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What is DEI?: The Top 10 Terms You Need to Know

No matter what organization, state, or region of the country you work in, you have probably heard the term “DEI.” You may also know that DEI is an acronym for the words Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. You may have even seen different forms of DEI, such as “DEIB” (B = Belongingness), or the DEIA (A = Accessibility; also acronymized as IDEA by those with a more creative eye). But if you clicked on this blog post, you, like most people, may be wondering what those words really mean. If you are just learning about, confused about, or simply curious about what DEI is, this is the resource for you!

Avoiding DEI Definition Myths

For those that are confused about what DEI is, your confusion may be because the words that make up DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) are often associated with misconstrued definitions. For example, some people may claim their organization is looking for a diversity hire, but diversity is based on the demographic makeup (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) of a group, meaning that an individual cannot be diverse.

Another example of the confusion often occurs between the terms equity (which is the fair treatment of all employees) and equality (which is the treatment where all employees receive the same resources, regardless of a group’s specific needs). The primary reason why equality is not the end goal of DEI is because certain groups have different needs and resources, whereas equity considers each group’s specific needs when determining what resources should be distributed.

Finally, while people may say they “feel” included in a group, they really mean that they feel like they belong to the group - this is thanks to the inclusive behaviors of their peers and/or leaders. Inclusive behaviors can start as small as turning your body toward someone entering a room, or even a simple smile (these behaviors are also known as microaffirmations). It’s actions like these that can make others feel valued, respected, seen, and heard, which can drive employees’ perceptions of belongingness, which then lead to organizational outcomes such as higher engagement and lower turnover intentions.

DEI Terms Defined

Not only do the definitions of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion tend to be misconstrued, but these terms also capture the importance of various other terms not included in the acronym. We define some of those terms below. While there are many extensive DEI glossaries available, this blog simply provides a list of 10 key DEI terms that are pivotal to understand when beginning one’s DEI journey. These definitions are how we at Mattingly Solutions define the terms based on research, literature, and our years of experience helping organizations enhance their DEI journeys.

So, are you and your organization ready to start your DEI journey? Well, the glossary below is the perfect place to start!


The feeling that one’s authentic self is valued, respected, seen, and heard


An inclination or predisposition for or against something (see also “Unconscious bias”)


The presence (and amount) of difference among a group within a given setting


The fair treatment of all employees regarding the accessibility of information, opportunities, and resources

Inclusion (or Inclusive Behaviors)

Actions that make others feel valued, respected, seen, and heard


The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage


Brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward others


An unjustified or incorrect attitude (usually negative) toward an individual based solely on the individual’s membership of a social group


Ensuring that your workforce demographics represent the people in your market, your industry, and the population in geographic areas your organization operates

Unconscious Bias

Also called “implicit bias”; subconscious beliefs that are likely to show up as unfair decisions, behaviors, and outcomes. In the context of DEI, unconscious bias commonly results in discrimination against individuals from underrepresented groups (see also “Bias”)

Next Steps

So, now you have a basic list of definitions often used in DEI. But you may be wondering what steps you or your organization can take to use these terms. Well, you can start by having conversations with your coworkers and leaders about how they define these terms. Do they have a similar understanding of these words, or do they have a different understanding of DEI? While it may seem basic, creating a shared understanding of DEI and the goals around it is essential for gathering support for DEI initiatives in the workplace. By engaging in conversations based on these basic definitions, you can begin to create change in your organization.

Anthony Roberson, M.S. is an I/O & DEI consulting assistant at Mattingly Solutions and also a PhD student at the University of Nebraska - Omaha. Learn more about and connect with him here.


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