Definitions of Equality and Diversity Terms Tcm68-24952

Definitions of equality and diversity terms

This document gives definitions of some of the words and phrases most commonly used when talking about equality and diversity in higher education.   For a fuller list please refer to the booklet A to Z of equality and diversity cited on the last page.


Assumptions are the judgements made, or opinions held, about people. For example, assumptions can be based on experience of past behaviour e.g. ‘he has always let me know when he’d be late; therefore (since he hasn’t contacted me to say otherwise) I’m assuming he will be on time for our appointment’.

However, assumptions become problematic when they are based on partial or flawed information, or where the attributes commonly ascribed to particular groups of people are applied to individuals. For example, it might be assumed that there are no female Muslim students in a class because none of the women in it wears the hijab, or that there may be no disabled people in a department because no one uses a wheelchair. Actions that are taken as a result of any erroneous assumptions could result in discriminatory behaviour.


Bullying can be defined as offensive behaviour which violates a person’s dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment, or which humiliates or undermines an individual or group. Such behaviour can be vindictive, cruel or malicious.

Bullying is generally considered to be a form of harassment that is not directly related to discrimination. For example, the law explicitly cover sexual and racial harassment but at present it does not explicitly cover bullying. Bullying can cause stress and employers may fail in their duty of care to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of employees, if they do not take steps to prevent it. Most HEIs now have policies, guidelines and codes of practice covering bullying.

Bullying can take various forms, from name calling, sarcasm, teasing, and unwarranted...