Tony Sewell, the chairman of No.10s racial inequality commission, has said that the acronym BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) is an “increasingly irrelevant” term.

Speaking to the Times, Tony Sewell, who is leading a government enquiry into ethnic disparities in the UK, has stated that BAME is not a useful acronym. Instead Mr. Sewell said that this acronym could “obscure” the variations of people from different backgrounds.

This comes after ONS figures also showed a huge variation between the earnings of employees falling under the BAME umbrella term, with those of Pakistani ethnicity earning only £10.55 per hour on average in comparison to the average white British employee’s hourly rate of £12.49. Conversely, white Irish employees, who would be classed under the term ethnic minority, earned £17.55 an hour on average.

Due to varying opinions surrounding this debate, HRreview has reached out to professionals in order to see their opinion on the term BAME and implementing diversity in workplaces.

Sheree Atcheson, Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Peakon, an employee engagement platform, said:

The term BAME is problematic. Some organisations use it as a blanket term, which enables them to avoid accountability for those not being considered. It also assumes that all people of colour are a monolith – which is simply not the case. All ethnicities face different issues – and organisations must address these by listening to all employees regularly. What’s more, Black people – the ‘B’ in BAME – are statistically underrepresented, and can therefore be forgotten while efforts focus on their AME counterparts.

When sharing BAME data, organisations must make sure they share the breakdowns too – ensuring where possible that the data is benchmarked against the census for the area. Your data may not look great initially, but it’s important to be accountable for it, and also to share a roadmap for how you will progress your diversity efforts.

Employers can make sure that diversity goes beyond meeting quotas by also measuring and paying attention to inclusion. Representation is only one side of the coin. The other side is creating an environment in which all individuals can thrive, grow and flourish. Diversity without inclusion is fruitless. And without it, organisations will never truly reach their goals.

However, Erica Wong, Senior Consultant at Radley Yeldar, a creative consultancy, said:

The term ‘BAME’ is helpful when referencing BAME-related data or when referring to all groups represented under the acronym. But it’s best to use more precise language when referring to a specific ethnic group or an individual. Promoting diversity effectively at work starts by examining what and how you’re communicating. Language and visuals can be a helpful sense-check against misaligned messages or missing links in your approach.

Show genuine commitment to building diversity through the way your organisation speaks and acts – wherever possible, invite your employees to weigh in with their ideas for how to improve your collective efforts.

Ken Charman, CEO of U-Flex, a HR spin out technology plaform built for Unilever, said:

A much bigger issue (that encompasses ethnic identity as well), is income, wealth and advantage at birth. BAME is over-represented in this group but white groups such as the traveller community, and the white urban, rural and coastal poor are just as badly treated. (And let’s remember some subsets within BAME have the highest representation in the best universities and professions).

Social mobility is not the most important target. To reduce injustice we need to upgrade the income and status for all people who don’t or can’t climb the ladder to a respected and valued life. Even the living wage is a shameful failure of the system. We, in HR, cannot wash our hands and say we just price pay according to the market. It might be a long and complex journey but we have a moral duty to lead the campaign for change.

Tolu Farinto, a consultant at Utopia, a culture change business, expressed the need for individual expression to avoid perpetuating microaggressions. He said:

In a year which has significantly impacted ethnic minorities, but more specifically Black employees, leaders need to be proactive in understanding everyday exclusion, and how the BAME/BME acronyms perpetuate this. Because the lived experiences of a Bangladeshi woman are very different to those of a Nigerian woman, it’s impossible to treat them the same without microaggressions and cultural blindness occurring.

Building cultural intelligence and having empathetic conversations with employees is key to recognising their nuanced lived experiences, even if it is uncomfortable for the employer.

Fariah Shah, co-founder of Golden Bees, a programmatic recruitment platform, adds:

I don’t believe acronyms like BAME are useful. They may in fact lead to positive discrimination. In other words, companies will target people based on their origins to reach internal quotas. But that’s not the point of diversity: we should prioritise skills and expertise rather than discriminating criteria.

I’m convinced the most effective step to take to fight discrimination is to generalise diversity. One shouldn’t congratulate a company for hiring diverse profiles. We should promote companies whose performances are accounted for by diverse teams. There is indeed a causal link between diversity and performance – and companies like Google clearly understood that.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.