UK government drops use of ‘BAME’

Out-Law News | 17 Mar 2022 | 4:41 pm | 3 min. read

The UK government will no longer use the term ‘BAME’ to refer to different ethnic minority groups within society, it has confirmed.

The government said it was acting on a recommendation from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities as it strives to “report responsibly on race”.

‘BAME’ is an acronym that has been used to collectively classify people of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. However, in a new ‘Inclusive Britain’ strategy, the government said it would no longer use the term so as “to communicate more effectively on racial issues and to avoid lumping together different ethnic minority groups”. It said it “will encourage other public sector bodies to do the same”.

“Reporting on news and issues around ethnic minorities needs to be done sensitively, accurately and responsibly in order to maintain trust of communities, as well as the rest of civil society and public institutions,” the government said. “One of the key principles we hold for demonstrating inclusion is not to lump together different groups of individuals with different perspectives and experiences just because they are not white. Segregating by race in this way is clumsy and actually results in exclusion and not inclusion.”

“By reporting disparities by ‘BAME’ and not responsibly disaggregating ethnicity data, there is the risk of misinforming the public on key social issues,” it said.

The Race Disparity Unit (RDU), which sits within the Cabinet Office, will “engage with people from different ethnic groups to better understand the language and terminology that they identify with” and also “review how media coverage of race and ethnicity issues impact the communities being covered”, the government said.

Richard Foley, senior partner at Pinsent Masons, said: “Eradicating prejudice and the barriers to progression faced by minority ethnic individuals should be a priority for all organisations. The terminology used to describe minority groups is important in fostering an inclusive workplace. That is why Pinsent Masons stopped using ‘BAME’ some time ago. However, while making changes in the terminology used in policies, communications and other organisational literature is a welcome first step, it is not sufficient on its own to provide an inclusive environment. Put simply, business leaders need to step up and acknowledge the impact they can have in engaging on this important issue and working with their people to affect genuine change.”

“There is a weight of evidence that shows that organisations that champion diversity and inclusion across their business are more equipped to maintain an inclusive environment for their people in which everyone is confident and able to bring their whole selves to work. Diversity across an organisation promotes diversity of thought and enables a business to be innovative in how it achieves its strategic objectives. We recognise the role we must play in eradicating barriers to entry and progression for minority ethnic people. This is why we have set targets of our own at Pinsent Masons for improving ethnic diversity in our workforce,” he said.

A series of other actions were pledged by the government in its report.

New standards for government departments and other public bodies on how to record, understand and communicate ethnicity data will be proposed and put out for consultation by the RDU before the end of 2022, it said. The RDU will also lead on the development of new recommendations to “encourage responsible and accurate reporting on race issues”. The government has set a deadline of June 2023 for those recommendations to be developed.

Other actions include plans to invest in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s “enforcement activity” to “challenge race discrimination through investigations and supporting individual cases”. The Office for AI is also expected to set out “how to address potential racial bias in algorithmic decision-making” in a white paper later this year that is expected to outline the “national position on governing and regulating AI”.

According to a separate new report, 89 of the FTSE 100 companies had minority ethnic representation on their company boards as of 31 December 2021. That report charts progress against a target, set by the Parker Review in 2017, for all FTSE 100 boards to have at least one director from an ethnic minority background by 2021.

Since the start of 2022, ethnic director appointments have been announced by a further five FTSE 100 companies. Three other FTSE 100 companies are “are actively engaging in recruitment”, according to the latest Parker Review update report.

Tom Proverbs-Garbett of Pinsent Masons, who specialises in corporate governance, said: “Although there is clear movement, the majority of minority ethnic directors are non-executive directors, and it remains the case that in the FTSE 100 there are only six CEOs and three chairs from minority ethnic groups.”

“One of the principles of the UK Corporate Governance Code is that a board ensures that appointments are subject to a formal, rigorous and transparent procedure, that there is an effective succession plan, and that appointments and succession plans should be based on merit and objective criteria in the context of promoting diversity of gender, social and ethnic backgrounds, among other things. Boards must continue to give this disparity serious thought,” he said.

“In a related development, the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee has examined the case for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting and published a recent report recommending that the government makes ethnicity pay gap reporting, with a supporting narrative, mandatory by April 2023, accompanied by an action plan. This is an issue that, rightly, will become uncomfortable for boards where progress is not made,” he said.