‘Correct’ Race Terminology? The time has come to talk about it.

Sandra Kerr OBE, Business in the Community Race Equality Director, shares her thoughts on the question of race terminology and encourages us to disregard perceived inhibitions and just start talking. 

Today at the Sir John Parker Review of Ethnic Diversity of UK Boards the issue of race terminology was raised during the opening discussion.  The term ‘people of colour’ is used throughout the report which is a clear departure from the more common terms used in the UK, of ethnic minority, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) and Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME).
I was as curious as everyone else about what the ‘correct’ terminology is that everyone likes or is comfortable with. To find out, in our Business in the Community 2015 Race at Work survey we asked the following question of anyone who ticked a non-white ethnicity box 

'In life which of the following, if any, best describe how you would like to be referred to'?  

Our survey returned the following results:  

  • 30% said they don’t mind
  • 26% said other
  • 18% said ethnic minority
  • 16% said BAME
  •   8% said BME
  •   6% said Person of Colour
    Graph of Race at Work survey replies to the question ' How do you like to be referred to?'







I just want to emphasise that one in three people who responded to this question said they don’t mind!  People just want authentic leadership, commitment and action.  I think that terminology is only important for writing about the topic in reports, guidance and articles and also if you need to make a public presentation.  Beyond that, just call the person by their given name. Please do call me Sandra, my first name is fine, even if we’ve just met!
I have to confess that we asked this question in the survey in the hopes that we would be able to shed some helpful light on this question about terminology for employers as it can often get in the way of even starting a conversation about race and ethnicity.
Finally, I'll share with you with another interesting and quite a funny Wordle from the YouGov analysis of free text responses.

Wordle of race terminology

So if one-third of people don’t mind what terminology you use and the other third don’t have any preference for the current terms – just pick a term that works for your organisation, one that everyone understands and use it for documents and when discussing or presenting on the topic. 

So please let’s not get bogged down with terminology let’s just get talking!