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DEI

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abbreviation
diversity, equity, and inclusion: a conceptual framework that promotes the fair treatment and full participation of all people, especially in the workplace, including populations who have historically been underrepresented or subject to discrimination because of their background, identity, disability, etc.
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Also DE&I
Formerly D&I
See also JEDI.

Origin of DEI

First recorded in 2015–20

Other definitions for DEI (2 of 2)

D.E.I.

abbreviation
Dutch East Indies.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does DEI stand for?

DEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The term is mainly used in the context of initiatives that aim to improve and maintain the level of diversity, inclusion, and equity in organizations, especially in workplaces and educational settings.

Though these three words are all related and can overlap, they are meant to indicate different values and goals.

Diversity

In the context of DEI, the word diversity refers to the involvement of individuals with many different identities and backgrounds. This includes all the ways people’s identities can be different, including gender, age, skin color, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, national origin, disability, and neurodivergence, among other things.

One goal of many organization’s DEI initiatives is to have a level of diversity that is proportionally representative of the general population where it operates. For this reason, the word representation is sometimes contrasted with diversity (because an organization can be diverse without necessarily being representative).

Equity

The word equity refers to equitable treatment and conditions—those that allow people to engage and participate in equal ways. In a broader context, a distinction is often made between equity and equality. Just because conditions are the same (equal) for everyone, does not mean they are equitable. For example, all the employees of a company may have access to the same resources, but if an employee with a disability is not provided with the accommodations that allow for them to fully participate, they are not receiving equitable treatment. In this way, true equity is thought to be measured by the fairness of the results and outcomes that it produces.

Inclusion

The word inclusion refers to the practice of including all members of a group or organization in the activities of that group or organization, and maintaining an environment and culture that makes them feel welcome. Inclusion efforts are especially intended to support people who are frequently underrepresented, excluded, or discriminated against. The idea behind inclusion is that such people shouldn’t just be recruited or hired, they must be supported in a way that allows them to be involved to the same extent as everyone else in the group. Of course, this overlaps with equity.

Many companies have DEI departments, committees, or programs devoted to such initiatives, though they are sometimes known by different names.

The term DEI was preceded by DI and D&I (for Diversity and Inclusion), and these abbreviations are also still used. Some organizations use the term JEDI, which adds the word justice to the other three. DEI is sometimes written (or pronounced) as DE&I.

DEI is most commonly used as a modifier in other terms, such as DEI committee and DEI initiatives.

Example: I joined my company’s DEI committee because I want to support our efforts to recruit and retain diverse talent.

Where does DEI come from?

The term Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and its abbreviation, DEI, have gained popularity since the early 2000s. It derives from the term Diversity and Inclusion (DI or D&I), which started to increase in use around the early 90s. The addition of the E for Equality reflects the evolution of such initiatives and of the understanding of what can make them more effective.

Such programs have developed out of efforts to address systemic racism and other forms of systemic discrimination, especially as it affects people in the workplace and educational settings. These programs—once popularly called diversity education or diversity training—have existed in some form since at least the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement increased awareness around these issues in the U.S.

Today, many DEI programs emphasize the importance of all three components in parallel, noting that diversity without inclusion is not equitable. This involves both external initiatives (such as those to recruit diverse talent and to perform community outreach) and internal ones (such as those to retain diverse talent and maintain an inclusive environment).

DEI glossary

DEI training programs and initiatives often introduce many different terms surrounding the issues that they aim to address. Here are a few you’re likely to encounter, along with their meanings in the context of DEI.

  • empathy: the ability or practice of imagining or trying to deeply understand what someone else is feeling or what it’s like to be in their situation. Empathy is often cited as the key to any DEI initiative.
  • intersectionality: the overlap of a person’s various social identities, especially in relation to the idea that certain groups are the subject of multiple forms of systemic oppression.
  • implicit bias: bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs.
  • stereotype: a preconceived notion or association about a type of person that prevents you from viewing each person as an individual. Stereotypes are often negative, but even “positive” stereotypes can be harmful.
  • prejudice: an unfavorable opinion, attitude, or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, especially about people with a particular identity or within a particular group.
  • discrimination: mistreatment of a person or people based on a prejudice toward them.
  • microaggression: a subtle but offensive comment or action directed—even (and often) unintentionally—at a member of a marginalized group. Microaggressions often reinforce a stereotype in some way.
  • performative: done for the sake of appearance, as opposed to being done with the goal of real change. Some DEI programs may be criticized as performative if, for example, they are enacted simply to improve the organization’s image or insulate it from criticism or discrimination lawsuits.
  • tokenism: the practice or policy of making no more than a token effort or gesture, or doing the bare minimum, such as in an admissions policy or hiring practice. For example, hiring only a few people from underrepresented groups and then prominently featuring them on the company’s website—to give the appearance that such a group is representative of the entire company—is something that would be criticized as tokenism.

How is DEI used in real life?

DEI is mainly used in the context of programs enacted in workplaces and educational spaces. The term is most commonly used as a modifier in phrases like DEI program and DEI committee.

Try using DEI!

True or False?

The E in DEI typically stands for equality.

How to use DEI in a sentence

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