Sandra Bledsoe

What Is Cultural Competency Training?

Cultural competency training is important in your company. Cultural competency (and related concepts such as cultural dexterity or cultural humility) starts with your employees. Helping them learn about their own behaviors or style and develop good self-knowledge provides a critical foundation. 

Image via Unsplash by Coach Edwin Indarto

From developing self-knowledge, they begin to reach out and look at different cultural groups so that they can compare and contrast, but also, more importantly, they understand how their behaviors and style can affect those that are different from them. With that foundation, they can learn to adapt their style to the people, situations, and interactions at hand to be more effective.

It’s a natural reflex to label individuals that are different from yourself, especially when you don’t understand. That’s where cultural competency training can transform your company or organization. If an individual behaves or communicates differently, however, what you tend to do is label it negatively because it’s different from the way you communicate or different from the way that you behave. 

By developing cultural competency and having good self-knowledge, your employees will learn that their way is not the only way. Cultural competency training teaches them how to recognize and adapt their own style while valuing and appreciating different viewpoints and different ways of behaving or communicating. This makes your company rich and more productive because your employees value all of those parts of the whole to make them more dynamic. 

What Are the Benefits of Cultural Competency Training?

Here are five benefits of conducting cultural sensitivity training:

1. Raise Cultural Awareness

Cultural competency training can help your employees recognize and respond to their hidden or unconscious bias based on unfair assumptions and stereotypes. For example, the incident that happened at a Starbucks in Philadelphia in 2018 amplified the need to increase cultural awareness before one employees’ racial bias causes a crisis for the entire company. 

Starbucks, however, did the right thing. With the full support of its top executives, the company immediately took responsibility for the incident and then showed its commitment to increasing cultural awareness by closing thousands of its stores so all of its employees can take part in cultural competency training. 

2. Change Behaviors

Connecting successfully with people at work, whether it’s with clients, customers, vendors, or co-workers, largely depends on having a positive attitude and behaving appropriately. However, what constitutes offensive or acceptable behavior may vary from one person to another. 

Cultural competency training can help ensure that all of your employees understand what your company (and the law) considers inappropriate and acceptable behavior toward individuals based on their religion, gender, age, ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation. Aside from the list of characteristics that are protected against harassment and discrimination, cultural competency training explores the types of inclusive actions that can boost teamwork and motivation. 

3. Make Better Decisions

Unconscious biases and stereotypes are the results, in part, of the human brain’s need to store and categorize a ton of information. Although everybody has unconscious biases, they can cause problems when they surface in the workplace. 

For instance, when a high-performing employee doesn’t get a promotion or a qualified applicant isn’t offered a position because of their gender or accent, not because of their skills or abilities. Through cultural competency training, your employees see how unconscious biases can affect decision-making, and they learn what they can do to prevent making quick judgments about individuals that can hurt the company and lead to discrimination claims. 

4. Improve Communication Skills

A lack of cultural competency can limit the ability of your employees to communicate effectively with different groups — externally and internally — and can offend or alienate colleagues, partners, and customers working in different cultures, countries, and regions. Cultural competency training can help your employees understand the nuances of cross-cultural communication, along with the significance of gestures, actions, words, and body language in establishing relationships with different people or groups. 

5. Encourage Employees to Speak Up

Effective cultural competency training stimulates ongoing conversations among employees at every level about how to handle bias and inappropriate behavior or remarks. It also encourages employees to ask questions, raise concerns, speak up, and report incidents of discrimination they observe or experience. 

If you want to learn more about the benefits of cultural competency training, head to this article

How to Make Your Cultural Competency Training Successful

Here are the steps to implement cultural competency training successfully:

1. Develop an Understanding of Cultural Competency Training

Establishing a cultural competency training program for your company begins with creating a clear, detailed definition of what the training should entail. A comprehensive cultural competency training program provides employees with concrete ways to engage in positive and respectful interactions in the workplace while minimizing prejudice and discrimination based on factors such as ethnicity, race, or religion. 

Cultural competency training programs must target all employees and address a variety of issues, including microaggressions, cross-cultural communications, and unconscious bias. Effective cultural competency training goes beyond encouraging employees to recognize differences to teaching them how to work well together while recognizing diverse cultures and perspectives. 

2. Extend and Maintain Cultural Competency Training Over Time

For cultural competency training to become successful, you should deliver it over an extended period of time. One study revealed that cultural competency training had a positive impact on employees’ behaviors, attitudes, and knowledge toward diverse groups. Over time, however, their attitudes regressed to what they were before the cultural competency training. 

To be most useful, carry out a series of celebrations, events, programs, mentoring opportunities, and other experiences for continual learning, rather than planning a one-time session or an annual day of training. Ingrain cultural competency into the fabric of your company so it becomes a norm in your company. This way, it becomes more about reinforcement of positive attitude or behavior than a yearly lecture of all the prohibitive rules. 

3. Tailor Cultural Competency Training to Your Company

Cultural competency training should be tailor-made for your company. To accomplish this, you should take the time to look inward, assess the current company culture, conduct some fact-gathering initiatives, and determine any unresolved issues and conflicts employees face. Focus groups, surveys, and other employee audits are some ways to collect information. 

Once you’ve gathered enough information, analyzed it, and developed goals and objectives, you can design a training program for the unique culture, history, and needs of your company. The content of your training should leverage examples and data specific to your company. 

4. Plan an Integrated Approach

Employees may respond more favorably to cultural competency training by using a variety of instructional methods, such as exercises, discussions, and lectures. This means you should vary how you present the training, taking a hybrid or blended approach. A cultural competency training program has the greatest impact when it’s delivered as part of a series of related programs or events, such as networking or mentoring groups for minority professionals. 

Here’s an article that provides more approaches to improve employees’ cultural competency. 

5. Hire an Expert

To provide quality, professional cultural competency training for your employees, hire an expert to run the program. Assigning a team member, such as the CFO or HR, to manage the session is tempting, but it’s usually not the best approach. Instead, bring in an external cultural competency training provider that has several years of experience managing cultural competency training programs and serves as an authority figure based on expertise. 

With the right approach, your company’s cultural competency training will improve your employees’ ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and backgrounds. It will also prevent issues that can cause incidents of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.