vocabulary within the diversity and inclusion sphere, but it's important to recognise how valuable it 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. We note though that there are many different approaches to terminology and there is 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’: emphasizing 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 is 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 isn’t 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 is 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, and 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 is 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 doesn’t mean we shouldn’t 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 don’t 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.

Do you have a suggestion for a word, term or phrase we could discuss? Get in touch with our diversity and inclusion team via email to make a suggestion.

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