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Businesses reduce use of BAME over racism concerns

Reports highlighting racism in UK business are leading companies to distance themselves from the widely used BAME acronym.

Kingsley Napley, a London-based law firm, is one business that has renamed its internal BAME and Allies Network in light of concerns about acronym raised in the recent report on inequality in the UK by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

The report called for the term BAME to be disaggregated, as putting all minority groups with their differing cultural, parenting and historical experiences together could lead to the misrepresentation of an individuals lived experience.

It called suggested using the term ethnic minority instead.

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Kingsley Napley's network is now called the Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage (REACH) group. It haas around 50 members and exists to promote and maintain an inclusive workplace at the firm.

The network's initiatives include securing management support for Kingsley Napley to sign up to campaign group, the Halo Code, that promises members of the Black community that they have the freedom and security to wear all afro-hairstyles without restriction or judgment and the #10000BlackInterns scheme.

Shannett Thompson, partner and co-chair of the group, said using the correct terms to describe people is a small part of the wider fight against racism and discrimination.

Speaking to HR magazine she said: “It is about respect. It is not enough in 2021 to ‘not be racist', we must be ‘anti-racist’, which is an active duty, and this means doing all we can to treat people appropriately, whatever their heritage or to whichever group they belong.

“The most recent statistics, from the 2011 census, estimate that the term BAME describes 14% of the British population.

“It remains to be seen whether this figure has dramatically changed following the 2021 census. Whilst the origins of the term stemmed from the idea of ‘political blackness’ in the 1970’s, in 2021, it is problematic.”

Thompson said she believes organisations who use the term BAME do so to avoid accountability.

She said: “Whilst umbrella terms can be helpful in some respects, it is now clear that using a descriptor for a collection of communities does not leave room for nuances and does not adequately respect difference.

“The problem with the term BAME is that it can disguise discrimination between ethnic groups and allow for individual issues to be brushed over.”

Kingsley Napley is not the first company to recognise the limitations of the BAME label, but Thompson said it is proud to have found consensus around a new name for the D&I group dedicated to anti-racism and inclusion in ethnic diversity. 

“For us, REACH sums up how we see ourselves and has none of the now negative connotations associated with BAME. We also intend, wherever possible, to avoid use of the BAME label across our business in future. 

“By following suit, other companies can stay ahead of the curve and be conscious of developments,” she explained.

Thompson advised any company wanting to improve matters relating to ethnicity should have an open and honest conversation with their people.

“My very strong view is that companies and HR teams should consider starting a dialogue on the move away from umbrella terms like BAME to demonstrate a desire to make changes.

“Our society continues to change, and therefore companies must do the same. To ensure employees feel included and inclusive, companies must think about the interconnectivity of their people to foster a sense of belonging regardless of seniority, race or ethnicity.”

Thompson said if companies want to be truly anti-racist, then candid and respectful discussions need to be had regarding race and ethnicity. Using umbrella terms creates a ‘smokescreen’ for affirmative action, she argued.

She said: “If companies are serious and have a genuine interest from a moral and productivity standpoint to increase diversity within their organisation, they will need to take proper affirmative action.

“This will mean breaking down any umbrella terms like BAME, and properly analysing their workforce.

“Once that initial step is taken, only then will the true picture be seen, and can there be an understanding of what work needs to be done."


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