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.