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Beyond the 'BAME' tick box: What inclusive language looks like moving forward

23 November, 2021

The language we use to write about ethnicity matters, and although it can be uncomfortable to ask difficult questions, getting it right is crucial to attracting diverse early talent. A positive attitude to diversity and inclusion is important for almost all our members, with 92% of them saying it’s something they consider when applying for roles.

The term BAME, and the controversy around the acronym, have been at the forefront of inclusive language discussions for some time now. Let’s take a look at the term, why we believe employers should use more progressive language, and what our diverse member network has to say on the issue.

Where does ‘BAME’ come from?

According to the BBC, BAME is a UK term derived from the 1970’s anti-racist movement and comes from the idea of ‘political blackness’ - the belief that the shared experience of racism can bring non-white ethnicities together.

Around 14% of the UK population is estimated to be from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic background (BAME). Within this number, the ethnicity breakdown is as follows:

  • Asian heritage - 7.5%
  • Black heritage - 3.3%
  • Mixed/ Multiple heritage - 2.2%

The UK’s BAME population is much more dynamic and complex than the acronym depicts.

The end of BAME

The term BAME is seen as banding vastly diverse cultures together by othering them. Only now, at an institutional level, are discussions around why the term BAME is regressive are occurring. In March 2021 the government published an independent report - ‘The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’: A key recommendation from this report is to ‘Disaggregate the term BAME’ and focus on understanding disparities and outcomes for specific groups in the UK.

The term BAME causes us to overlook the nuances between different ethnicities and, in turn, reinforces structural barriers within early talent that keep underrepresented groups from having full access to opportunities. It’s clear there is a need for change. Language is constantly evolving and, to remain authentically inclusive, employers must change with it.

Inclusive language moving forward… Our members’ thoughts

If we take the view that these groupings are unhelpful, potentially alienating and a poor reflection of our reality, we should adopt a consistent lexicon moving forward. Let’s take a look at what inclusive language looks like to our members.

We surveyed over 400 of our traditionally labelled ‘Black Asian and Minority Ethnic’ members to find out their thoughts and opinions on this topic. Here are our key findings:

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When asked ‘What alternative terms do you think employers should use when referring to your ethnicity, the response was clear cut:

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Perhaps the key lesson here is to ask direct questions and be authentic, in other words, there is no need for grouping: we should describe people as what they feel most closely represents them. The best way to achieve this is by starting a dialogue.

Change in action

In our partnership with Macquarie, we worked together on ‘The Diversity Academy’ to evolve their approach from focusing on the attraction and conversion metrics of BAME candidates, to specifically black heritage students. Among two other very specific groups, we identified the need to target black women and designed an outreach to engage and provide them with the upskilling sessions and coaching they need to succeed through the application process.

Data was the foundation for us to really understand which groups might be excelling or struggling at different stages of the application process, and we could deploy targeted and impactful coaching to ensure every candidate could put their best foot forward.