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10 Strategies for Building Cultural Competence in the Workplace

by | Aug 8, 2022 | EST | 0 comments

As the world becomes increasingly connected, cultural diversity is turning into the norm rather than the exception. In the US alone, it’s predicted that “minority” groups will combine to form more than half of the US population by 2050. Workplaces must develop the cultural competence to achieve inclusion and ensure that workers feel safe and respected.

But how do we improve cultural competence in the workplace? Understanding people from different cultural backgrounds is easier said than done. After all, we were taught different things growing up, causing us to form diverse beliefs and opinions. Can opposing belief systems unite for the sake of equity and inclusion? As a matter of fact, it can.

Understanding Cultural Competence

Cultural competence refers to an organization’s ability to interact effectively with people across cultures by observing positive behaviors, policies, and attitudes. It requires a collective knowledge and understanding of different cultural perspectives and beliefs and is demonstrated not just toward colleagues but also toward customers and suppliers.

Culturally competent employees are open to different perspectives, leading to better teamwork and performance. They know how to listen actively and can develop empathy, resulting in synergy and harmony in the workplace. Their creativity increases, helping them become better problem-solvers.

Cultural competence requires employees to be aware and sensitive to the nuances of various cultures. A cultural competency training conducted by a DEI expert can help jumpstart the process. However, cultural competence is not easily measured or quantified, and many companies struggle to develop this vital skill set in their employees.

Here are ten strategies to help you build cultural competence in your organization.

How to Build Cultural Competence in the Workplace

  1. Train global citizens.

Help employees gain broader cultural knowledge by providing training classes that discuss cross-cultural practices. Acceptable practices in one culture may be entirely taboo in another. Help them discover how professional interactions vary from culture to culture by demonstrating other cultures’ business etiquette, negotiation skills, and communication styles.

Don’t stop with classroom training. Encourage employees to gauge how they understood the training by observing their behavior. It will be awkward initially, but with regular practice, employees can develop sensitivity and quickly adapt to any cultural situation.

  1. Observe global holidays.

Cultures around the world observe different sets of religious and cultural holidays. Building cultural competence involves knowing these holidays and allowing employees to celebrate the ones relevant to them.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are widely celebrated US holidays, but they are limited to those with a Christian background. For other cultures, holidays like Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, and Yom Kippur are also important. Create a global holiday calendar and share it with the organization. Not only will it show employees that you care about their cultural holidays, but it will also spark conversations for employees to share what these holidays mean.

  1. Improve communication skills.

Practical communication skills are essential tools for success. However, a lot can be lost in a culturally diverse scenario with poor communication. Remember that different cultures have their own communication styles. While Americans are usually direct, other cultures are less straightforward. Avoid confusion by understanding these differences and adjusting accordingly.

  1. Create employee affinity groups.

Employees thrive when they can connect with peers of similar backgrounds and interests. By encouraging affinity groups, organizations help employees feel supported for their cultural identity. In turn, they encourage co-employees to learn about their culture leading to company-wide conversations, which create stronger employee connections. When employees proactively strive to create an inclusive workplace, you know your DEI strategies have paid off.

  1. Adapt good manners.

Good manners are important in most cultures, but in some, they are critical. While Americans don’t mind informality at work, work formality is necessary for some cultures. Dressing up professionally and being courteous are viewed in most cultures as a sign of respect. Be polite and use “please” and “thank you.” In general, common courtesy shows others how much you value them.

  1. Set goals and KPIs.

Cultural competence may be challenging to measure, but it’s not impossible. With the help of the HR Department or a dedicated DEI committee, create SMART goals and KPIs to gauge the effectiveness of current strategies. This can be as simple as counting the number of employees who’ve attended cultural competency training or the number of cultural events held by the company. It can be as complex as measuring employee satisfaction using surveys and feedback systems.

Do these measures consistently. Regular monitoring will provide valuable data that will help improve programs by revealing loopholes. Soliciting feedback regularly and acting on it shows employees that their opinions are valued and heard. As a result, they’d be more willing to cooperate and work on achieving the DEI goals you’ve set.

  1. Promote open discussions.

When conflicts arise, encourage employees to approach you for resolution. Maintain an open-door policy where everyone feels welcome to ask for help. Allow opposing team members to express their sides without judgment. Sometimes, conflicts arise due to miscommunications and limited perspectives. Help employees broaden their perspectives by getting them to picture the other person’s situation. Seeing things differently is usually the key to peacefully resolving differences. Alternatively, you can establish an arbitral committee to handle conflict resolutions.

  1. Build teamwork.

Team camaraderie doesn’t happen overnight, but it can be built. Engage employees in team-building activities, ensuring teams have diverse representation. Make it fun, and as a bonus, involve cross-cultural trivia and tasks. Having employees participate in fun games outside the usual office routine will forge better relationships that spur genuine inclusion.

  1. Constantly listen.

Building cultural competence and creating a genuinely inclusive organization involves a feedback loop dependent on consistent active listening. Sometimes, surveys may not reveal the entire picture, and you must listen for clues to discern what’s happening. Always have an open ear and learn to see beyond words or numbers. The actual scenario may be hiding under the surface, and it’s up to you to uncover it.

  1. Encourage collaboration.

Accept that you don’t have all the answers. When building cultural competence, encouraging employees to share their unique customs and beliefs helps create a better cultural competency training program. This also enables them to share a part of themselves, making them feel seen and valued in the company. Remember to give fair treatment to all by letting every representative culture speak. Be careful not to leave someone out to avoid accusations of bias and unfair treatment.

Achieve Cultural Competence by Working with an Expert

Cultural competence involves recognizing our personal biases and unlearning many stereotypes that have been built through the years. Let’s admit it. We have been bombarded with stereotypes for most of our lives that it becomes difficult to build cultural competence without lapsing into these prejudices.

When developing cultural competence, the first place to start is by running a workplace assessment. This will help you understand the level of cultural competence the organization has. You can create a strategy to build cultural competence in the workplace from the results.

If you’re unsure how to start, our DEI experts can help you run the assessment and formulate DEI goals. Get in touch with one today, and let’s begin the road to cultural competence.

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