Words are powerful. And the connotations that they deliver make a significant difference to how we view the world and how we are viewed ourselves. The way we describe ourselves and the stories we tell change the social dynamics of every interaction that we have. As leaders, we have to understand this and leverage the power of language for our benefit.
This concept was front of mind late last year when we held a roundtable discussion on whether we should stop using the term BAME in our general discourse.
The acronym BAME stands for Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic and it became quite a crude way of describing people of colour. The initial thinking was to come together and support those people who have been systematically disenfranchised and left out of the leadership structures in which they operated. The term created a group identity where we could gather with like-minded people and support each other on the journey.
But as we reflected on the connotations of the acronym, we began to realise that maybe we were actually doing ourselves a disservice. If we introspected, we would come to acknowledge that every time the term BAME was used it was done so to talk about disadvantage, lack of opportunity, or some other consequence of oppression. And this connotation actually became a bit disempowering.
When you think of black and Asian or people of colour who are at the top of their respective fields, you never hear them being described as BAME individuals. Instead, they have earned respect on the basis of merit. And that’s the world we should be working to create. One where people of colour do not receive feedback based on their background, but on the work that they deliver to their respective fields.
So, it’s time to move on. We’re very excited for the next stage of our journey as we change the name of our BAME Leadership Network to:
GEM Leadership Network
GEM stands for Global Ethnic Majority and transforms the idea from an oppressed people to a group of people with untapped potential and limitless possibility. We will still fight for the same causes, ideas, and change that we want to see in the world, but from a place of strength rather than victimhood.
By placing ourselves on the global stage and recognising the sheer number of people who share our background, we can begin to set aside what has happened in the past and start working towards equality where the colour of your skin doesn’t dictate where you can end up.
The GEM Leadership Network will continue from 2022 to offer the same resources, events, and support as it always has, but with a refreshed brand, some new ideas, and a bold new step towards the society that we want to build. As we move forward, this name change will allow us to avoid constantly focusing on what we are being called, so that we can redeploy that energy towards actually tackling the important issue of systemic racism.
We feel revitalised by this change and cannot wait to create new memories and results from a new foundation. We hope that the housing sector will use this as a catalyst to examine some of the other pieces of language that have become habitual – to make sure that the words we use are actually empowering us. This represents an opportunity to break new ground and we hope that you’ll join us along the way!