Monday, September 5, 2016

Outside the Box Definitions – Cultural Competence

One of those buzz words: cultural competence. Google search shows over 10 million results. 

Ten. Million.

Quite the buzz word!

But what is it; what IS cultural competence.

Historically, as a diversity trainer, I have come to understand cultural competence as the skills and tools needed to successfully interact with cultures not my own. It requires an awareness of my own culture and how others might differ. Skills that seem to be related include: 
  • Communication 
  • Conflict  
  • Leadership

The recommendations for how to make oneself more culturally competent include things like: 
  • Learn about yourself. 
  • Learn about other cultures. 
  • Take opportunities to engage with diverse groups.

It has often been a checklist; a series of boxes checked as skills are “taught,” usually in drive-by professional development.

However, many of those skills are framed within the idea of “understanding” or behavior. There doesn't seem to be a universal measurement of that understanding, however.

Yes, there are standards of cultural competence that have been developed by many industries. Their measurement is determined almost exclusively by behavior. 

Consider how one might measure the following mandates for individuals and organizations (from the National Center for Cultural Competence):

  1. value diversity and similarities among all peoples;
  2. understand and effectively respond to cultural differences;
  3. engage in cultural self-assessment at the individual and organizational levels;
  4. make adaptations to the delivery of services and enabling supports; and
  5. institutionalize cultural knowledge.
Most of the skills defined by those standards are considered “soft skills.” Soft skills are those skills identified as people skills, social skills, or interpersonal skills. In industries where soft skills are key – social work and education, for example – it makes sense that these values would be important.

What is fascinating, then, is that when money gets tight, cultural competency programs are one of the first things cut. More on that in a later post!

Cultural competence: the skills of knowing the culture of oneself, the culture of others, and being able to successfully interact with others utilizing people skills. This would make one Culturally Competent.

When we look at the definition of competent we find it means “adequate, not exceptional.”

What we are really looking for, then, is cultural adequacy. 


Leads to another interesting question.

Cultural Adequacy. Is it enough?

What do you think?

With Respect,

1 comment:

  1. I really look forward to what people might think when they think about cultural competence.