Diversity Dictionary: 10 racial equity phrases every leader needs to know

The conversation of race and racial equity in the workplace can be a tricky thing to navigate. There’s nothing worse than not knowing the right term to convey what you mean or feeling worried you may accidentally say the wrong thing.

Racial equity needs everyone to be actively involved, and educating yourself is a vital first step. If you’re not comfortable with all the racial equity phrases that may come up, it will be harder to advocate for yourself and for others.

To help people see the value of taking action for social justice and standing against racial bias, here are some of the key terms you need to know:

10 must-know racial equity phrases — and what they actually mean

Race

When we talk about race, we’re leaning on the entrenched grouping of people based on their physical characteristics.

But did you know that racial categorisation schemes were actually invented by scientists — to support worldviews that some groups were inferior to others? Therefore, we know that race is a social construct and has nothing to do with our biological makeup.

Ethnicity

This is another social construct used to divide humans into distinct groups. Technically speaking, an ethnic group shares a common distinctive ‘categorisation’ –– such as culture, religion, language, ancestral geography, etc. In society, our race is determined by how we look while our ethnicity is determined based on the social and cultural groups we belong to. And both categorisations have been used to fuel discrimination.

Intersectionality

Intersectionality is all about understanding how different social identities overlap with each other. Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term as a framework to understand how people can simultaneously experience privilege and oppression.

For example, a Black woman in the workplace won’t experience the same gender inequality as a white woman in the same workplace, nor will she have the same racial oppression as a Black man. Racism interacts with other systems of oppression (such as ableism, homosexism, and xenophobia, to name a few) to produce unique experiences for different individuals.

Intersectional approaches to racial equity remind us that we need to dig deeper into the employee experience and diversity data, to reveal truths about our organisations.

>> Watch Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk ‘The urgency of intersectionality" here.

Intentional inclusion

You’ll be familiar with the term ‘inclusion’. And intentional inclusion takes it one step further.

Intentional inclusion in practice would see a sharing of power between a diverse group of people. It would mean that traditionally excluded individuals are actively represented in the day-to-day running of your workplace. It’s also not enough to just assume that everyone is included in the same way.

Intentional inclusion is essential to make sure that your staff are equally included in decision-making and policy-setting across the board. This can’t just be token inclusion, it has to be authentic to foster a true sense of empowerment and belonging.

>> For more information about building and retaining diverse talent, download our Racial Equity in the Workplace 2022 UK report.

Allyship

An ally is a member of a dominant or privileged social group who actively promotes the rights of a less-privileged group. Allyship has become a dicey topic in the last few years. During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, many people were accused of performative allyship –– being vocal about racial equity but not actually doing anything of substance.

As an organisation, it’s essential to ensure that you’re following through on what you’re saying about racial equity, both publicly and internally.

Anti-racism

It’s not enough to not be racist –– to be a true ally and work toward racial equity, we need to be anti-racist. This is the practice of actively opposing racism, in both daily personal interactions and in a professional setting.

Before being able to promote anti-racism in your community, you must first address your own internalised racism. Taking proactive steps to rectify unconscious biases within yourself –– as highlighted in the book How To Be An Anti-Racist –– will then set you up to champion anti-racism in the workplace.

Racial equality

‘Equality’ and ‘equity’ are often used interchangeably –– but there’s a big difference.

Racial equality aims to have all races on the same level but doesn’t take into account any historical context. In the name of equality, every person is treated the same way. Each individual or group is given the exact same resources or opportunities, in the name of total fairness.

Racial equity

Equity is what builds an anti-racist future. The concept of racial equity recognises that not all races are starting from the same place. Some people and groups have different circumstances and need different resources and opportunities to succeed. Equity is about providing those particular resources to the groups who need them.

It’s crucial that policies, procedures and day-to-day operations are designed to promote true equity and fairness.

Colourism

Colourism is the prejudice in favour of people with lighter skin and is constantly perpetuated by the media and the beauty industry.

While racial bias usually only occurs between individuals of different races, colourism can occur also among members of the same group. Society subconsciously has a preference for people with a lighter skin tone relative to those with darker skin — a preference that’s ingrained from a young age.

This skin-tone bias affects equity in the workplace –– multiple studies have found a wage gap linked to skin colour, which widens as the worker’s skin tone darkens. Organisations need to be aware of the repercussions of subconscious colourism, which can be addressed with unconscious bias training.

White privilege

Societal advantages that are bestowed upon white people — and those who present as white. These beliefs are unlearned and unconscious, steeped in generational racism. Acknowledging white privilege, and the benefits that come from it is the first step toward becoming a true ally.

Generally, white people who get ahead thanks to white privilege do so without even being conscious of it.

Talk the talk and walk the walk

FLAIR helps organisations to understand and measure racial equity in the workplace, make informed decisions and build an inclusive culture where all people thrive.

Our unique survey and data-driven approach takes organisations on the necessary steps to create a racially equitable workplace.

Racial equity is one of those complex issues that can be hard to broach in a professional setting –– but there’s no denying that it’s essential. To help you get started, read our guide 'Getting started with your Racial Equity Strategy in 2022'.

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