Words at Work: Should we use CALD or CARM?

Inclusive language is important and ever-changing. Should organisations use the term culturally and racially marginalised (CARM) or culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)? Should we use both descriptors or something different? 

Inclusive language is often derided as politically correct, or more recently as “woke”. But thinking about the way we speak to each other is a simple way to make workplaces more inclusive.  

Inclusive language enables everyone in your organisation to feel valued, respected, and able to contribute their talents to drive organisational performance. It’s not about having lists of good and bad words, but rather a framework based on language that is respectful, accurate and relevant.  

At Diversity Council Australia, we are constantly learning. Our organisation has been around for almost 4 decades and a lot has changed in that time – including the way we talk about diversity and inclusion.  

One of the key findings in our 2022 Racism at Work report, which is an evidence-based organisational framework for anti-racism action, is that we cannot expect to address racism in our society unless we are willing to name it.  

For Australians, this can be tricky. As a nation, we have a difficult relationship with talking about race – for a long time (even in the diversity and inclusion space) we have talked about “cultural diversity”, and “exclusion” but rarely “racism”.  

To fix this, we need to build our racial literacy. That means we need the knowledge and skills to talk in an informed and thoughtful way about race and racism, using the appropriate vocabulary. 

This doesn’t mean that terms like “cultural diversity”, and “exclusion” no longer have meaning, or relevance. It simply means that if our aspiration is to end racism, these terms are not accurate in this context.  

So, what terms should we use? That depends on context. 

Consider the meaning you want to convey and how this relates to the people or groups you are discussing. This is the most important consideration. To use language effectively we must listen to people with lived experiences and centre the terms they prefer. 

At DCA, we have listened to many people with lived experience, and experts in the study of race and racism, including academics. Here are the terms we use: 

Culturally and racially marginalised (CARM)

We use the term culturally and racially marginalised (CARM) to refer to people who cannot be racialised as white. This group includes people who are Black, Brown, Asian, or any other non-white group, who face marginalisation due to their race. The term “culturally” is added because it recognises that people 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, religion and cultural background. 

Racialised / racially privileged / racially marginalised

When discussing race, we also use the terms ‘racialised’ (e.g., workers racialised as Black or as white), ‘racially privileged’ and ‘racially marginalised’ instead of ‘culturally diverse’ or ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’.  

These terms recognise that racism is rooted in a social process called racialisation. This is where some groups come to be viewed as different, ‘outside the norm’ and/or ‘inferior’ due to their race, ethnicity, language, or religion, and based on those perceptions, they receive unequal treatment. Racialisation creates a society in which some groups are racially privileged, while others are racially marginalised. Racialisation happens in response to people’s arbitrary physical characteristics (e.g., skin colour, hair texture, facial features), as well as accent, language, name, religion, and clothing. 

It is important that we don’t make assumptions about someone’s experience, background or identity based only on their appearance, including the colour of their skin or the type of clothing they wear – doing so is racialising them. This is why we must centre the lived experience of individuals and let them share what they’re comfortable with when it comes to talking about themselves. Someone’s well-intentioned curiosity doesn’t ‘trump’ another person’s comfort—or safety.  

While DCA is moving away from using the terms ‘cultural diversity’ and ‘culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)’ as entry points to discuss racism, it’s important for us to clarify how these differ from the race terminology above.  

Cultural diversity

DCA defines cultural diversity as:  

“Having a mix of people from different cultural backgrounds – it can include differences in cultural/ethnic identity (how we identify ourselves and how others identify us), language, country of birth, religion, heritage/ancestry, national origin, and/or race, colour.” 

You would use it to describe the broad mix of people employed by your organisation or across parts of your organisation.  

It’s not sufficient when talking about racism because it doesn’t consider the experience or the impact of identifying or being identified by others as racially ‘different’.  

Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)

This is a term that many Australians would be familiar with as it has been used by government for some time. CALD is a much broader category than CARM, and often extends to people who can be racialised as white, even if they are not from an Anglo-Celtic Background.  For example, a Ukrainian migrant or someone who was born in Australia to Ukrainian parents.  

CALD people see themselves (or their parents) or are seen by others as being from a non-English speaking background, and/or being from a non-Anglo-Celtic cultural background.   

This term prioritises cultural and linguistic explanations of difference and is therefore insufficient for any meaningful discussion or understanding of race and racism. In fact, the term “CALD” is rarely used to describe race in an Australian context.  

Our words matter

For those of us who do not personally experience racism, it is imperative that we build our racial literacy. The words and phrases we use are a great place to start in acknowledging and addressing racism at work.  

Many of us are not prepared to talk about race in an informed and thoughtful way. In Australia, this is largely a result of our long history of being deeply uncomfortable talking about race and racism, preferring instead to focus on celebrating cultural diversity. 

Building racial literacy is critical – otherwise we will continue to find ourselves in a situation in which we are told that racism is wrong, but we do not understand what racism looks like or how we can effectively address it and move toward being anti-racist. 

Diversity Council Australia’s Words At Work guide is one of our most popular resources and is an excellent starting point for organisations implementing diversity and inclusion strategies.