A note on language: Culturally and Racially Marginalised Women at work

In March 2023, DCA released our latest report Culturally and Racially Marginalised Women in Leadership – A framework for (intersectional) organisational action.

In this research we have shifted away from using the term ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ (CALD), offering the alternative language of ‘culturally and racially marginalised’ (CARM) in recognition of the significance of race and racism in the women’s lives.

Who are CARM women?

We use the term culturally and racially marginalised (CARM) to refer to women who are not white. Research indicates that it is this group who experiences racial marginalisation. This group includes women who are Black, Brown, Asian, or any other non-white group, who face marginalisation due to their race.

The term “culturally” is added because these women may also face discrimination due to their culture or background. For example, a woman who is a Muslim migrant from South Sudan may face discrimination because of her race and her religion and cultural background.

Our category of CARM women was intended to be inclusive of cis women, trans women, as well as non-binary and/or gender diverse people who identify (or are identified by others) as CARM women.

Understanding CARM

Australia has shown longstanding reluctance to focus on race; preferring to use terms like ethnicity and culture.

We know that many people in Australia, particularly people with lived experience of racism, feel the current language of ‘cultural diversity’ and ‘culturally diverse’ or ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ (‘CALD’) is outdated and too broad to be meaningful.

As discussed in DCA’s Racism at Work guide, Australia’s reluctance to focus on race means we often struggle to talk in an informed, thoughtful, and transformative way about race, and to identify and respond to racism.

In this project we asked CARM women about their views, including testing the language of ‘culturally and racially marginalised.’ We found that, for many CARM women, language has moved past ‘CALD,’ and the term ‘CARM’ was seen as more accurately capturing their experiences.

CARM women participants commented that there is great power in naming problems as what they are, and there was general support for ‘marginalised’ as an accurate reflection of CARM women’s personal and professional experiences.

Our lessons from discussing language with CARM women as part of the project were that Australian employers should:

  • Recognise that language constantly evolves – The terminology and language used to describe race/ethnicity/cultural backgrounds in Australia and globally constantly evolves.
  • Keep up to date with changes and developments in language – Make a conscious effort to maintain your awareness of developments in language and be open to changes led by CARM women themselves. While this project utilises language that speaks to marginalisation by systems and structures, new terms will continue to evolve.
  • Centre CARM women’s voice in any organisational changes to terminology – Doing so reflects the leading practice social justice principle that there should be ‘nothing about us without us.’