This glossary provides definitions for common terms and acronyms referenced in discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in venture capital. The definitions have been sourced to academic institutions, research organizations, DEI experts and thought leaders, and management and leadership-focused companies.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and we invite you to share any terms or acronyms you think should be included here by contacting us.
Diversity is the representation, in a group, of various facets of identity, including (but not limited to) race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, LGBTQ+ status, socioeconomic status, ability, religion, and age. In an organization, diversity often refers to the degree to which specific groups are represented in the workforce and in leadership. However, more firms now recognize that simply having a diverse workforce is not sufficient. They are broadening their horizons beyond a narrow focus on diversity and inclusion to also consider equity. (Source: VC Human Capital Survey)
Note: A person, investor, founder, etc. is not diverse (e.g., “diverse investor” or “diverse founder” are not accurate phrases). (Source: CultureAmp)
An umbrella term that combines Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a pillar to organizational culture and growth, hiring and investment decision-making process, and talent and human capital management. Oftentimes abbreviated as DEI or DE&I.
Belonging may be included and abbreviated as DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging).
Treating everyone the same way, often while assuming that everyone also starts out on equal footing or with the same opportunities. (Source: VC Human Capital Survey, more on the difference between Equality and Equity)
Equity is often confused with equality. Equality is when all people are treated identically, without consideration for historical and systemic barriers and privileges. Equity is the outcome of diversity, inclusion, and anti-oppression wherein all people have fair access, opportunity, resources, and power to thrive, with consideration for and elimination of historical and systemic barriers and privileges that cause oppression. The goal of equity is to get everyone beyond those systemic barriers to the same starting place.
Equity also has a distinct impact when applied within the venture capital ecosystem given the industry’s role—and the associated partner economics that result—with funding the next generation of promising young startups. Therefore, it is important for the VC industry to examine and consider changing the design of systems and processes that determine who holds the power of financial equity, which means rethinking internal talent practices as well as external networks. (Source: VC Human Capital Survey)
Risk factors and value
creation opportunities that extend beyond the financial accounting framework. ESG-aligned investing is concerned with both inward facing and internal risks and opportunities and how they affect company/fund performance. An ESG-oriented investor seeks to identify and mitigate material ESG risks and capitalize on value creation opportunities to improve returns. ESG has become more commonplace in public markets and is increasingly gaining traction in private markets, including venture capital. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is frequently referenced as a component of ESG. (Sources: PitchBook Analyst Note 2021 and 2022)
A term coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s to describe the way that multiple systems of oppression interact in the lives of those with multiple marginalized identities. Intersectionality looks at the relationships between multiple marginalized identities and allows us to analyze social problems more fully, shape more effective interventions, and promote more inclusive advocacy amongst communities. (Source: UC Davis)
An intangible asset stemming from a person’s talent and experience. Human capital isn’t an official asset that can be quantified on a balance sheet. But it’s still considered an economic value for a company or VC firm. Human capital can be separated into three types: knowledge capital, social capital, and emotional capital. Hiring a diverse workforce is a key aspect to increasing human capital in an organization. (Source: BetterUp)
The concept that there is great diversity in how people’s brains are wired and work, and that neurological differences should be valued in the same way we value any other human variation. (Source: Catalyst)
A term used to describe any subset of a population that has been underrepresented and overlooked. Underestimation is defined as the belief that minority individuals have to work to overcome and correct initial impressions of those who have already made assumptions. Minority communities work to overcome the challenges of both underrepresentation and underestimation at the same time. (Sources: Arlan Hamilton and Capital One Business Resources)
A term describes any subset of a population that holds a smaller percentage within a significant subgroup than it holds in the general population. (Source: Law Insider) For example, women, people of color, other marginalized communities, and people outside California, Massachusetts, and New York would be considered underrepresented groups in the venture capital ecosystem.
An acronym used to refer to black, Indigenous and people of color. It is based on the recognition of collective experiences of systemic racism. As with any other identity term, it is up to individuals to use this term as an identifier. (Source: University of Washington)
A dynamic set of historically derived and institutionalized ideas and practices that (1) allows people to identify or to be identified with groupings of people on the basis of presumed (and usually claimed) commonalities including language, history, nation or region of origin, customs, ways of being, religion, names, physical appearance and/or genealogy or ancestry; (2) can be a source of meaning, action and identity; and (3) confers a sense of belonging, pride, and motivation. (Source: University of Pittsburgh)
The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are pan-ethnic terms meant to describe – and summarize – the population of people living in the U.S. of that ethnic background. In practice, the Census Bureau most often uses the term “Hispanic,” while Pew Research Center uses the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably when describing this population. Hispanics are people from Spain or from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America (this excludes Brazil, where Portuguese is the official language), while Latinos are people from Latin America regardless of language (this includes Brazil but excludes Spain and Portugal). Hispanics can be of any race, because “Hispanic” is an ethnicity and not a race. See also Latino, Latina, Latinx, Latine. (Source: Pew Research Center)
Latino refers to a person from Latin America regardless of language. Latina is the feminine form of Latino. Latinx, pronounced “La-TEEN-ex”, is a non-binary form of Latino or Latina. The suffix “-x” replaces the “-o” or “-a” corresponding to masculine or feminine, allowing the word to resist the gender binary. In Spanish-speaking countries, the term Latine with the suffix “-e” is circulating as an alternative to the -o/a binary. See also Hispanic. (Sources: Pew Research Center and UC Davis)
A collective term for non-Black people of color. (Source: University of Washington)
A collective term for people of Asian, African, Latin, and Native American (non-White) backgrounds; as opposed to the collective “White” for those of European ancestry. (Source: University of Pittsburgh)
A term used to identify and define individuals as part of a distinct group based on physical characteristics and some cultural and historical commonalities. Once used to denote differentiations in humankind based on physiology and biology, race is now understood as a social construct that is not scientifically based, though is still commonly associated with notions of biological difference; race is still sometimes perceived as innate and inalterable. A person may belong to more than one race. The U.S. Census Bureau defines five race categories:
(Sources: University of Pittsburgh and U.S. Census Bureau)
A social construct used to classify a person as a man, woman, or some other identity. Fundamentally different from the sex one is assigned at birth.(Source: UC Davis)
A sense of one’s self as trans, genderqueer, woman, man, or some other identity, which may or may not correspond with the sex and gender one is assigned at birth. (Source: UC Davis)
Abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual. An umbrella term that is often used to refer to the community as a whole. (Source: University of California)
An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people. A person’s sexual orientation can fall into more than one category. (Sources: Human Rights Campaign and Cleveland Clinic)
A type of unconscious bias, also known as the similarity bias, which refers to the tendency to favor people who share similar interests, backgrounds, and experiences. We tend to feel more comfortable around people who are like us. This bias may affect hiring decisions. For example, a hiring manager gravitates towards a job applicant because they share the same alma mater. (Source: Asana)
A strategic mechanism used by individuals to become collaborators, accomplices, and co-conspirators who fight injustice and promote equity in the workplace through supportive personal relationships and public acts of sponsorship and advocacy. Allies endeavor to drive systemic improvements to workplace policies, practices, and culture. (Source: Harvard Business Review)
A form of prejudice that results from quickly classifying individuals into categories. (Source: University of Washington)
A set of shared ideas, customs, traditions, beliefs, and practices shared by a group of people that is constantly changing, in both subtle and major ways. (Source: LSU)
Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, is a learned assumption, belief, or attitude that exists in the subconscious. Everyone has these biases and uses them as mental shortcuts for faster information-processing. Implicit biases are developed over time as we accumulate life experiences and get exposed to different stereotypes. Unconscious biases manifest in different ways and have varying consequences. Asana covers 19 common biases here.