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Diversity and inclusion: a pocket dictionary

Picture of a hand holding a mini dictionary.

It’s impossible to generalize about concepts like ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. They acquire different content depending on the context or sector. We’re happy to help you along the way with a concise pocket dictionary that presents appealing or useful quotes for each concept.

● Diversity & inclusion

According to the American Association of Museums, diversity is ‘is all the ways that people are different and the same at the individual and group levels.’ Inclusion then, refers to ‘the intentional, ongoing effort to ensure that diverse individuals fully participate in all aspects of organizational work, including decision-making processes’.

Advocating for diversity means making space for ‘a variety of ideas, art forms, cultural products, and contributions by people who themselves bring variety because they have diverse backgrounds. In an ideal world, this would go without saying.’ However, ‘inclusion seems easier than it is because no matter how inclusive a society aims to be, exclusion will always exist. Enclosure always involves exclusion. Moreover, we might wonder whether the question of who belongs is a static, settled concept or continually changing.’ (Source: Begrippenkader voor een inclusieve samenleving)

Equity versus equality

‘While the terms equity and equality may sound similar, the implementation of one rather than the other can lead to dramatically different outcomes for marginalized people. Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person’s circumstances are different and allocates precisely the resources and opportunities needed to reach an equitable outcome.’ (Source: Online Public Health)


‘This is the idea that people in society experience a multiplicity of factors that mean diversity as described above cannot simply be assumed to exist. Intersectionality shows 1) that discrimination exists based on those factors, 2) that equality of opportunity cannot be taken for granted because of those factors and 3) that the complexity of interaction between different factors shows that even gender differences do not always work to the advantage of men.’ (Source: Begrippenkader voor een inclusieve samenleving)

Unconscious bias and privilege

‘Unconscious bias (or implicit bias) is often defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favour of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair. Many researchers suggest that unconscious bias occurs automatically as the brain makes quick judgments based on past experiences and background. As a result of unconscious biases, certain people benefit and other people are penalized.’ (Source: Vanderbilt University)

You can take implicit bias tests on the websites of many universities, including Harvard: LinkedIn offers an online course called ‘Unconscious Bias’ to its premium members (


LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation used mainly as a symbol of the rights movement behind it, but it is also a useful memory aid to check that you haven’t left out any people or groups when considering sexual and gender diversity. Here is a brief reminder of what each of the letters or symbols stands for. (Source: Wel Jong Niet Hetero)

Lesbian: woman sexually attracted to women

Gay: man sexually attracted to men

Bisexual: person sexually attracted to both men and women

Trans: person who is transgender or transsexual

Queer / Questioning: queer is an umbrella term for all those who do not feel heterosexual or cisgender, while questioning is applied to people who are not 100% certain of their sexual orientation and/or gender

Intersex: person born with both male and female sexual characteristics, hormones or genes

Asexual: person who feels little or no sexual attraction to others

+: All other sexual orientations, genders and sexes that do not fall under the above letters Institutional racism

‘Institutional racism’ is a sociological term that refers to the systematic exclusion of or discrimination against certain groups, based on written and (above all) unwritten rules, traditions, behaviour and conventions. In short, its range is fairly broad. Institutional racism can be found in the Netherlands in, for example, the housing market, the language, traditional practices, medical guidelines, recruitment procedures and police forces. (Source: De Correspondent)

Cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation is the unthinking adoption of a custom, tradition, look, symbol, language or other cultural characteristic of a marginalized group. Innumerable people, without any knowledge at all of Palestinian culture, traditions and history, political or otherwise, wear a keffiyeh because ‘it looks good with skinny jeans’. Or they may get themselves a Samoan tattoo because ‘David Beckham’s got one’, without even knowing where to find Samoa on the map. Or they may use blackface during carnival or on Sinterklaas. This too is an aspect of institutional racism. (Source: De Correspondent)


‘Neurodiversity’ is a term that expresses acceptance of the idea that people with autism, for example, have brains that are differently ‘wired’. This makes them different from other people, but ‘different’ definitely does not mean ‘inferior’ or ‘sick’. In fact, the neurodiversity movement claims that because they are different, people with autism make a valuable contribution to society. This contrasts starkly with what is known as the biomedical model, which assumes that autism is a disorder of the brain and therefore a defect. (Source: Nederlandse Vereniging voor Autisme)

International sign language

People who are born deaf learn to communicate in ways that are very different from those of people who can hear. Sign language is very important to them, and the use of sign language interpreters at press conferences is therefore essential. But even people who do not know sign language can communicate with deaf people. (Source: Het goede leven) Sign language is not universal; each country has its own. This has to do with the fact that a language develops in a community. Wherever people come together and communicate, a language emerges. Since people who cannot hear speech don’t all live in the same place, all over the world there are communities of deaf people that have developed their own sign language. (Source: Nederlands Gebarencentrum)International sign language is the version used at international conferences.

Looking for more?

These sources discuss inclusive terms and vocabulary:

● What do we actually mean? Concepts for an inclusive society (in Dutch)

● Demos/Citylab brochure ‘Macht herverdelen’ ('Redistribute Power', in Dutch)

● Words matter – An Unfinished Guide to Word Choices in the Cultural Sector

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