What is cultural competency and what does mean in serving customers

By Anthony White,
anthony@bizdiversity.net

As the markets we serve become more diverse, it becomes increasingly important that we develop our cultural competencies to better serve all customers well.

Cultural competence can be defined as having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families. It is the ability to understand the within-group differences that make customers we serve unique, while celebrating the between-group variations that make our country a tapestry.

This understanding informs and expands the ability for businesses to integrate cultural competence into strategies that best serve a wide range of markets.

A brief and effective look at the opportunities for communicating serving diverse population goes beyond bridging language differences to truly understanding where people are coming from.

Cultural Competence has four components.
1. Awareness
2. Attitude
3. Knowledge
4. Skills

Awareness and Attitude are building blocks for knowledge and Skills.

Awareness. Awareness is consciousness of one’s personal reactions to people who are different.
Attitude. Paul Pedersen’s multicultural competence model emphasized three components: awareness, knowledge and skills. DTUI added the attitude component in order to emphasize the difference between training that increases awareness of cultural bias and beliefs in general and training that has participants carefully examine their own beliefs and values about cultural differences.
Knowledge. Social science research indicates that our values and beliefs about equality may be inconsistent with our behaviors, and we ironically may be unaware of it. Social psychologist Patricia Devine and her colleagues, for example, showed in their research that many people who score low on a prejudice test tend to do things in cross cultural encounters that exemplify prejudice (e.g., using out-dated labels such as “negroes” or “colored”.). This makes the Knowledge component an important part of cultural competence development.

Regardless of whether our attitude towards cultural differences matches our behaviors, we can all benefit by improving our cross-cultural effectiveness. One common goal of diversity professionals, such as Dr. Hicks from URI, is to create inclusive systems that allow members to work at maximum productivity levels.

Skills. The Skills component focuses on practicing cultural competence to perfection. Communication is the fundamental tool by which people interact in organizations. This includes gestures and other non-verbal communication that tend to vary from culture to culture.
Over the past 20 years, Globalization and rapidly advancing technology have created significant new challenges and opportunities for organizations to drive business results.

Leading a productive, innovative, quality minded, multi-generational, multicultural and diverse team in an evolving workplace and marketplace is far more complex than ever before. This is a tough job for even the most talented and seasoned leader. Smart organizations know increasing cultural competencies of their people drives business results.