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Fear of using wrong language threatens race inclusion in business

Suki Sandhu - INvolve

One year on from the murder of George Floyd, new research has revealed that discomfort over what the right language to discuss race in the workplace is could be stalling progress when it comes to diversity and inclusion in business. That’s according to a new report*.

The “Can I Say That?” Report, which analysed the responses to 500 senior executives across several of the UK’s largest employers, found that 65 per cent of working senior professionals* are nervous about using the wrong or inappropriate language when discussing race in the workplace.

‘Black’, ‘Asian’, ‘BAME’, and ‘Ethnic minority’ are all terms which more than half (56 per cent) of all respondents would not feel comfortable using with just 1 in 4 (27 per cent) of respondents stating they felt comfortable using ‘Black’ as a descriptor in the workplace. For ‘Asian’ or ‘Mixed Race’ this figure dipped slightly to 24 per cent for each.

Furthermore, some 44 per cent of senior executives admitted to changing their natural language choice when talking to someone of a different race at work.

The survey found that almost two thirds (64%) of respondents also think the term ‘BAME’ is appropriate to use in the workplace, despite recent discussion on its appropriateness as a generic term.

Findings from the research also strongly suggest that racism exists, and is still shockingly common, in the workplace – recognised by both white employees and racially diverse employees alike.

Over half (59%) of respondents stated that they have witnessed one, or more than one instance of racism** in the workplace over the last 3 years.

The research reveals that there is still more to be done when it comes to tackling system racism in the UK, and this has led Suki Sandhu OBE, CEO at INvolve, to challenge businesses to face this head-on and learn to talk openly and confidently about the issue.

He said: Companies have the “most appropriate resources and platforms in place to support and educate their teams.

“Last year, the Black Lives Matter [BLM] movement was an awakening. It provided an opportunity for us to break this silence, and at last begin the necessary, albeit uncomfortable, conversations on race which were long overdue.  However, I believe that these important conversations were, and remain, stunted by the lack of confidence that those in positions of power have using the language surrounding race” he added.

“This research provides hope, but also cause for concern.  Hope in that it suggests race is a topic that is now being discussed within the modern workplace and therefore a general understanding amongst those in decision making positions that these conversations are necessary and that they are attempting to educate themselves to participate.

“But there is also concern that most of the respondents for the research still feel uncomfortable and unclear on the specific language to use and nervous about having conversations about the issues of race.”

The “Can I Say That?” Report also highlights that almost 3 in 10 (29%) of those surveyed who are uncomfortable talking about issues of race within their workplace stated that they do not think race and racism should be discussed in the workplace at all, with 14 per cent stating that they are uncomfortable because they do not think racism exists in the workplace.


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