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Defining Equity: Building Shared Language for Shared Goals

Hand pedaling to the capitol (Credit Alliance for Biking & Walking Photo Library)Often when we use a term, we fail to grasp its full impact or the significance of the context in which it is being used. To get a sense of what I mean, ask a sampling of people what they understand the word “race” to mean, and you’re likely to get answers that span multiple meanings.

While this dexterity in language can be exciting and useful for those of us cashing in on that high-wage-earning English degree, multiple uses in language can act as barriers to mutual understanding — and in many cases progress. So instead of playing one big game of organizational telephone, the Equity Advisory Council is working to create some working definitions in which to frame the complicated conversation around making biking accessible to all.

Recently the group developed some shared definitions around some key terms that kept popping up in our conversations on this topic. We wanted to ensure that, when these terms are used, everyone has a clear sense of their implications, usage and meaning. While these definitions are being utilized by the Council — and likely the League — they are not by any means the only appropriate definitions for these terms. We’d love to get your feedback on how others have used shared language to have difficult conversations in their communities and what other terms might be helpful in moving these conversations forward.

Here’s what we came up with:


The acceptance of members from different types of self identified groups into an organization or unit.

Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. It is all-inclusive and recognizes everyone and every group as part of the diversity that should be valued. A broad definition includes not only race, ethnicity, and gender — the groups that most often come to mind when the term “diversity” is used — but also age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values.


The act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people.

Inclusion integrates the fact of diversity and embeds it into the core mission and institutional functioning of an organization. It is the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity —  in communities with which individuals might connect — in ways that increase one’s awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions.


The guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of certain groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically underserved and underrepresented populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is needed to assist equality in the provision of effective opportunities to all groups.

Equity is the just and fair inclusion into a society in which everyone can participate and prosper. The goals of equity must be to create conditions that allow all to reach their full potential, erasing disparities in race, income, ability, geography, age, gender and sexual orientation.

Are there other terms or definitions that you’ve found essential to having productive discussions about Equity, Diversity or Inclusion in cycling? Share them with us and others and who knows we might be able to develop some other common definitions.

Want to help us define our focus on Women and Equity here at the League? You can do just that by filling out our Women & Equity survey so we can make sure our work around equity shares and advances your work, too.

Photos: Alliance for Biking & Walking Photo Library

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