Why the language we use matters in building belonging

Why the language we use matters in building belonging

By Sarah Vibert


Sarah Vibert, Chief Executive Officer of NCVO (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations) shares some changes they're making to their use of language along with reflections for the wider sector.

Language matters for inclusion, and the language we use to describe our identity holds great power.

As a country, and as a sector, it’s important to recognise where improvements and progress can be made to ensure we reflect the realities of our global environment.

I want to continue to make NCVO more relevant to voluntary organisations, and the communities they serve, that may not traditionally see themselves reflected in NCVO’s work.

That’s why we’re continually working to make sure that the language we use is up to date.

We work closely with our partners, members and staff networks to ensure that the decisions we make about the language we use are right, and that those we seek to better represent agree.

I want to share some reflections about why language matters so much in creating belonging across the voluntary sector, and some changes we’re making to our use of language.

Reviewing our words around race

There are a number of terms which are used when we talk about race. While some have value, others are in need of reviewing and updating.

We recognise the harm which can be caused and perpetuated by language, especially when it comes to ethnicity and race.

As part of our ongoing commitment to being inclusive, and following extensive consultation, NCVO has decided to adopt the term ‘global majority’.

I’m proud that we’re taking this important step. It supports our work to become an anti-racist organisation and enables us to be more reflective of the diversity of the 16,000+ members we serve.

What do we mean by the term 'global majority'?

Global majority is a shortened version of the term ‘people of the global majority’.

We use it to refer to all ethnic groups except white British and other white groups, including white minorities.

This includes people from black, Asian, mixed, and other ethnic groups who are often racialised as ‘ethnic minorities’.

You’ll see this change in all the work we do. From our external website and guidance to our internal communications, our people, culture and inclusion work, and across our consultancy, research reports and policy engagement.

We use global majority in place of other terms you may have heard of, are currently using, or have previously used. This includes terms such as BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic), BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour), and ethnic minorities.

We’ve heard from many people who now consider these terms outdated and problematic. This includes the UK government, who have stopped using the term BAME.

Progress, not perfection

We know from talking to stakeholders that the term global majority isn’t perfect. But we do believe it’s progress.

Global majority as a term better reflects reality. People in this part of the population make up 85% of the world’s population.

Moving from classing people as a minority to a majority is an important step in reframing conversations from disadvantage to advantage and challenging existing dominant white-centric narratives.

We understand that the language we use is constantly evolving. No single term can fully capture the complex, rich and varied history, culture, and contribution of Britain’s diverse communities.

As part of our constant learning, if something better emerges, we will of course reflect and adopt if we think it helps advance the cause.

I’m grateful to our members, partners and colleagues who’ve challenged us to continue to evolve our use of language.

Sharing change and learning together

We know our members are working to be more reflective of the realities of their communities and our evolving global society.

I would love to hear from members and others in the sector about the work you’re doing to develop and embed inclusive language in your organisation.

Similarly, we’re always here to discuss the changes we’re making. We’re happy to share our learnings and be part of the conversation with you.

If you have any questions about our use of the term global majority, or if you want to find out more about any of our work, please reach out to our people, culture and inclusion team at people@ncvo.org.uk.

Head and shoulders Sarah Vibert

Sarah Vibert, Chief Executive Officer, NCVO

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Resource type: Articles | Published: 2024