Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents, and believing that no one should have poorer life chances because of where, what or whom they were born, or because of other characteristics.

Equality recognises that certain groups of people with particular characteristics, eg those of a certain race, disabled people, women, gay and lesbian people etc, have and continue to experience discrimination.6

 6 Equality and Human Rights Commission

Content warning

Some of the terminology and definitions used in this glossary relate to subject matter that may be upsetting or triggering for some people.

Access and Outreach refers to the activity undertaken to support underrepresented groups to access higher education. This may include:

  • Sustained and progressive programmes of targeted outreach with schools, colleges and job centres.
  • Broader collaborative activities with employers, third sector organisations and other education providers.

Activities may include summer schools, peer mentoring schemes or progression agreements.1 For more information on this see the University's Access and Outreach pages.

1 Office for Students

Someone who speaks up for themselves and others, eg a person who lobbies for equal pay for a specific group.2

 2 Pacific University Oregon

The tendency to connect with people who look and seem most like ourselves, this can result in us being more likely to ignore the negative traits of people we like and instead focus on the faults of those people we do not like. Also see the ‘Unconscious Bias’ definition.

Agency is the capacity of a person or group of people to act independently or to make choices. It refers to their power to choose to act in a particular way, and to carry out their chosen action.3

 3 Is Gender Fluid? - Sally Hines

A person who uses their privilege to support and advocate for others who may be under-represented or discriminated against, in order to create an inclusive environment.

For more information, take a look at the University’s How to be a white ally webpage.

A term(s) used to describe a persistent trend in the educational system in which certain groups achieve or are awarded greater academic success as opposed to other groups.

As described by the Care Leavers Association: “Any adult who spent time in care as a child (ie under the age of 18). Such care could be in foster care, residential care (mainly children's homes), or other arrangements outside the immediate or extended family.”

For more information and support regarding this, see the University’s Support for care leavers webpage.

A carer is a person who has total or substantial responsibility for providing help and support to another person. This could be a partner, a parent, a child, other relative, friend or neighbour. This might be due to a number of factors such as age, physical or mental illness, learning difference, addiction or disability. A carer can be an adult, child or young person.

For more information and support see the University’s Supporting staff with caring responsibilities and the student support for carers webpage.

Cognitive diversity relates to the different perspectives, ways of thinking and different skill sets that people from different backgrounds and diverse experiences have. In an ED&I context, it is often used to emphasise the benefits of including different people either in a conversation or team activity so as to provide a variety of different perspectives, ways of thinking and ideas.

A content warning, often abbreviated to ‘CW’, is either a written or verbal statement made at the beginning of a video, talk or other form of presentation that includes material that makes reference to topics such as sexual abuse, self-harm, violence, eating disorders, racial abuse etc, and this may take the form of an image, video clip, audio clip or a piece of text, which is part of the overall material.

A content warning is similar to a ‘trigger warning’ and the two are often used interchangeably. However a content warning refers to material that is often known in advance, such as a lecture about domestic violence, which is likely to be upsetting for some people. Whereas a trigger warning, which can be issued in much the same way (prior to the start of a video, talk or presentation) is used to warn people about material that is not central to the overall content, but which may still have the effect of triggering an individual who has experienced some form of trauma. This may for instance occur as an unplanned, subtle or singular reference to a particular subject, rather than as a significant theme running throughout the material. Therefore the catalyst for a trigger warning may itself not appear frightening or traumatic and may only be indirectly or superficially reminiscent of an earlier traumatic event, but it may nevertheless have the effect of triggering an individual’s trauma.

A value owed to all humans, to be treated with respect.4

Equality and Human Rights Commission

Recognising that everyone is different in a variety of visible and non-visible ways, and that those differences are to be recognised, respected and valued.5

5  UoY Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2017-2022

Equal opportunities, or equality of opportunity, may be defined as ensuring that everyone is entitled to freedom from discrimination, where individuals have an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential and accessing opportunities. The term ‘equal opportunities’ has mostly been replaced by ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ in recent years.

Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents, and believing that no one should have poorer life chances because of where, what or whom they were born, or because of other characteristics.

Equality recognises that certain groups of people with particular characteristics, eg those of a certain race, disabled people, women, gay and lesbian people etc, have and continue to experience discrimination.6

6 Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Equality Act 2010 came into effect on 1 October 2010 and legally protects people in the UK from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws, amalgamating them within a single Act, bringing together various pieces of equality legislation, such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995; making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations, particularly under the nine protected characteristics.7


The University of York’s Equality and Diversity Office is a centre for advice, guidance and good practice for our staff and student community. Our vision is to ensure that equality, diversity and inclusion are embedded at all levels of the institution and considered in everything the University does.

For more information about the Office and ED&I at the University in general, take a look at the University’s ED&I webpages.

Equality Impact Assessment is abbreviated to EIA or sometimes EQIA. This is where a detailed and systematic analysis is undertaken to determine how a policy, procedure or change to process etc, may disproportionately impact a particular group. For more information see the University’s EIA webpage.

Equity relates to the proposition that individuals should be provided with the resources they need to have access to the same opportunities as the general population.7a Where ‘equality’ sometimes indicates uniformity and the even distribution of resources among all people, ‘equity’ tends to represent the distribution of resources in such a way as to meet the specific needs of individuals by acknowledging that some groups and individuals require more or less resources in order to access the same opportunities as other people and groups. Treating everyone equally does not necessarily lead to equality, rather equal treatment often perpetuates existing hierarchies.


7a University of Washington

A student’s fitness to practise is called into question when their conduct, behaviour or health raises serious or persistent concerns regarding their suitability to continue on their programme of study, which leads to registration with a professional, statutory and regulatory body (PSRBs). This is mostly applicable to health and medicine related disciplines.

For more information see the University’s Fitness to Practice webpages.

Glass ceiling is a term used to refer to the barriers, either real or perceived, that prevent a given group from rising beyond a certain level in a hierarchy, for example via promotions and hiring processes. This term is often applied to either minority or marginalised groups but is also used when referring to issues faced by women in the workplace and society at large.

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. They ensure people can live freely and that they are able to flourish, reach their potential and participate in society. They help to ensure that people are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. An individual has human rights by virtue of them being a human and they cannot be taken away.8

8 Equality and Human Rights Commission

Identity relates to the characteristics and qualities of a person, considered collectively, and regarded as essential to that person’s self-awareness.9 An important dimension of an individual’s identity is their relation to a collective group identity, which is often socially realised and socially constructed. This means that a generalised view of an individual’s identity, based on their perceived association with a group, may be formed and may lead to harmful stereotypes, disadvantages and discrimination.

9 Equality and Human Rights Commission

This concerns the active creation of a learning, working and social environment that is welcoming, which recognises and celebrates difference and is reflected in structures, practices and attitudes.10

10 UoY Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2017-2022

Inclusive language refers to non-sexist language or language that “includes” all persons in its references. For example, the statement “a writer needs to proofread his work” excludes women due to the masculine reference of the pronoun. Likewise, “a nurse must disinfect her hands” excludes men and perpetuates the stereotype that all nurses are women.10a Therefore, unless you are referring to a specific person it is better to use language that is inclusive of all. This is especially important in policies and procedures. Also see the ‘Gender neutral’ definition.


10a Pacific University Oregon 

The theory of intersectionality was originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights activist, and was used to describe the specific inequalities faced by African-American women. The term is now used more broadly to refer to the idea that an individual’s identity consists of various biological, social and cultural factors, including their race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation etc, and that each of these contributes to their overall identity and to who they are as an individual.

As such, it is important to note that a single person may experience multiple forms of discrimination and systematic social inequality as a result of belonging to more than one social category simultaneously. It may also mean that they experience either privileges or disadvantages on the basis of differing aspects of their identity, and they may experience barriers or even be excluded from one particular group as an indirect result of their identification with another. Also see the ‘Lived experience’ definition.

Liberation is a term applied to forms of activism that oppose and fight against the oppression of marginalised groups. It refers to freedom from all forms of oppression in every aspect and every level of society and concerns more than tweaking the existing systems to establish better practices, it is centred around dismantling structural and interlocking systems of oppression.

Lived experience refers to the unique knowledge an individual gains through direct, first-hand experience of living their life while identifying with one or more protected characteristic, such as race, religion or sexual orientation etc. Lived experience refers to a person’s understanding of what life is like for them as a unique individual, how they are treated by others and their experience of navigating the systems and processes that are embedded into the society around them. 

In an ED&I context, lived experience also refers to the different forms of direct and/or indirect discrimination that an individual may face due to their actual or perceived association with a particular group or protected characteristic. The discrimination that individuals face is unique to them and may be impacted by the intersection of other aspects of their identity as they identify with multiple protected characteristics. Also see the ‘Intersectionality’ definition.

This is one of the ways that the University is able to find out more and build an accurate picture of the diverse composition of our staff and student community, so that it may create policies, procedures and sources of support that directly benefit and respond to the needs of individuals and groups.

For more information on staff equality monitoring see the University’s ED&I webpages.

In relation to ED&I, performative activism is a negative term that refers to an individual or an organisation’s activist work in such a way as to suggest that the motives behind such efforts are for the purpose of appearing more inclusive or progressive, rather than resulting from a sincere devotion to a particular cause or goal. It may be the case that as a result of performative activism real and lasting change is achieved via tangible action that is taken; however, performative relates to a critique of the motivation behind action and not necessarily the end result. Also see the ‘Tokenism’ definition.

Unlike positive discrimination (see below), positive action is lawful action that seeks to overcome or minimise disadvantages that people who share a protected characteristic have experienced, or to meet their different requirements (eg providing mentoring to encourage staff from under-represented groups to apply for promotion). For information about positive action that can be used in recruitment, take a look at the University’s guidance around the use of inclusion statements in recruitment.

Making reasonable adjustments is another example of a positive action and where taking specific action, such as installing a wheelchair ramp, with a particular group in mind (ie wheelchair users) is required by law. It is worth noting that in the example of the wheelchair ramp, this adjustment does not provide wheelchair users with an advantage over non-wheelchair users, it merely provides the same level of access to a group of people who would otherwise be at a disadvantage and thus takes into account the needs of one particular group.


Unlike positive action (see above), positive discrimination refers to treating an individual or group with a protected characteristic more favourably in order to counteract the effects of past discrimination in such a way that is considered unlawful. An example of this may be promoting or recruiting an individual on the basis of a protected characteristic that they hold, despite them having failed to demonstrate that they are qualified to perform the role. As with the use of positive or inclusive statements in recruitment processes, it is lawful to encourage more individuals from a particular underrepresented group to apply for a vacancy, however it is unlawful to appoint an individual on the basis of their protected characteristic alone, without them meeting the criteria for the role.

Protected characteristic is a term used in the Equality Act 2010 to describe the characteristics that people have in relation to which they are protected against discrimination and harassment. Under the Act, there are nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation.11 For more on this see the ED&I Legal Responsibilities webpages.

11 Equality and Human Rights Commission


The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) came into force across Great Britain on 5 April 2011. It means that public bodies have to consider all individuals when carrying out their day-to-day work - in shaping policy, in delivering services and in relation to their own employees. 

It also requires that public bodies have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate discrimination
  • advance equality of opportunity
  • foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities12

For more information on this see the ED&I Legal Responsibilities webpages.

 12 GOV.UK

Taking into account the views and desires of others in how you treat people.13

13 Equality and Human Rights Commission

The University has a number of staff networks or forums that provide an opportunity for interested staff members to participate in promoting progress and good practice in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as opportunities for peer support and development. Find out more about this via the University’s Staff Equality Networks and Forums webpage.

The University recognises that, in some circumstances, students may experience difficulties or have conditions that may require additional support in order for them to meet their responsibilities. Support to Study/Attend provides a range of support services that help students in our academic community deal with aspects of student life that can inhibit learning.

The University also recognises that there are sometimes circumstances where it is in the best interest of a student and of the community for a student not to be studying, even if the student does not agree. Support to Study/Attend relates to how the University may discharge its duties of care in response to concerns about students’ fitness to study and/or attend. It enables the University to respond appropriately to situations where there are substantial concerns about a student’s welfare and/or their impact on the safety or welfare of others.  For more information see the University’s Support to Study/Attend webpages.

Tokenism is the practice of making only superficial or symbolic gestures to appear inclusive of members of underrepresented or minoritised groups. For instance, by recruiting people from minority ethnic groups an organisation may attempt to give the appearance of racial integration or balance within a workforce, but may make no further efforts to invest additional resources into exploring the root cause of such imbalance, or to improving the experiences of minority groups once they are part of the workforce. Also see the ‘Performative’ definition.

The unconscious associations and beliefs that are said to form outside of our own conscious awareness, which lead to positive or negative inclinations towards or against other people, groups or communities.

Unconscious biases can lead to stereotyping and interfere with impartial judgement and decision-making and have been shown to influence recruitment and selection decisions, as people tend to form positive associations for those who are like them, which leads to more negative outcomes for those people who are not like them. Also see the ‘Affinity bias’ definition. 

Although there is a lot of debate around the effectiveness of unconscious bias training, the purpose is to help people recognise when they are making a decision based on an unconscious belief or assumption, and to help people develop practical tools to mitigate the negative impact that a bias may have upon decision-making in the moment. Also see the 'Implicit bias' definition, along with the University’s Unconscious Bias training modules.

Groups of people who are insufficiently or inadequately represented, relative to their representation in broader society. People within these groups may be subject to barriers and forms of discrimination.

For example, this may be groups of students who share the following particular characteristics where data shows gaps in equality of opportunity in relation to access, success or progression:

  • students from areas of low higher education participation, low household income or low socio-economic status
  • Students from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds
  • mature students
  • disabled students
  • care leavers

National data indicates that there are additional groups of students with particular equality gaps and support requirements that can be addressed in an access and participation plan. These are also included in our definition of underrepresented groups:

  • carers
  • people estranged from their families
  • people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities
  • refugees
  • children from military families.14

14 Office for Students

Woke is a term defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a person being “alert to injustice in society, especially racism”.