Why we use the term ‘marginalised’

We often hear how important it is to centre voice, or amplify experiences of those with lived experience in organisational change work— but what exactly does ‘centring voice’ mean? Why does it matter? And, how do we do it? These questions are the central focus of DCA’s latest guidelines: Centring Marginalised Voices at Work: Lessons from DCA’s Culturally and Racially Marginalised (CARM) Women in Leadership Research

What do we mean by centring voice and why is it important in D&I work?

Centring Voice means we listen to and prioritise what people from marginalised communities tell us about the systemic barriers they face. More importantly, centring voices of people with lived experiences means ensuring these perspectives are the foundation on which we build D&I initiatives focused on them.

Centring voice is important because people with lived experiences of marginalisation have unique understanding about their experiences which makes them best placed to talk about those experiences. These insights, shared in their own words, are crucial for identifying and addressing the hidden biases and inequalities within our organisations

We must also remember that marginalisation is intersectional, meaning that individuals can experience multiple forms of oppression simultaneously based on their intersecting identities (i.e., intersecting marginalities). For example, a brown woman may face unique challenges across gender and race, resulting in compounded marginalisation. This means acknowledging and understanding that the experiences of individuals within a group are not homogenous. In fact, any group of people will always have different views and experiences. By recognising and appreciating this, we can at a deeper level, and using an intersectional lens, learn about the systemic barriers facing marginalised communities and work to dismantle those systemic barriers and systems of oppression to create a more just and equitable society.

When people see that their perspectives are valued and taken seriously, it creates a culture of trust and collaboration. This, in turn, leads to higher levels of engagement and productivity.

Understanding what centring voice means also requires us to ask ourselves:

  1. How do we create spaces so that people feel comfortable sharing their experiences and insights of marginalisation?
  2. What do we do with them?
  3. And how do we do this work without ‘making it about ourselves,’ as the allies, or without adding to someone’s cultural load?

For the answers to these questions and many more around ‘why,’ when,’ and ‘how’ organisations and individuals can centre voice, I encourage you to refer DCA’s Centring Marginalised Voices at Work resource. Created using insights from the 2023 CARM women report, this guide refers to CARM women as an exemplar of how to centre voice, but its recommendations can be applied to centre the voices of any marginalised group of people. This includes, but is not limited to, addressing any workplace inequity (e.g. access to leadership, safety, respect at work, job design, parental leave) and creating effective workplace diversity and inclusion change for those impacted by those inequities.

Why we use the term “marginalised”​

In our guidelines we talk about people with lived experiences of marginalisation. But ‘marginalisation’ can be a tricky concept for some people, especially when it is thought of as referring to someone’s identity – it can be seen as quite negative, or even ‘deficit’ language. This is not the case. While this is a larger discussion, it’s important to, albeit briefly, explain why we use this term deliberately and intentionally. Let’s begin by addressing what marginalisation is not and debunk a few misconceptions:

  • marginalisation is not an identity term
  • marginalisation is not about individual actions or prejudices
  • marginalisation is not about individual failures of the marginalised groups
  • marginalisation is not deficit focused.

Marginalisation refers to the inequality certain individuals face in society due to power imbalances built into our systems.

The issue of marginalisation then is inherently about unequal power relations that are built into our systems. It is about how, through these unequal power relations, our systems (including, but not limited to; law, politics, economics, and society itself) create hurdles that maintain the status quo. That status quo being, holding back and disadvantaging some groups, or leaving them ‘at the margins,’ (i.e. marginalised groups), while at the same time advantaging (i.e., privileging) dominant groups.

Embracing new language and new understanding, that perhaps challenges our prior understanding of things, can be difficult – it can also be uncomfortable, but it’s precisely this willingness to venture into the unknown that fosters growth and opens new avenues of understanding.

So, join us here at DCA as we unlearn and learn together how we can build a workplace where everyone feels valued and respected.

Sheetal Deo (Sher/Her) is a lawyer and advocate for diversity & inclusion. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Sheetal undertook studies in gender, race and identity politics. This, coupled with Sheetal’s lived experience as a culturally and racially marginalised women migrant woman from the LGBTIQ+ community underpins her legal, social justice and D&I practice. Sheetal is also the Senior Project Manager of the RISE Project at DCA.

Further information

Blue background with different coloured, uneven shapes that fit together like a puzzle. On the right is DCA's logo in white, beneath in white are the words Centring Marginalised Voices at Work - Lessons from DCA's Culturally and Racially Marginalised (CARM) Women in Leadership Research

DCA’s Centring Marginalised Voices at Work: Lessons from DCA’s Culturally and Racially Marginalised Women will be released today, 13 March 2024 and is available to DCA members.

Access the groundbreaking new guidelines


DCA members can learn more by registering for our upcoming event featuring DCA Board Chair Ming Long AM and keynote speaker Sheetal Deo, DCA’s Senior Project Manager for the RISE Project, along with special guest speakers.

Event: Centring voice when creating workplace D&I change