This glossary defines terms used in this pledge and select additional terms related to the pledge to build mutual understanding and a common base from which to operationalize the pledge. It is not intended to be a comprehensive list of DEI/REE terms. The definitions are based on how these terms are in the context of DEI/REE in the United States at the time of drafting the pledge.


Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way that’s considered unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences.

  • Conscious or explicit bias is when individuals are aware of their prejudices and attitudes toward certain groups. Positive or negative preferences for a particular group are explicit biases. Overt racism, discriminatory behavior, and racist comments are examples of explicit biases.
  • Unconscious or implicit biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. People can hold unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from the tendency to organize social worlds through categorizing those groups.

Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious bias and is often incompatible with one’s conscious values. Certain scenarios can activate unconscious attitudes and beliefs, and individuals may be unaware that biases, rather than facts, are driving their decision-making.1 2

  1. UCSF Office of Diversity and Outreach. (n.d.). Unconscious bias. 

  2. US Department of Justice Community Relations Service. (n.d.). Understanding bias: A resource guide., 


The acronym BIPOC is used to refer to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. People of Color (POC) is an umbrella term referring to all people who are not white. BIPOC adds recognition of Black people and those who identify as African Americans as well as Indigenous people, including Native Americans. This term is intended to recognize and acknowledge the experiences and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color, or non-white people, within the context of the United States.1 2

The shift in terminology from POC to BIPOC is important for two reasons. First, the term BIPOC centers the experiences and identities of Black and Indigenous People, rather than defining a group based on their relationship to whiteness. Second, POC is a broad umbrella term that fails to capture the separate struggles and experiences of people with a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, so the inclusion of Black and Indigenous attempts to expand recognition of this diversity. We acknowledge the limits of capturing all experiences of diverse people using one term.

  1. The BIPOC Project. (2016). The BIPOC project: A black, indigenous, & people of color movement. 

  2. Clarke, C. (2020, July 2).BIPOC: What does it mean and where does it come from?” CBS News. 

Decolonizing International Development

As an industry, international development has begun to reckon with the colonial, racial, social, cultural, political, and economic dynamics, history, language, and frameworks embedded in its institutions, processes, and power structures.

The process of decolonizing international development includes reflecting and “interrogating” humanitarian aid and development through the lenses of colonization, systemic racism, and socioeconomic interdependencies to develop new processes, practices, and systems that recenter the power structures of development and humanitarian work. 1

The practice of decolonizing international development includes dismantling racist organizational and communications practices, acknowledging and understanding the colonial histories in contexts where development work is conducted, and valuing and centering the knowledge and expertise of local partners and experts. 2 3

  1. Kertman, M. (n.d.). Do what I say, not what I do: Decolonizing language in international development. Annotations Blog, Journal of Public and International Affairs. 

  2. Trialogue. (2020, October 14). Decolonising international development. 

  3. Cheney, C. (2020, January 6). INGOs can help dismantle development’s ‘white gaze,’ PopWorks Africa founder says. Devex. 


Discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of individuals or groups based on characteristics such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex and gender (including gender identity/expression see “Gender”), age, marital and parental status (including pregnancy), disability, sexual orientation, or genetic information.1 Discrimination puts burdens, obligations, or disadvantages on some individuals or groups that are not put on others, and/or denies or limits access to resources, opportunities, and advantages.

Discrimination can take various forms, such as:

  • Direct discrimination, when an explicit distinction is made between groups of people that results in individuals from some groups being less able than others to exercise their rights.
  • Indirect discrimination, when a law, policy, or practice is presented in neutral terms (no explicit distinctions are made) but it disproportionately disadvantages a specific group or groups.
  • Intersectional discrimination, when several forms of discrimination combine to leave a particular group or groups at an even greater disadvantage.2
  • Institutionalized discrimination refers to the unjust and discriminatory mistreatment of an individual or group of individuals by society and its institutions as a whole through unequal intentional or unintentional bias or selection as as opposed to individuals making a conscious choice to discriminate. It stems from systemic stereotypical beliefs (such as racist beliefs) that are held by the majority living in a society where stereotypes and discrimination are the norm. Such discrimination is typically codified into the operating procedures, policies, laws, or objectives of such institutions.3
  1. US Department of the Interior. (n.d.). What are discrimination, harassment, harassing conduct, and retaliation? Equal opportunity and workplace conduct. 

  2. Amnesty International. (n.d.). Discrimination. 

  3. Institutionalized discrimination. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved September 10, 2021, from 


Diversity is about recognizing and valuing individual and group differences across various visible and invisible dimensions. These dimensions include race, sex and gender, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, age, physical ability as well as personal life, educational and work experiences, geographic and socioeconomic roots, plus differences like thinking and communication styles, cultural knowledge, language abilities, and religious or spiritual perspectives.1

  1. Adapted from Mercy Corps’ Gender Equality, Diversity and Social Inclusion Strategy (2020-2023), Glossary of Terms. 


Equality is the state of balanced power relations that gives equal rights, responsibilities, opportunities, and decision-making authority to all people. It occurs when one group is not routinely privileged or prioritized over another and all people are recognized, respected, and valued for their capacities and potential as individuals and members of society.1

  1. Adapted from ACDI/VOCA Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Policy (2020) Glossary of Terms and Mercy Corps’ Gender Equality, Diversity and Social Inclusion Strategy (2020-2023) Glossary of Terms. 


While diversity refers to recognizing and valuing individual differences, equity is about creating fair access, opportunity, and advancement for all without bias. Equity is the fair treatment of all people according to their respective needs and the historic construct and constraints associated with particular groups of people. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different by group but is equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities. To ensure fairness, strategies and measures may be necessary to compensate for the historical and social disadvantages that prevent people from otherwise operating equally in society.1

  1. Adapted from ACDI/VOCA Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Policy (2020) Glossary of Terms and Mercy Corps’ Gender Equality, Diversity and Social Inclusion Strategy (2020-2023) Glossary of Terms. 


Ethnicity is a socially constructed concept that categorizes people according to common sociocultural characteristics and identities. Specific characteristics associated with ethnicity include ancestry, culture, customs and traditions, history, language, nation of origin, and religious and tribal affiliations.


Gender refers to the socially constructed roles and expectations of each sex (see below) within a given society. Although gender roles vary across different contexts, gender is nearly always linked to power within societies-almost always unequally. Understanding gender and gender dynamics (including power imbalances) is a crucial component of development programming as transforming gender norms is frequently critical to facilitating equality.1 2

Gender is not a synonym for sex and a person’s gender identity and gender expression do not always align with their sex. Gender is also not limited to binary terms (i.e. male and female) and it can change over time.

  • Sex or biological sex, or sex assigned at birth, is the classification of a person as male, female, or intersex, as determined at birth, usually based on the appearance of external anatomy but is a reflection of a combination of characteristics including chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs, and secondary sex charactheristics.
  • Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of their gender, which may or may not align with their sex and which is not necessarily externally visible.
  • Gender expression refers to the ways in which a person manifests their gender–including by name, pronoun, clothing, hair style, behaviors, voice, and/or body characteristics-which a society identifies as feminine, masculine, or a combination (i.e., adrogynous).
  1. Agarwal, A., & Golwalkar, R. (2021). EngenderHealth language guide for gender, sex, and sexuality. 

  2. EngenderHealth. (2021). Gender, youth, and social inclusion (GYSI) analysis framework and toolkit. 


Harassment is a form of employment discrimination. Legally, harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability, or genetic information (including family medical history). Harassment becomes unlawful when: (i) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or (ii) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.1

  1. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Harassment. 


Inclusion refers to how diversity is leveraged to create a fair, equitable, healthy, and high-performing organization or community where all individuals are respected, feel engaged and motivated, and their contributions toward meeting organizational and societal goals are valued.1

Social inclusion is the process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of people disadvantaged on the basis of their identity to take part in society. Participation and respect are key elements of inclusion and are pathways to REE, but inclusion alone is not equity.[^18]

  1. O’Mara, J., & Richter, A. (2014). Global diversity and inclusion benchmarks: Standards for organizations around the World. 


“Indigenous” describes any group of people native to a specific region. It is estimated that there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide who practice unique traditions and retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. There is vast diversity among indigenous peoples, so the UN recommends identifying rather than defining indigenous peoples using criteria such as:[^19]

  • Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member.
  • Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies
  • Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
  • Distinct social, economic or political systems
  • Distinct language, culture and beliefs
  • Form non-dominant groups of society
  • Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.

Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw more than 30 years ago, is defined as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups”.1 Recognizing intersectionality is important for understanding how individual and group economic, political, and social identities compound one another and affect power structures, including power imbalances, resulting in different experiences of privilege or marginality. Examples of social categories that may intersect in this manner include: age, class, caste, (dis)ability, ethnicity, gender, geographic location, migration status, physical appearance, race, religion, sex, sexuality, and sexual orientation.2

  1. Columbia Law School. (2017, June 8). Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality, more than two decades later. 

  2. Merriam-Webster and the additional explanation builds upon guidance from EngenderHealth’s Gender, Youth, and Social Inclusion (GYSI) Analysis and Framework Toolkit 


Microaggressions are everyday actions and behaviors that have harmful effects on historically excluded groups. A microaggression is a subtle behavior – verbal or non-verbal, conscious, or unconscious – directed at a member of a marginalized group that has a derogatory, harmful effect. The perpetrator of a microaggression may or may not be aware of the harmful effects of their behavior. While microaggressions are sometimes conscious and intentional, on many occasions microaggressions may reflect the perpetrator’s implicit biases about marginalized group members. Whether intentional or not, researchers have found that even these subtle acts can have effect on their recipients.1

  1. Hopper, E. (2019, July 3). What is a microaggression? Everyday insults with harmful effects. ThoughtCo. Retrieved September 10, 2021 


The state of being equal, especially in relation to placement, position, responsibility, and pay.1 Parity is a quantitative indicator of equity in an organization.

  1. Cambridge English Dictionary. (n.d.). Parity. Retrieved September 11, 2021 


Privilege includes advantages, benefits, entitlements, and opportunities afforded to certain individuals or groups and not to others.

Those with privilege may be unaware that they hold such privilege and be resistant to acknowledging it or the power that supports it. Further, a person may experience advantages for one social characteristic, such as race, while concurrently experiencing disadvantages for another social characteristic, such as gender or economic status (see “Intersectionality”).

  • Social privileges are linked to social characteristics or memberships in particular groups related to age, appearance, class, caste, (dis)ability, ethnicity, gender, migration status, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation. Social privileges are often associated with characteristics and memberships that are static and unearned (such as those previously listed), but in some cases may be alterable (e.g., education attainment and wealth status). Social privileges often favor a majority group (for example, cisgender, heterosexual, white men) who serve as powerholders and can disadvantage minority group members.
  • White privilege describes the societal advantages that white people have over BIPOC people. The term white privilege was first developed by Peggy McIntosh in 1988 in her paper “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” where she described white privilege as the unspoken advantage that members of the dominant culture have over other people.1 White privilege extends to white people having rights and structural and social advantages that other racial and ethnic groups do not, with white being seen as “normal” or the default state.2
  1. Cuncic, A. (2020, August 25). “What is White Privilege?”, Very Well Mind. Retrieved, August 25, 2020 

  2. Racial Equity Tools. (n.d.). System of White Supremacy and White Privilege., Racial Equity Tools 

Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is the belief that one won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with regard to one’s ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. At work, it is a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject or punish one for speaking up. It means that people feel comfortable being themselves and can be authentically themselves in the work environment without fear of repercussions. Psychological safety is grounded in feelings of trust and belonging.1 2

  1. Center for Creative Leadership. (n.d.). What is psychological safety at work? 

  2. McKinsey & Company. (2021, February 11). Psychological safety and the critical role of leadership development. 


Race can be defined as a competition to determine an outcome. Race is also a socially constructed concept that categorizes people based on physical appearances (such as skin color) and ancestry. Race is not a biological or genetic categorization.

Racial and Ethnic Equity (REE)

Racial and ethnic equity builds equality, parity, and justice specifically for BIPOC individuals. In the United States, it addresses power dynamics between western white and BIPOC individuals, and builds equity to ensure fair access, opportunity, and advancement for BIPOC individuals on systemic, institutional, interpersonal, and individual levels that is free from bias and discrimination.

Racial Justice

Racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone. The goal of racial justice is for all people to achieve their full potential in life, regardless of race, ethnicity, or the community in which they live.1

  1. Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2021, April 14). Equity vs. equality and other racial justice definitions. Retrieved September 10, 2021 


Racism is the belief that humans are divided into racial categories defined by perceived physical characteristics (see “Race”); that these physical traits are linked to behavior, intellect, morality, and personality; and that certain racial groups are inherently superior to others.

Racial superiority and associated racial hierarchies, have been reinforced throughout history through slavery, colonization, and discrimination. This racist hierarchy manifests at different levels:

  • individual racism, also known as interpersonal racism and personally mediated racism, is what people most frequently associate with the broader term of racism. Individual racism reflects the attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, actions, and behaviors of an individual-conscious and unconscious, active and passive-that perpetuate inequality and inequities. Individual racism ranges from the telling of a racist joke to violence enacted against a person based on race
  • institutional racism occurs within institutions (e.g., a school, a business, a government or policymaking institution, a professional association, a religious institution); and is demonstrated in biased policies and practices that chronically favor or discriminate against select racial groups which routinely results in increased disparities among racial groups. For instance, a school or workplace policy that prohibits select hairstyles commonly associated with Black students or staff (see also “Institutional Discrimination”).
  • structural racism, also known as systemic racism, exists across institutions and society as a feature of overarching social, economic, and political systems. Structural/systemic racism reflects a system of common institutional practices and public policies that perpetuate racial inequalities. One example of structural/systemic racism in the US is the racial income and wealth gaps which are the results of a history of discriminatory policies, such as those related to employment and salary, housing, and savings and investments.1
  1. Per the US Department of Labor, as published July 2021 in the Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers report, “among the major race and ethnicity groups, median weekly earnings of Blacks ($799) and Hispanics ($779) working at full-time jobs were lower than those of Whites ($1,012) and Asians ($1,281).” 


Stigma is the disapproval and/or devaluing of an individual or group based on certain characteristics–real or perceived. Stigma occurs when a society categorizes and labels individuals, conceives or upholds stereotypes associated with those labels, and discriminates against those associated with those labels based on those stereotypes. Stigmas are commonly linked to prejudices related to social characteristics (e.g., age, appearance, class, caste, culture, (dis)ability, economic status, educational attainment, ethnicity, gender, health status, migration status, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation).

There several types of stigma, including:

  • self-stigma refers to feelings of negativity or guilt and internalized shame that people hold about themselves
  • anticipated or perceived stigmas are negative associations that an individual or group believes others hold against them
  • public stigma refers to negative and/or discriminatory attitudes that individuals and groups hold against other individuals or groups
  • institutional stigma is systemic and includes institutional policies (of governments or private entities) that intentionally or unintentionally discriminate against certain groups of individuals
Western White Centeredness

White centeredness is a form of privilege (see “Privilege”) in which the beliefs, expectations, feelings, interests, norms, perspectives, and values of white people are assumed as the default and standard in processes and/or outcomes. Western white centeredness is predicated on the fact that eurocentric standards and beliefs related to white supremacy prevail as ideals in global and multiculturalist settings to the disadvantage of BIPOC.1 While historically these types of power imbalances are manifested through colonialism and slavery, they persist today at individual, institutional, and systemic levels (see “Racism”).

In international development, western white centeredness, and associated white exceptionalism and white fragility, is demonstrated in how the “Global North” (also referred to as “the West” or the “first world and second world”) or white western individuals apply their bias (consciously or unconsciously) both in their own organizations as well as where they work in the “Global South” (also referred to as “developing countries” or “third world”). This dynamic is also predicated on the power that the Global North retains over the Global South, and the imbalance of power between western white people and BIPOC people.

  1. Weller, R. C. (Ed.). (2017). 21st-Century narratives of world history: Global and multidisciplinary perspectives. Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-62078-7