top of page

Defining Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion can take on different meanings and interpretations depending on the individual and organizational context that is most relavent to each subject.

But the nature of this diversity is also historic, particularly when thinking about the role of indigenous peoples as original stewards of the land and the struggles of coexistence between those who came afterwards.

Here below is a brief review of some valuable ways that organizations have chosen to define these terms. 

UofT logo.png

University of Toronto

What is equity, diversity and inclusion?

  • Equity is the promotion of fairness and justice for each individual that considers historical, social, systemic, and structural issues that impact experience and individual needs.

  • Diversity is a measure of representation within a community or population that includes identity, background, lived experience, culture, and many more.

  • Inclusion is the creation of an environment where everyone shares a sense of belonging, is treated with respect, and is able to fully participate.

It is important to note that while an inclusive group is by definition diverse, a diverse group is not always inclusive. An inclusive university strives for equity and respects, accepts and values difference.


Canada council logo.png

Canada Council for the Arts


Equity and Diversity: The Council’s Definitions and Understanding


Equity and diversity are interconnected and interdependent concepts. Equity promotes diversity, and the promotion of diversity impacts the implementation of equity. However, the two notions are distinct: equity is a principle and a process whereas diversity reflects a reality or desirable state.


  • Equity is a principle and process that promotes just conditions for all persons to fully participate in society. It recognizes that while all people have the right to be treated equally, not all experience equal access to the same resources, opportunities or benefits. Achieving equality is not simply about treating individuals or groups in the same way, but may require the use of specific measures to ensure fairness. Implementing equity, therefore, concretely upholds the principle of social justice, equal opportunities for all, human rights, and requires a genuine and universal effort to uphold for the dignity of all people towards creating sustainable human development. 

    •  1. Equity does not mean sameness

    • 2. Equity means fairness

  • Treating people in the same way (formal equality) assumes that all people have comparable opportunities and access to resources. However many groups and individuals in society have been and continue to be systemically excluded and marginalized, and therefore deprived of true equality. The concept and practice of equity enables one to confront situations that are assessed as unjust and therefore moves to counter the injustice by attempting to create a level playing field (substantive equality). The need for equity also accounts for and arises from the existence of power relations and discriminatory practices that maintain or reenforce systemic exclusion.



“Diversity” is commonly used to denote a multiplicity of views, expressions, characteristics, experiences, abilities, cultures, sexual orientations and origins, etc. Diversity provides the context of co-existence of varieties within the whole and furthers the notions of interconnectedness, exchange and sustainable human development.


Cultural Diversity: The Canada Council defines cultural diversity as follows:


Cultural diversity is the presence, expressions and participation of many different individuals and communities co-existing in the shared culture of a society, and the explicit recognition that the contribution and participation of all peoples, particularly marginalized people, have the potential of equal value and benefit to the society at large.


For the Canada Council, the notion of cultural diversity is imbued with aspirations and actions that foster social justice and sustainable human development through the equal participation of diverse cultural communities. Just as biodiversity ensures the sustainability of the natural world, the existence and interconnection of different cultures increase the sustainability of the arts ecology, offering greater collective knowledge base, intergenerational collaboration and the increased capacity to innovate.



Canada's Tri-Agency for research funding: CIHR, NSERC & SSHRC

(Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council)

  • Equity is defined as the removal of systemic barriers and biases enabling all individuals to have equal opportunity to access and benefit from the program.

    • To achieve this, all individuals who participate in the research ecosystem must develop a strong understanding of the systemic barriers faced by individuals from underrepresented groups (e.g., women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, racialized minorities, individuals from the LGBTQ2+ community) and put in place impactful measures to address these barriers.

  • Diversity is defined as differences in race, colour, place of origin, religion, immigrant and newcomer status, ethnic origin, ability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and age.

    • A diversity of perspectives and lived experiences is fundamental to achieving research and training excellence.

  • Inclusion is defined as the practice of ensuring that all individuals are valued and respected for their contributions and are equally supported.

    • Ensuring that all team members are integrated and supported is fundamental to achieving research and training excellence.


CrCHUM logo.png

CRCHUM: University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre

What is EDI? 

The following definitions will help facilitate the understanding of these concepts: 

  • Equity: consists of ensuring that all members of our community are treated fairly, impartially and transparently, while recognizing the existence of certain advantages and obstacles, as a result of which not every member of our community starts at the same place. Therefore, equity allows us to give equal chances to everyone, by recognizing the differences among individuals.  

  • Diversity: refers to the conditions, mode of expression, and experiences of individuals and different groups, defined by, among other things, age, level of education, sexual orientation, being a parent and having parental responsibilities, immigration status, status as an Indigenous person, religion, being a person with a disability, language, race, place of origin, ethnic origin, culture, socioeconomic situation and other characteristics. Therefore, it means acknowledging our unique dimensions and seeing them represented at the CRCHUM. 

  • Inclusion: refers to a process of intentional commitment to diversity in order to ensure that every member of our community is able to actively participate in, and contribute to, the progress of our organization. It involves creating a philosophy that promotes, celebrates, respects, accepts and highlights differences. 



APA: American Psychological Association

  • Equity: providing resources according to the need to help diverse populations achieve their highest state of health and other functioning. Equity is an ongoing process of assessing needs, correcting historical inequities, and creating conditions for optimal outcomes by members of all social identity groups.

  • Diversity: involving the representation or composition of various social identity groups in a work group, organization, or community. The focus is on social identities that correspond to societal differences in power and privilege, and thus to the marginalization of some groups based on specific attributes—e.g., race, ethnicity, culture, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, spirituality, disability, age, national origin, immigration status, and language. (Other identities may also be considered where there is evidence of disparities in power and privilege.) There is a recognition that people have multiple identities and that social identities are intersectional and have different salience and impact in different contexts.

  • Inclusion: an environment that offers affirmation, celebration, and appreciation of different approaches, styles, perspectives, and experiences, thus allowing all individuals to bring in their whole selves (and all of their identities) and to demonstrate their strengths and capacity.


McKinsey Co logo.png

McKinsey & Company

What are the differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are often grouped together because they are interconnected and it is only in combination that their true impact emerges. Some organizations include related concepts, such as belonging, in their DEI strategies. But all of these terms are also easily misunderstood. It’s important to grasp the individual meanings and implications of each of these terms:

  •   ​Diversity refers to who is represented in the workforce. Some examples of diversity in workplaces include:

- Gender diversity: What makes up the composition of men, women, and nonbinary people in a given population?

- Age diversity: Are people in a group from mostly one generation, or is there a mix of ages?

- Ethnic diversity: Do people in a group share common national or cultural traditions, or do they represent different backgrounds?

- Physical ability and neurodiversity: Are the perspectives of people with disabilities, whether apparent or not, accounted for?

These are a few of the most common examples, but what is considered diverse can range widely. Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler touches on this in an interview with McKinsey on debiasing the corporation. “There’s lots of talk about diversity these days,” says Thaler. “We tend to think about that in terms of things like racial diversity and gender diversity and ethnic diversity. Those things are all important. But it’s also important to have diversity in how people think.”

  • Equity refers to fair treatment for all people, so that the norms, practices, and policies in place ensure identity is not predictive of opportunities or workplace outcomes. Equity differs from equality in a subtle but important way. While equality assumes that all people should be treated the same, equity takes into consideration a person’s unique circumstances, adjusting treatment accordingly so that the end result is equal. In an episode of the McKinsey Talks Talent podcast on the inclusive workplace, McKinsey senior partner and talent expert Bill Schaninger offers a view on the implications of equity when sourcing talent: “There’s a real difference between equal and equitable. Suppose we said, ‘All interns are created equal. We pay them nothing.’ The people who can afford an entire summer without getting paid are likely already coming from a position of privilege.”

  • Inclusion refers to how the workforce experiences the workplace and the degree to which organizations embrace all employees and enable them to make meaningful contributions. Companies that are intent on recruiting a diverse workforce must also strive to develop a sufficiently inclusive culture, such that all employees feel their voices will be heard—critical if organizations want to retain their talent and unlock the power of their diverse workforce. In an episode of the McKinsey Talks Talent podcast on the inclusive workplace, McKinsey partner and DEI expert Diana Ellsworth shared an example of how a lack of inclusion can manifest in workplace culture: “The LGBTQ+ community is underrepresented in the workplace, especially at more senior levels. As a result, many feel like an “only” at work and are more likely to experience microaggressions; they might feel unable to talk openly and comfortably about themselves, for example, or need constantly to correct assumptions about their personal lives.”


bottom of page