The Balancing Act of Cultural Competence and Diversity

How do we truly attain cultural competence and work towards a healthy work culture?

It is only when I entered my Master’s classroom in a central university that I realised that the world is so much more than what I have ever imagined. Students from various states, with different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds smiled at me warmly, making my Malayali heart feel at home. This is where I started my journey towards understanding cultural competence and why it is necessary to live a good life.

I had classmates from different states of the country. I remember finding it difficult to pronounce the names of some of my peers as my tongue was already all set and only rolled the letters of Malayalam accurately. I soon learned a lot about how different people embraced their ethnicities. My Bengali friend who hails from a hilltop often spoke about long stories of her hometown, and I found a strange sense of connection as I found my own childhood in her stories. The feelings were obviously the same. It just took a little understanding.

Cultural competence is the ability to interact efficiently with people from different cultures. A culturally competent person makes people from multiple cultures feel comfortable. The person would also ensure to learn about different cultures and would have a mindset that accepts everyone around.

Why is it important at the workplace?

These days, most companies strive to be diverse. In the rush towards clout activism, companies take up employees from different cultures, belonging to various communities. However, the quest towards diversity quite often begins and ends in the recruitment process. Ensuring diversity at the workplace goes beyond this. In fact, this is only the first step. It is essential to develop the mindset of every person at the office to accept people belonging to different cultures. This is where cultural competence comes into play. It is necessary to ensure that every employee is culturally competent so that everyone feels their best at the workplace.

How do we achieve cultural competence?

At the organisational level:

Assessments can be made to see if the newly recruited employees are culturally competent. Another way to build cultural competence is through different learning courses after recruitment. It is also important to conduct interactive sessions so that the employees get to know each other and build mutual understanding and respect.

At the personal level:

  • Developing the right attitude – Everything begins from an individual’s attitude towards others and towards differences. It is all about a very humane feeling – compassion. Compassion is the only way we as human beings can move together towards a better future.
  • Developing the right skills – When the attitude is set, it is time to hone the skills to be culturally competent. This would require exercises that help in building effective communication skills and confidence in interactions.
  • Meeting more people – Obviously, the more diverse groups of people you are exposed to, the more you understand the world.
  • If possible, travel. A lot – This might sound difficult, especially since Corona hit us in multiple waves. But I would still have to say it. Travelling is perhaps the most fruitful way to learn about more cultures and be accustomed with them. This would eventually lead you to be culturally competent.

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