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What do we mean by ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’?

Defining 'diversity' and 'inclusion' through the eyes of different global perspectives.
What do we mean by 'diversity' and 'inclusion'? written on white title card in front of 2 construction workers.

Definitions: What do we mean by diversity & inclusion?

You will see a variety of words with different definitions used when discussing this agenda, so it is helpful to ensure that we are all working with the same understanding at the beginning of the course.

Meanings may vary, but the definitions that we work with at CIOB are as follows:


At its most basic, it simply means ‘difference’, but in the context of this course and related discussions we take it to mean recognising and valuing the differences between people as an asset. These differences include personal characteristics such as race, disability, gender and religion or belief.

Having a diverse workforce is beneficial as people with different experiences can bring new perspectives to discussions. A diverse staff body can more quickly identify the different needs of service users or customers, bringing efficiency and effectiveness. Diverse organisations can also help to attract new employees and there is evidence that they foster higher rates of staff satisfaction.

But it has been said that ‘diversity’ alone is not enough. This is because diverse organisations are not necessarily inclusive and can, for example, limit under-represented people limited to certain low-status roles.


The meaning we will be using is that ‘inclusion’ is a positive decision to create an environment where everyone feels welcome, valued and can fully participate.

During the three weeks study you will be seeing research demonstrating that actively inclusive organisations are more effective, profitable, agile and have improved staff retention.

To conclude: ‘diversity’ is often just the reality, whereas ‘inclusion’ is a commitment to act to make positive change. It is also worth noting that when referring to inclusive practices, we recognise that they benefit everyone – not just particular underrepresented groups.

Other words that may come across when discussing this agenda:

Equality: The commonly held meaning is ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents. For may, for example, relate to giving everyone the opportunity to apply for a job and to be assessed on merit alone against the same criteria. Equality is a word that that is often linked to legislative measures to address unfairness or imbalance.

Equity: An increasingly popular term; – the contemporary definition of which means taking account of the barriers and disadvantage historically faced by people on the basis of their personal characteristics. In recruitment, this could be dropping the requirement for academic qualifications (e.g. a degree) where it is not deemed necessary for the job role.

Belonging: In the context of this course, ‘belonging’ refers to the state of feeling welcomed, comfortable and appreciated in respect of all aspects of personal characteristics. Employees who feel belonging might consider themselves to ‘fit-in’ with an organisation, to be valued and be treated with respect for their contributions. Companies with high levels of belonging can expect to see higher employee retention and better rates of staff satisfaction.

Fairness: There are many different views on what is ‘fair’, but in respect of this course we will use the meaning of the state, condition, or quality of being fair, or free from bias or injustice. To be ‘fair’ is to act without prejudice and in a reasonable manner. However, it is worth noting that an understanding of what is ‘fair’ can vary greatly depending on cultural, legislative and historical contexts.

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Diversity and Inclusion in the Built Environment

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