Cultural Competency: We’re Depending On You

cultural competency

Seriously, We’re Depending On You

In a harmless social setting among family and friends, we virtually can’t talk about race, culture or gender disparities in America without there being some sort of disagreement regarding our perceptions about how said disparities unfold in front of our very eyes. Everyone seems to have something to say about religion, age, sexual orientation and countless other human factors that derive the country’s diversity. The simple truth is that if you are not what someone else is, you simply can’t possibly understand what they go through on a day to day basis being who they are. If you’re not a woman, you’ll never be able to understand or fully comprehend what it’s like to be a woman. Or a Muslim. Or Black. Or even over the age of 50 (until you get there). You must simply take another person’s word for it, and actively educate yourself about the perspectives of others. We have all experienced different things, and you may never in your life experience what someone else has, and vice versa. Because of this, it’s almost as if we are all looking through the same window but are seeing different things. This is where cultural competency comes in. Cultural competency is accepting the fact that what you see through the window is not what everyone sees, and making a valiant effort to try and see what others are seeing. When you start seeing what other’s are seeing, your view gets bigger and you see more. Those who are not culturally competent will be stuck with the same view, through the same window, for their entire life. Seeing only one piece of the enormous blue sky, and only one patch of green grass on the enormous landscape around them.

Continuum of Cultural Competency

Cultural competency starts with you. You yourself are different than someone else, and can therefore offer a unique perspective. Let’s say someone didn’t want or care to hear your perspective at all, even though you know your perspective and experience could help solve a major issue at hand. Would you feel hurt or offended? Now let’s say this happened in your workplace. Not only would a conflict arise between you and that close-minded person due to their exclusionary behavior, but you, that person, and the workplace suffers for their lack of cultural competency. That person is displaying what’s called cultural incapacity or lacking the capacity to help individuals from other cultures.  These individuals are extremely biased, may believe in race superiority of the dominant group or act paternalistic towards minorities [4]. In addition to cultural incapacity, here are the other cultural tiers that form the continuum to cultural competency:

cultural competency
  • Cultural Destructiveness– Actively participates in purposeful attacks on other cultures.  Attitudes, policies and practices are destructive to cultures and individuals within the cultures, e.g., depriving gay or lesbian clients access to quality care.
  • Cultural Incapacity- Lacking the capacity to help individuals from other cultures.  These individuals are extremely biased, may believe in race superiority of the dominant group or act paternalistic towards Minorities.
  • Cultural Blindness- The perspective that color or culture makes no difference whatsoever, if the system works as it should, all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, shall be served with equal effectiveness, e.g., ignoring the individual differences of your community or prevention activities, and treating them all the same.
  • Cultural Pre-Competence- Awareness of one’s limitations in serving persons of diversity and making small steps to improve on some level, e.g., asking a colleague or client about their culture in effort to acquire cultural knowledge and sensitivity.
  • Cultural Competence– Accepting and respecting differences among and within different cultures.  Continuously assessing one’s behavior to ensure it is congruent with culturally competent practices.  Expanding one’s knowledge, resources and services in order to better meet the needs of different racial and ethnic groups.
  • Cultural Proficiency-  Taking a proactive approach towards cultural competency to move it forward on a systemic level. The advanced level specializes in cultural competency and these individuals are often involved in multicultural research, developing new preventions and treatment modalities that address diversity issues, publishing culturally-based knowledge, raising society awareness and sensitivity to cultural issues.

cultural competencyWomen At Work 

Women’s role in the labor force and leadership positions has grown dramatically [4]. In fact, mothers were the sole or primary breadwinner in a record 40% of all households with children starting in 2011 [4] and has continually risen, thus shifting traditional household gender roles in addition to progressing gender equality in the workplace. However, women still make up a small percentage of leadership roles in the labor force. While Americans say women are every bit as capable of being good leaders as men, four-in-ten believe they are held to higher standards than men and that the U.S. is just not ready to put more women in top leadership positions [4]. Although, with women now outnumbering males attending college, we can expect gradual leadership equality in the workforce (so it’s happening, whether we’re “ready” or not).

Diversity Should Be Explored, Not Ignored

The social structure in America is unbelievably diverse. To make America a “melting pot” would be irrational, unjust and would stunt social progress. Diversity is what makes America so unique, and also what makes it such an advanced Western culture. In fact, in 2015, there were 26.3 million foreign-born people in the U.S. civilian labor force. The share of the labor force that was foreign born was 16.7 percent [3]. In essence, it is also projected that by the year 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority [1]. Cultural competency incorporates diversity in age as well. Not only is our labor force becoming more diverse ethnically, but younger. Aside from having foreign friends in our labor force, from April 2016 to July 2016, the number of employed youth 16 to 24 years old increased by 1.9 million to 20.5 million [2].   Millennials were raised in a time that was radically different than their Baby Boomer counterparts. Brushing off ideas from young people because they may seem inexperienced, or just “young” closes opportunities for innovative ideas that incorporate both the infrastructure of the company and the innovation of popular culture. Laterally, a millennial who gets frustrated by the set-in-their-ways Baby Boomer doesn’t realize that there may be a specific reason for set SOP’s, that were derived from a Baby Boomer’s expertise and experience. The lack of cultural competency from both parties creates a discrepancy harmful for the progression of both of the employees, and the company as a whole.

cultural competency

Respecting Religion

Because we all think differently, even people of the same religious groups can have different interpretations of their own religion. For example, Christianity has many different sects, all following different variations of the bible. There are extremists in every religion who tend to warp the religious teachings into excuses to cause harm and provoke violence. It’s important that we don’t let extremists generate fear or negative perceptions about that religion as a whole. Often times, limited information or forming views about certain religions solely by news sources or hear-say can create narrow ideas breeding prejudice. Don’t fill in the gaps of religious knowledge in your mind with judgements. Actively strive to learn about someone’s religion by asking questions and gaining information. Being proactive by learning about something you’re unfamiliar with not only helps us educate each other to create levels of understanding, but it also allows an opportunity to clear up any misperceptions that generate fear. On the other side of the coin, cultural competency also means that you accept that someone may not share your religious views. Your religious views apply strictly to your own life, and not someone else’s. To think punitively of someone because their life choices don’t adhere to the religion you practice can breed disdain and prejudice. Both of which compromise company neutrality. You can have religious opinions, and you can openly express them. That’s the beauty of America! But you must accept that no one is obligated to fall into line with your religious views except you.

Becoming Culturally Competent

Everyone will work with people outside their own cultural groups; so they must be able to learn about, relate to, and communicate with people who are different from themselves [4]. This can be done by being actively aware of your own biases, first and foremost. This can be difficult at times because patterns in society and the media have been able to manipulate the way we perceive certain groups of people, even subconsciously. So you cultural competencymay not always know when you send out a social subtly that hints at a bias within you, until it’s picked up on by someone whom it’s directed to. In a workplace setting, this happens all. the. time. It can take the form of someone being hired over another person due to a subconscience stereotype in a hiring managers mind, such as hiring a man for a mechanic job over a woman or hiring a woman to be a nurse over a man. When the female mechanic may be just as, if not more knowledgeable about cars than the male applicants, and the male nurse may be just as, if not more nurturing than the female applicants. To become culturally competent, take a look at where you are on the Continuum of Cultural Competency, and then explore the ways in which you can transcend to the highest tier by seeking to eliminate your biases and educating yourself on the people around you.

In Conclusion

For the sake of the workplace, we must all strive to be culturally competent…plain and simple. It is a positive character trait with infinite ways of being beneficial to you, the company, and society as a whole. You don’t HAVE to agree or support every thing that another personal believes or practices regularly. But in the workplace, you must accept and actively strive to educate yourself about the diversity of your coworkers. Just as they should accept and actively get to know YOU too. Think about it, what percentage of all the people in your life have been truly bad people? For me, less than 5% of all the people I’ve ever met in my entire life have been truly bad people. Which leads me to believe most people in the world are kind, caring, empathetic, and are on the same pursuit to happiness as the rest of us. Get to know people without the constraint of biases, prejudice or stereotypes. People are pleasantly surprising.


  1. Cohn, D’Vera, and Andrea Caumont. “10 Demographic Trends That Are Shaping the U.S. and the World.Pew Research Center RSS. Pew Research Center, 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 02 Sept. 2016.
  2. Employment and Unemployment Among Youth Summary.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 Aug. 2016. Web. 02 Sept. 2016.
  3. Foreign Born Make up 28 Percent of Labor Force in Pacific States : The Economics Daily: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25 May 2016. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.
  4. Proceed Inc. Enhancing Relationships Through Cultural Competence Training. N.p.: Proceed, Inc., 2012. PowerPoint.