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Understanding diversity, equity and inclusion

First, read about some important related terms:


According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, the word community can refer to “a group of people forming a smaller social unit within a larger one, and sharing common interests, work, identity, location, etc.” This word is sometimes used to describe a group (for example, the disability community, the gay community, the Korean community).

But in the guide Covering Asia and Asian Americans, the Asian American Journalists Association points out that using a phrase like the Korean community “implies a shared like-mindedness that no reporter can possibly confirm.” In its style guide, the publication Mother Jones offers an alternative: “Consider using the plural ‘communities’ rather than singular… to avoid implying a monolith.”


Merriam-Webster defines diverse as either “differing from one another” or “composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities.”

The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, writes in “Should I Use the Adjective ‘Diverse’?,” that “[u]nfortunately, diverse “gets misused to refer to people or things that differ not from one another, but from what is considered to be mainstream, dominant, or the cultural norm.” Remember, using the word correctly, you can have a diverse group of multiple people who differ from one another, but no single person alone can be diverse.

The Race Reporting Guide, published by the organization Race Forward, says: “There are many kinds of diversity, based on race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, country of origin, education, religion, geography, physical or cognitive abilities. Valuing diversity means recognizing differences between people, acknowledging that these differences are a valued asset, and striving for diverse representation as a critical step towards equity.”


Our Shared Language: Social Justice Glossary, a guide from the nonprofit YWCA USA, recommends aiming for equity, “treat[ing] everyone fairly,” over equality, “treat[ing] everyone exactly the same.” YWCA says: “An equity emphasis seeks to render justice by deeply considering structural factors that benefit some social groups/communities and harms other social groups/communities. Sometimes justice demands, for the purpose of equity, an unequal response.”


Merriam-Webster defines inclusion as “the act or practice of including or accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability).” Race Forward’s guide says: “More than simply diversity and quantitative representation, inclusion involves authentic and empowered participation, with a true sense of belonging and full access to opportunities.”


Merriam-Webster defines minority as “a part of a population differing from others in some characteristics and often subjected to differential treatment.”

In a statement published August 4, 2020, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists asks journalists to rethink the way they use the term minority, noting: “Many people use ‘minority’ when they mean African American, Asian American, Native American, or Hispanics and Latino. The word holds the connotation of an ‘oppressed group.’ The way it is too often utilized minimizes historically marginalized people and promotes erasure [making it easier to ignore certain segments included in this umbrella term]. The people who are considered part of ‘minority groups’ are diverse and deserve the proper context.”

NAHJ advises: “Newsrooms may improve language by being more descriptive and specific, referring to groups or individuals by their nationality, race and/or ethnicity when appropriate.”

Race Forward also recommends generally avoiding the term minority. It does say it “may be needed in specific cases (such as ‘minority contracting’ and ‘minority-owned businesses’) to reflect data that is collected using those categories.” But in an essay arguing against the use of the term underrepresented minority, Estela Mara Bensimon, director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California, writes that “[r]eporting numeric data in the aggregate constitutes malpractice as it hides significant inequalities across groups… True, Blacks, Latinos and Latinas, Native Hawaiians, Hmong, and American Indians may share unequal outcomes in all the indicators of equal opportunity… But the roots of inequality for each group are enormously different… The undifferentiated URM category hides the origins of inequality.”

Women, who make up slightly more than half of the world population, generally do not count as minorities (though it depends on the context). But women, along with many other groups, can be considered minoritized. The YWCA guide defines a minoritized population as “[a] community of people whose access to institutional and structural power has been severely limited, regardless of the size of that population.” In contrast, a majoritized population is “[a] community of people whose access to institutional and structural power has been structurally guaranteed, regardless of the size of the population.”

The terms minoritized and majoritized do not seem to have made their way into many style guides, so don’t assume readers will know what they mean. It may be better to talk about a group being marginalized, which Merriam-Webster defines as “relegated to a marginal position within a society or group.”