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Going beyond Diversity: An introduction to Cultural Competance

Category: Pro-Opinion, inclusion, unconscious bias, Employee, society, organisation, customer, communication skill, multi cultural

In today's multi-cultural society, cross-cultural communication skills are becoming more relevant for organisations, employees, customers and businesses with a diverse workforce. A major challenge for most businesses is the ability to communicate effectively with their customers and employees from different cultures. The key to addressing these challenges is for organisations to know who their audiences are. It is important for each business to truly understand the composition of their customers, workforce, vendors, most spoken languages, ethnic compositions, demographic and community representation. Another critical area to address is the business work environment. Are managers/employees fully engaged in the community they serve?. Are their leaders fully engaged in cross-cultural communication and do they take the time to reach out to people from the diverse community? The term engagement can be defined as the number of interactions we all have daily or weekly with people from another culture at work, school, networking, social media, shopping and providing services etc.

In most countries including the UK, US and Canada, demographics are rapidly becoming more diverse and this has led to some organisations becoming more pro-active in managing the cultural complexity of their employees, customers, and vendors. Some organisations such as the health and education sectors have figured out ways of encouraging their managers, employees and service providers to demonstrate their ability to serve diverse populations through the implementation of a cultural competence model.

So, what is "Cultural Competence"? This refers to the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Cultural Competence comprises four components: (a) awareness of one's own cultural worldview, (b) attitude towards cultural differences, (c) knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews, and (d) cross-cultural skills. Developing cultural competence results in the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures, it is important to grasp the full meaning of the word "culture" first. According to Chamberlain (2005), culture represents "the values, norms, and traditions that affect how individuals of a particular group perceive, think, interact, behave, and make judgments about their world" (p. 197). Taylor (1996) defined culture as, "an integrated pattern of human behavior including thought, communication, ways of interacting, roles and relationships, and expected behaviours, beliefs, values, practices and customs.

It is to be noted that most businesses focus strictly on diversity training as a way of managing the cultural complexity of their workforce, customer base and for legal/ethical compliances. Diversity training should NOT be a checked box exercise for compliance but rather an opportunity for businesses and leaders to educate their workforce about world view, cross-cultural communication, demographics, culture and attitudes. Organisations should look at the option of integrating cultural competence into their management development programs, induction, diversity and conflict resolution training.

Organisations and business leaders will need to understand the composition of their customer base to provide opportunity for their teams to become culturally competent. Throughout my career, I have played a role in ensuring that organisations focus on the cultural complexity of their workforce. Once effectively implemented, these strategies have resulted in reduced conflicts, litigations, customer complaints, and have enabled the maintenance of a positive and engaged work-force. Being culturally competent will improve an organisation's brand which helps attract talents, reduce turnover and improve its global standing.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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