Cultural Competence the Pillar to Inclusion in the Workplace

May 30, 2022

There are many characteristics individuals might aspire to embody in the workplace, such as being trustworthy , empathetic, innovative, efficient, emotionally intelligent, accountable, resilient, authentic, enthusiastic, trauma-informed, inclusive, motivating as covered on the podcast Snack Leadership

One characteristic we are hearing more and more about, and which I interviewed Lenora Harris-Billings on, is Cultural Competence. Cultural Competence is the ability to understand, communicate and effectively manage diversity. To break it down, “culture” can be generations, gender or ethnicity and race. Lenora educates about the Four-Part Cultural Compass.

  1. Knowledge-being responsible for learning about people different than yourself. We can do this through reading books, listening to podcasts, reading articles, attending educational seminars, whatever method you learn best from. 
  2. Understanding-by venturing out where you are the “other” in an area of being different. An example might be attending a festival celebrating a race other than your own 
  3. Acceptance-where you can have candid conversations and ask questions. 
  4. Behavior-where you have enough knowledge and understanding and are better prepared to be an advocate and speak up. 

I believe what gets in our way of achieving cultural competence is fear. This can look like fear of offending someone by saying the wrong thing or acting inappropriately as well as fear of something different from what one is used to or was raised with. A beautiful way of bringing cultural competence into a company culture is starting off with respecting someone’s culture and asking them how we as an organization, a department, a team, etc. -might embrace their culture and honor them. Then offer options of how this can create connection and belonging. Here are a few examples:”

  1. A new employee who is very tech savvy and has developed an application that is their passion might want to share how they discovered the need for the application and their process with patents and building the application. 
  2. Someone who is very confident and proud of their transgender journey could host a book club focusing on the topic for those in the company who want to understand more. 
  3. A person who is proud of their ethnic culture and exhibits this through cooking could host a “lunch and learn” cooking class on how to make their favorite cultural dish. 

To fully embrace cultural competence, it is important to have a foundation of team members who share the value of inclusion. Gauge those involved to determine how open they would be before launching activities like those  listed above. If you find not everyone embraces cultural competence, that might be the time to bring in someone like Lenora Billings-Harris to bridge the gap before implementing such an initiative. 

Forbes released an article in February 2022 titled Diversity Only Works If People Speak Up. That article shared according to Kymberlee Dwinell, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Northrop Grumman Corporation, everyone has biases, it is a matter of not letting them get in the way of doing business. Once we admit as humans, we all have biases, we can go forward and have better relationships.

I learned about my own biases early on when I was in college in the early 90’s and was on an opposing team in our writing class talking about gays and lesbians. I was raised a good amount by my grandparents who grew up in the 50s and were extremely conservative. The representative on the other team in my class turned out to be my best friend and roommate who taught me how to be open to gays and lesbians with the idea that we are all humans and equal. A few years later I managed a restaurant in San Francisco under an openly gay man who I grew to adore and respect during our time together. With these experiences I learned how to let go of judgements I was raised with and understood my grandparents as the loving people they were who passed along a belief system they learned from their parents.

Kymberlee Dwinell states in the article that “you can have the different affinities, the race, ethnicity and all of that. But if you don’t have inclusion, then the diversity doesn’t matter. You can’t do it in a silo. You need everyone, across different functions, to use their brain power to really solve and achieve what it is you want to achieve. You have to clearly communicate. What’s your end goal? And you can solve it by brainstorming together.”

The Northrop Grumman team learned “that when you’re trying to solve a technical solution, you need more than just the techies at the table.” “They have the same thought pattern, or they’ve learned that it’s always been done this way. But someone who’s from the outside has a unique perspective. The finance people, they’re looking at what’s the most cost-effective solution. And sales might keep them reigned in to say, provide what the customer’s asking for. So, having different diverse functions at the table is beneficial, too.”

Northrup Grumman has come across social media posts not supporting their people and showing hatred. The company felt the employees did not live by the company values that drives the culture, so the employees were terminated.

To avoid a top-down, out-of-touch approach and ensure underrepresented groups are heard directly by colleagues and senior leaders, the company created focus groups. They asked their black community what they needed to feel comfortable on video calls with executive leadership. The CEO did focus groups with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community to say, “What’s on your mind?” Northrop wants to better help them as individuals and creates room for lots of conversations.

As humans we are driven by connection. The base of our psychological needs is belongingness and love with intimate relationships and friends, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

 “I am what I am because of who we all are.” -Ubuntu