Inclusive language in maternity care to address inequalities

on 11 August 2022 NHS MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Safety Maternity Safety Equality and Diversity LGBT

Maternity services should be welcoming and accessible to all those who need them – and all those who work in them. Over recent months, the RCM has been developing its position on inclusion, to ensure that the language we use reflects this. This, alongside our work earlier this year around the language we use to describe birth, seeks to address inequalities.

We are very aware that this is an arena that provokes a wide range of very different views and beliefs. We recognise that all respectful compassionate and genuine debate has a place in midwifery, but we will not engage with toxic and bullying posturing.

We are aiming to find a kinder more inclusive language where everyone who uses or works in maternity services feels respected, recognised and welcomed. Discrimination has no place in maternity services and we are committed to tackling this, and supporting our members to speak up.

Although we have a long and well established history of challenging discrimination and ensuring that the language we use is as inclusive as it can be, in this area like many others we are navigating new terrain. We do this in a genuine desire to do the right thing and we will listen to all constructive feedback as well as considering emerging evidence on the topic. We are aware that sexed language is essential in certain circumstances: when communicating statistics or collecting data, hence careful discussion and ad-hoc consideration is needed.

How we use language can have a huge impact, it is something that changes and adapts whilst at the same time it can be central to identity and even have meaning in   law. When the RCM took the decision to look at the language we use in our own materials our starting point was that our members and those who use and come into contact with maternity services absolutely deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and be free from discrimination. This is of course central to the NMC code which contains the professional standards that midwives must uphold.

We know that the majority of RCM members and service users are women but we also recognise and affirm diverse gender identities, this was the point our discussions began at. From our research we found a range of approaches to the use of inclusive language from being fully neutral and removing all references to sex and gender, use of sex-specific language alongside additional gender-neutral language and sex-specific language with an organisational statement acknowledging the diversity of gender identity.

We know that many RCM members do want us to take a position as an organisation. This piece of work is purely about the language that we use as an organisation and it isn’t about advising our members on how they practice, as we know they are providing respectful and personalised care every day.

That’s why we are publishing a statement that says:

We are committed to serving and respecting all of our members and maternity service users, most of whom are women. The language we use reflects that but will also be varied where appropriate to recognise and affirm diverse gender identities. Best practice in inclusive language is evolving and the RCM will strive to ensure it communicates as effectively as possible with our members, service users and stakeholders.

So in future materials from the RCM you will see that we will always use women but we will use gender neutral language in addition as well in some of our communications when appropriate. We will ensure that we live up to the commitments made in our statement because ultimately ensuring our members, women and people who use maternity services feel that they belong is the right thing to do.