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Cultural Competence, a lifelong lesson
By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent


Representatives from private, public, and non-profit agencies learned a valuable lesson from professional trainers during a recent session on cultural competence: that there is a “business case” to be made for strengthening how their organizations handle customers and clients of different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds.


In other words, any business or entity seen as being strong in its cultural competence can reap bigger profits, recruit and retain the best and brightest employees, and gain a bigger customer base. But true change within an organization needs a strategic plan of action, not just a policy on paper or an annual training for its staff.


“We know that the world continues to change, continues to be more and more diverse, said Margarita DeLeón of the Kaleidoscope Group, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm. “The essence of the program is how we can be effective with people who are different from us—and that’s going to become a more and more important skill as we move forward.”


About 30 people attended the diversity training session at the United Way building in downtown Toledo on Wed., July 31. Participants represented the law firm of Marshall and Melhorn, the Wood County Health District, the YMCA of Greater Toledo, Adelante, Inc., the Ability Center, and the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center, among others.


Local Latino leaders in attendance included: Linda Alvarado, director of the Toledo Board of Community Relations, Eugenio Mollo from Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), and Giselle Mendoza and Lisa Canales from Adelante, Inc.


The trainers explained that this training involved “building a framework” for cultural competency within an organization. A follow-up training is then held to put such a plan into action.


“We know diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do, treating people with dignity and respect,” said Ms. DeLeón. “We also know that if we do that well, that we can also achieve our mission and our business goals.


Kaleidoscope Group CEO Doug Harris challenged attendees to “think, believe, and demonstrate.” In other words, expand their thoughts, assess and challenge their internal biases, then adapt, modify, and change their behavior toward others.


But Harris explained it is much easier to do that as individuals than it is for an entire organization to change its collective mindset, adopt a new attitude, and see the overall benefits of a culturally competent business or agency long-term.


“To be culturally competent, you have to think about how you behave in these different situations,” he said. “How do you react? How can you modify that behavior in order to be effective in those situations?”


Harris told the group there is a method, or “roadmap” to achieving a system-wide change in that culture, involving what he called the four I’s:

  • Importance: a clear understanding of the business impact of diversity and inclusion within an organization;

  • Insight: a personal awareness of one’s cultural background and worldview and how that impacts others in the workplace;

  • Inclusion: the ability to skillfully interact, relate, and work in an inclusive manner;

  • Integration: maximize the performance of self, others, and ultimately, the organization.


“When you start to dig into real conversations, about how people are feeling—they may feel some inequity. It’s harder to have those discussions,” he said. “So you get a visible commitment, a statement. That’s better than nothing—but it’s still not at the level that we’re talking about. It’s that deeper discussion—real conversation, real people, real issues that create real change.”


Harris encouraged participants that they would need to go back to their organizations and not only start the conversation and come up with a plan of action, but work hard to implement any changes. Not only must the staff receive training, but the changes must be applied in the workplace and success must be measurable.


“Education without application is entertainment,” he said. “What are you going to measure to say your organization is moving toward cultural competence? What difference is it making? Is the environment changing? Are we getting new customers? Are customers more satisfied?”


Chicago’s Kaleidoscope CEO emphasized that once change can be seen and measured, the buy-in of employees increases. Once they begin to see innovation and collaboration occur, enhanced company performance, development in new and emerging markets, the business seen as an employer of choice, and the attraction and retention of committed employees, they start to notice the difference. Then employees themselves become invested and enlightened, ambassadors to the community, and respectful to each other.


“It really does help agencies recognize differences in other people, helps teach them how to build their cultural competency muscle, and how they can become better at servicing people who are different from them,” explained Ms. DeLeón. “This starts internally with your staff—so your staff has to be open to difference, has to learn how to manage diversity, become comfortable with that. It doesn’t matter what discipline you’re in, you are going to be working with people different from you. How do you have an effective working relationship? How do you effectively work with your clients?”


But Harris emphasized that decision-makers must be moved from the traditional “to-do” thinking to “achieve” thinking. Once company or agency leaders begin to see what cultural competence can do for business goals or the non-profit’s mission, it becomes easier to start rethinking diversity and inclusion policies.

Education employees about improving cultural competence can involve blended learning using technology as a tool—webinars, podcasts, and online teaching techniques among them. But such training must be customized for each setting. A social service agency won’t seek the same kind of outcomes that a bank or law office would be interested in achieving, for example.


“So you have to do the work to get there, but you have to have the work strategized in order to make a difference,” Harris said. “That is the best way to make it sustainable within your organization.”


During roundtable discussions, many participants admitted their organizations do a decent job of being culturally competent—but there was a lot of room for improvement.


Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/06/13 20:08:58 -0700.




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