Why centring marginalised voices is important for aged care 

Last updated on 28 March 2024

Centring marginalised voices is an important process in aged care – and here’s how you can start. [Source: Shutterstock]

Everyone holds a share of the responsibility when amplifying experiences or supporting people with lived experiences of marginalisation, but how can leaders centre marginalised voices within the context of aged care?

Centring voices in aged care is important for two cohorts; the aged care workforce itself and aged care consumers. Both are incredibly diverse with intersecting identities across the board. 

Therefore, as the sector embraces individuality and person-centred care, it must recognise the differences between people from different cultural, linguistic or religious backgrounds and also those from the same but with varied identities. 

Recently, Diversity Council Australia (DCA) released a guide on Centring Marginalised Voices at Work: Lessons from DCA’s Culturally and Racially Marginalised (CARM) Women in Leadership Research.

Sheetal Deo, Senior Project Manager for DCA’s RISE Project, explained to hello leaders that centring voice means we – both as individuals and as a community – listen to and prioritise what people from marginalised communities tell us about the systemic barriers they face. 

As a result, she said the perspectives of each individual become the foundation for diversity and inclusion initiatives focused on them.

“Centring voice is important because people with lived experiences of marginalisation have a unique understanding of 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,” Ms Deo said.

“We must also remember that marginalisation is intersectional, meaning that individuals can experience multiple forms of oppression simultaneously based on their intersecting identities. This means acknowledging and understanding that the experiences of individuals within a group are not homogenous.”

“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,” she added. 

Using language to break down barriers

The term culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) is a popular one within aged care settings. However, it doesn’t always encompass the complexities of marginalisation. 

Lisa Annese, DCA Chief Executive Officer (CEO), previously told hello leaders that when people experience stereotyping and discrimination it is because of visual, stereotypical race-based factors, not culture or language.

“Because we only talk about culture and language in Australia we lack a language to discuss race. You can’t become anti-racist if you can’t define race or you don’t know how to intelligently discuss it.”

Aged care is a setting where stereotyping can occur quite easily; someone with dementia is going to behave a certain way or a staff member with a non-Anglicised last name is going to have trouble communicating with English-speaking residents. 

Experience is often one of the most effective ways to break down stereotypes. Language is another effective tool and Ms Deo said embracing new language and new perspectives helps foster growth and understanding of other experiences and capabilities. 

“Marginalisation refers to the inequality certain individuals face in society due to power imbalances built into our systems,” Ms Deo said.

“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.”

Recognising that marginalisation is not deficit-focused or about individual actions and prejudices is critical for workplaces. It can instead be seen as an experience to learn from as combining knowledge from differing perspectives helps to centre voices and create impactful diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

If you’re unsure of a good starting point, Ms Deo highlighted three questions that can help to understand what centring voice means. They are: 

  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?

The answers to these questions may not come right away, and they may require outside perspectives. DCA also has impactful recommendations in its Centring Marginalised Voices at Work resource to help employers address any workplace inequity and begin laying the foundation for effective workplace diversity and inclusion.

cultural diversity
Diversity Council Australia
culturally and linguistically diverse
culturally and racially marginalised
lisa annese
marginalised voices
Sheetal Deo