Integrating Cultural Competency into Your Programming

Aspire Toledo recently held a series of community conversations designed to help area service providers better understand Cultural Competency and the best ways to integrate this vital idea into their programming. An organization that truly understands Cultural Competency is one that is able to celebrate what each ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation offers a society while still being aware of the individual differences that make each person unique.

The takeaways from the first conversation were recapped in an earlier blog post; in this post, we’ll look at strategies any organization can take to make Cultural Competency one of its key components for better outcomes.

A Cultural Competency Strategy Starts with Leadership

For Cultural Competency to truly take root within an organization, leadership must play an active role. That includes the executive director, the board and senior management. Leadership is able to set the tone for the entire organization, from advising on the particulars of programming to ensuring a diverse staff is hired.

With a more diverse staff in place, it is still essential that these people feel they have a voice within the organization. That means encouraging conversations and empowering people to ask respectful questions of one another. While those discussions can occasionally take people out of their comfort zone, it’s still a necessary catalyst for growth within an

Cultural Competency in Staff Training and Programming

Once leadership has fully bought into the idea of Cultural Competency, it can be truly implemented throughout the organization’s programming. This can be another place where some discomfort may occur, but the results are more than worth it. Encouraging staff to develop a deeper understanding of the cultural needs of their clients means encouraging them to avoid making assumptions and offering more opportunities for them to engage in meaningful ways with the people they serve. Giving everyone — including young people — a voice in programming is essential as well.

As programming is developed or fine-tuned, the main thing to remember is that Cultural Competency is about building relationships. The people on your staff should be approachable and ready to treat everyone they encounter as an equal. As far as cultural differences go, the key is to recognize those differences while at the same time focusing on the commonality that exists between us all.

Measuring Success in Cultural Competency

At our community conversations, services providers are always interested in understanding what a successful integration of Cultural Competency would look like. Once programming is staffed intentionally, with people who are excited about integrating Cultural Competency, optimized programming should be relatively easy to implement.

Ideally, everyone involved in the programming — including young people — would have an opportunity to be exposed to new experiences. Even though these experiences might take them out of their comfort zone, it is necessary to gain a greater understanding. Along the way, people taking part in our community conversation recommended that opportunities are provided for self-assessment, so participants can monitor their own growth. In addition, staff members should be open to addressing feedback as it happens. When a person feels sufficiently empowered to speak out, it’s important to make sure they feel heard.

Cultural Competency: Good Policy for Better Outcomes

Throughout our community conversations, the importance of Cultural Competency was reinforced in every group activity and every discussion. Without Cultural Competency, one panelist suggested, your organization is setting up its programming to fail. Participants, especially young people, want to feel not just included, but truly understood and celebrated for their differences. They are more likely to absorb the lessons and skills imparted by your organization if you recognize just where they’re coming from. Organizations are able to stay relevant, and programming is able to deliver better outcomes. Simply put, Cultural Competency is the right thing to do!

Aspire Toledo is dedicated to providing resources that enable organizations to fulfill the outcomes our community has deemed essential to the success of any given program. We will provide further information in future blog posts, and we encourage you to check back frequently.

Thank you to the team who planned and coordinated these community conversations. Brittany Ford, Lucas County Policy Analyst and Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC) Co-Lead, chaired the sub-committee of the Aspire Network Steering Committee with committee members including Marian Brannon, Lucas County Strengthening Families Coordinator, Sarah Allan, LISC Toledo Program Officer and Welcome TLC Co-Lead, Guisselle Mendoza-McDonald, Adelante: The Latino Resource Center Executive Director, and Evelyn McKinney, United Way Community Impact Officer. The sub-committee for Cultural Competency developed the plan to address cultural competency in a two-part community conversation with input from Aspire staff and the Network Steering Committee. And a special thank you to Marian, who facilitated the community conversations, Brittany Ford for additional planning and administrative support, attendees for both sessions, and to our panel of experts for Session II:

  • Janece Wooley, YWCA Inclusion Manager
  • Crystal Harris-Darnell, YMCA Youth Opportunities Program Executive Director
  • Sarah Alfaham, Local Social Worker and Arab American-Muslim Community Organizer
  • Guisselle Mendoza-McDonald, Adelante: The Latino Resource Center Executive Director

Cultural Competency: A Step Beyond Diversity

Every service organization wants to be as inclusive as possible — to be able to serve everyone regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. And every service organization wants to provide every group with the equal treatment needed to ensure all voices are heard in their programming. Those two ideas represent a commitment to inclusion and diversity, and that commitment should always be commended.

But what if there’s a step beyond diversity? A step that truly meets people where they are. A step that celebrates the difference perspectives that every group brings to an interaction. A step that ensures not just equal treatment, but equitable treatment.

That’s Cultural Competency, and it’s one of the key outcomes Aspire Toledo measures when we assess a service organization’s programming.

Five Ways to Start Incorporating Cultural Competency

  1. Avoid making assumptions or assigning others to a culture or group. In a recent Community Conversation, people came together to discuss some of the barriers to integrating Cultural Competency. In one exercise, our facilitators asked the guests to list stereotypes that might be assumed about different religious, ethnic, racial, and gender groups. The results were enlightening, and they pointed out the need to move beyond the assumptions that get in the way of open communication.
  2. Ask respectful questions when you need information about a culture or group. The key to breaking down stereotypes? Communicate! That means asking thoughtful questions, without assumption and without accusations.
  3. Be open to answering questions about your own culture respectfully. Cultural Competency is a two-way street. No one is asking you to be a spokesperson for your culture, but you can share what you know. Maintaining a dialog can go a long way toward
  4. Remember all cultures are made up of individuals. In another exercise, participants were asked to place random objects — pens, paper clips, combs, etc. — into a large basket. That action represents inclusion. Recognizing the differences among those objects represents diversity. The facilitators then attached some of the objects to different spaces on the basket: the rim, the handle, even hanging off the side or underneath. The implication is that members of a group may function best if their individual needs are met. Those needs may be related to the cultures from which they come, and recognizing how those needs impact individuals is a big step toward Cultural Competency.
  5. Interact in a way that supports relationship building. Ultimately, Cultural Competency is based on empathy and the creation of personal relationships. By trusting that people are coming into a situation with good intentions, and by responding accordingly, we can break down the cultural walls that stand in the way of providing optimal outcomes from the people we serve.

Aspire Toledo Helps Organizations Foster Cultural Competency

In working with stakeholders throughout the community, Aspire Toledo has come to recognize Cultural Competency as a key component to successful programming. Ensuring that the people who deliver programming truly understand the people they serve helps foster a sense of belonging that leads to better outcomes. In weeks to come, we will be sharing some more ideas about Cultural Competency, including strategies designed to help service organizations integrate principles of Cultural Competency into everything they do. Watch this space for further details.