The language of diversity and inclusion

Everyone will have had different experiences of diversity and inclusion and the language itself can be confusing, with people often worried that the wrong words may cause offence.

This is demonstrated in the experiences of Zamila Bunglawala, Cabinet Office, with her thoughts on the do’s and don’ts involved in language. She comments that acronyms and terminology used to refer to people from ethnic minorities can be easily misunderstood, have negative connotations and make people feel marginalised.


Recognising that, ‘understanding what is and isn’t appropriate language is the first step to helping us have more confident and respectful discussions about these issues’, she includes some simple tips to help such as referring to ‘ethnicity’ rather than ‘race’, ‘BAME’ or ‘BME’, ‘non-white’ or ‘non-black’.

Diversity can be defined as the ‘what’ and inclusion as the ‘how’, they are different but linked:

Diversity refers to the presence of people who, as a group, have a wide range of characteristics, seen and unseen, which they were born or have acquired. These characteristics may include their gender identity, race or ethnicity, military or veteran status, LGBTQ+* status, disability status, and more.


*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, and others.


Inclusion refers to the practice of making all members of an organisation feel welcomed and giving them equal opportunity to connect, belong, and grow – to contribute to the organisation, advance their skill sets and careers, and feel comfortable and confident being their authentic selves. Deloitte, The inclusion imperative for boards, April 2019

The Equality Act 2010 sets out nine protected characteristics and it is against the law to discriminate against someone because of them.

Transgender awareness


There are 500,000 trans people in the UK and Rikki Arundel’s session on rethinking sex and gender explored different terminology, the challenges faced and the impact on inclusion in the workplace.


Although the question of whether you are a male or female shouldn’t affect anything, it does shape a person’s life. One of the biggest challenges faced is the fear of shame that comes from the feeling of being different, treated differently and that you don’t belong.


While we need to understand the impact of social identity, it is particularly important for trans people. Rikki suggested that there is a lack of awareness about trans people, which must be addressed.

Possible actions to create a LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace:

  • clear equality policies – fairly enforced
  • mandatory awareness and unconscious bias training
  • encourage and fund LGBTQ+ support
  • make health and other benefits LGBTQ+ inclusive
  • include LGBTQ+ people issues in publications
  • focus marketing and advertising on LGBTQ+ community
  • support local LGBTQ+ events.


There are a large number of gender possibilities, with each person having their own individual mix that doesn’t need to fit into a particular term. Gender is about self expression and to simply be ourselves is what we need to encourage people to do. Rikki’s overall key message is the need to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Exhibit 5: Additional characteristics and preferences


King’s Fund, Diversity and inclusion: at the fund and in the health and care system.


It is important to recognise that people are not a single homogenous group who will fit neatly into one characteristic. There is significant intersectionality with each individual bringing their own diverse lived experience and needs.


The FFF diversity forum provided an opportunity for individuals to share knowledge and understanding, described by as one attendee as ‘emotionally and educationally engaging’. Thought-provoking workshops included topics such as transgender awareness and unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias

Desiree Silverstone, Executive coach and leadership trainer at Head Honchos, stresses the need to be bold, brave and courageous in tackling unconscious bias.

Bias means that a person prefers an idea and possibly does not give equal chance to a different idea. There are three main types of bias:


  • Decision-making bias, such as confirmation bias, where there is a tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions


  • Social biases, such as the false consensus effect when there is a tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them


  • Memory error bias, such as the bizarreness effect bias where unusual material is better remembered than common material.


Desiree explained that there are 11 million stimuli every second and you are only able to be aware of 50. Past experiences become your prediction method. Emotions are contagious too and you need five positive thoughts to counteract one negative one. In modern times, the brain reacts to the threat of not being part of a group. To influence change we need to move from fast to slow thinking where our response can be based on increased awareness and questioning.