Much is being said today about the need for “culturally competent” workplaces, but before we explore the merits of that issue, it is important to define what is meant by the term.  According to the National Multi-Cultural Institute, cultural competency is defined as “a process of learning, rather than an endpoint, in which an individual or an organization is constantly striving to achieve the ability to work effectively in environments with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.”

By interpreting “culture” in a broad sense, to include categories such as ethnicity, gender, age, socio-economic status, and education, to name a few, this definition reminds us that quick checklists and one-time training sessions cannot meet the challenges faced by diverse workplaces.

The good news is that there is a recent trend within organizations towards cultural competency training.  This is indicative of their efforts to successfully deal with the changing demographics of our society.  They recognize that the quicker an employee interacts effectively with others who may be “different,” whether a co-worker or client, the more rapidly that employee will be able to support them and be a real asset to the organization.

This is not about political correctness; that is a real simplification of this complex issue.  Effective cultural competency programs take participants through a wide variety of topics, including self-awareness, education, exposure to diversity concepts and issues, as well as training in cross-cultural communication.  The process is continuous, but results are seen immediately as new awareness leads to learning, and ultimately results in adjusted behavior.

The good news for companies who commit to increasing the cultural competency of their staffs is that their payoffs are generally two-fold: their employees are more effective and efficient since they can work together more harmoniously; and a more effective and efficient workforce better services the customer, ultimately resulting in a more profitable workforce.