DEI Toolkit: Ethnicity & National Origin

Illustration of a world map with pins and arrows indicating travel between different locations.


Definition of ethnicity

1 : ethnic quality or affiliation
2 : a particular ethnic affiliation or group

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Definition of ethnic

1a : of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background
b : being a member of a specified ethnic group
c : of, relating to, or characteristic of a minority ethnic group

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Ethnicity relates to a group of people who share some cultural characteristics, such as customs, language, food etc. These common characteristics tie people together and provide a shared history and often shared experiences. In the U.S. there have been different ethnic communities since the first wave of immigrants arrived, and these still exist today — from the people of Dutch origin in central Pennsylvania, to the Swedish-heritage neighborhood just outside Chicago, to the Cuban-American community in Miami, and many more ethnic enclaves around the country.

Some related concepts are nationality, country of origin and national origin. These concepts are used interchangeably in the U.S. Nationality is defined as people who have a common origin. Country of origin is just that: the country where someone (or someone’s family) comes from. Similarly, national origin is defined as where a person (or their family) is from. All of these concepts include individual attributes such as: a person’s birthplace, ethnicity, ancestry, culture, and language. However, it is important to remember all of these concepts, including ethnicity, are different from an individual’s race.

Ethnicity shapes our experiences and gives individuals unique perspectives on how the world works. These unique perspectives can supplement the perspectives we already have and make our views on workplaces, classrooms or meetings more robust and inclusive.

What is most important for us to understand in relation to these concepts is that people, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality or country of origin, can make valuable contributions to our society and to AAUW. We need to strive to find a way to be more inclusive of this segment of the population.