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The language of inclusion

6 August, 2021

Language is hugely powerful, not least when we speak about the diverse composition of our society. A focus on terminology within the field of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is not about jargon, it is about understanding and representing everyone and their lived experiences. 

However, particularly in the fast-evolving and contested landscape of DE&I, having a guide to terminology, like the monthly ‘Diversity Dictionary’ update from The Other Box, is hugely useful. And last year they covered a term that is increasingly under scrutiny: BAME.  

BAME stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, but research shows that many people don’t know that. Regardless, the term has become common in media and government to describe, essentially, all people who are not white. As The Other Box points out, there are two main problems with this. Firstly, it homogenises the diversity of experiences of people and communities into a single acronym. As we all know, speaking in acronyms does not lend itself to nuance, engagement and understanding. Secondly, what does ‘minority ethnic’ even mean?  

Catch-all terms like BAME may be attractive when addressing DE&I issues, but the reality is that more specific listening, exploration and targeted action is needed to make a real difference. An example of a company doing just that is EY, whose recent ‘Commitment to anti-racism in the UK’ specifically challenges the use of the term BAME “as far as practically possible… to seek to truly understand all our employees.”  

EY’s Commitment particularly focuses on supporting Black colleagues and communities through separate representation targets and actions, including external outreach programmes and the publishing of their Black pay gap. This is a clear example of how using more specific language leads to more specific, and better, outcomes. 

By Ben Wood

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