Traditionally, many groups and systems operate without the formal input from the people that benefit. In a diverse environment there are alpha groups (dominant or mainstream) and beta, or minority groups. People who are in an alpha group are often unaware of the advantages they may have because the cultural rules benefit them. Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate, and interact effectively with people of different cultures. Cultural competency and humility skills can be applied to individuals, organizations and volunteers (e.g., advocates and group members). There are four components to cultural competence:
- Awareness of one’s own cultural worldview;
- Attitude towards cultural differences;
- Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews; and
- Cross-cultural skills.
A diverse group includes variance of culture, opinion, and perspective. This diversity will ensure a consistent influx of ideas; addressing communication and tensions between different groups within your group will improve the overall functioning of your group and result in better teamwork.
A first step in prioritizing cultural competence and humility is recognizing, as a group, that having the respect and trust of the communities affected by your group’s decisions is critical to creating culturally-competent policies. The approach of incorporating community members into the group’s decision-making structure allows the group to draft policies that are sensitive to the needs of diverse communities. On a broad level, cultural competence and humility requires that groups:
- Have a defined set of values and principles;
- Demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies and structures that enable them to work effectively across cultures;
- Take actions, such as conducting self-assessments, acquiring and institutionalizing cultural knowledge, and adapting to the diversity and cultural contexts of communities;
- Incorporate the above into all aspects of policymaking and implementation; and
- Systematically involve consumers, key stakeholders, and communities.
Developing culturally competent groups is not a seamless process. It is important to be able to recognize some of the common barriers to reaching this goal. Barriers, specifically those relating to inclusion, awareness, and the need to change and adapt, may be intentional or unintentional and may include:
- The presumption of entitlement;
- Systems of oppression and historical trauma;
- Unawareness or unwillingness of the need to adapt (such as meeting time or location);
- Historical distrust and misperceptions between different groups;
- Narrowly defining issues;
- Personal baggage that is brought to the situation;
- Differences in perspectives;
- Unwillingness to talk about sensitive issues.
It is important to manage diversity to optimize its benefits. Managing diversity focuses on maximizing opportunities for all group members to contribute, enhancing the cultural competence of its policies.
One thing to consider is the purpose: to ensure the group represents the diversity of the individuals affected by the group’s decisions, particularly those voices that are often left out of the process. It addition to considering divers representation across the group’s structure as a whole, it should also be considered with leadership roles or subcommittee opportunities.
The following are strategies to help support a diverse group membership:
- Participate in diversity awareness training. By participating in diversity training, you can better appreciate the individuality of each and every group member;
- Ensure your group has a development plan, which will help maximize the group’s opportunities to develop cultural competence and support diversity;
- Support group members in taking advantage of professional development opportunities and make diversity an explicit component of individual leadership development;
- Provide group members an opportunity to mentor and be mentored;
- Provide opportunities for formal and informal networking;
- Acknowledge that a diverse and inclusive environment is both realistic and complicated, and that it takes time;
- Develop and deliver a formal presentation on diversity to internal audiences. It’s important that your group see and hear discussions of diversity issues; and
- Talk about diversity in regular group meetings. It’s important that diversity is integrated into the typical operations of the group.
Your organization may already have individuals who are culturally competent and can serve as cultural brokers. Cultural brokers are aware of their own cultural identity, the cultural identity of members of a diverse community or communities, and the social, political and economic factors affecting diverse communities within a particular cultural context. Cultural Brokers may be able to:
- Take a leadership role in supporting an increase in organizational cultural competence;
- Mentor nontraditional voices from diverse backgrounds; and
- Educate on how best to enhance policies to be culturally competent and inclusive to meet the needs of those for whom the policy is intended.
There are a number of community associations that have worked hard to advocate for culturally competent practices and lobby for the rights of diverse constituents. The following websites have good suggestions for developing and maintaining cultural competency and equal opportunity administrative practices.
- The National Urban League has a study and report called “Diversity Practices that Work”. This study of more than 5,500 American workers provides new data on the effectiveness of diversity programs.
- National Center for Cultural Competency from Georgetown University includes multiple online self-assessment measures to assess progress on outcomes for personnel, organizations, population groups and the community at large.