In today’s diverse work environments, Cultural Competence is an absolute essential for success. While we know we should practice it, we don’t often don’t understand what Cultural Competence means.

Before we can fully understand it, we need to get the basics down: “‘Culture’ refers to integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. ‘Competence’ implies having the capacity to function effectively as an individual and an organization within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs presented by consumers and their communities” (, adapted from Cross, 1989).

In order to understand others, we must first understand ourselves. We must recognize our own culture and its multiple facets then work to build a positive cultural competence level within the workplace. Perhaps you feel the need to evaluate whether you, your coworkers, and employees have become ‘too comfortable’ in your culture. Do you, or anyone you work with, apply stereotypes, prejudice, bias, or discrimination towards clients or each other? If so, it is vital to take necessary steps to recognize and respect that others see the world differently than we do. As stated in many of our blog posts, the responsibility is our own—it ultimately falls to us to be culturally competent and create a culturally competent organization.

So where do we go? What do we do to reach true Cultural Competence?

We must first begin with an honest and sincere desire to become culturally competent; no one but you can decide to become capable of functioning in the context of cultural difference by treating others with dignity and respect despite our apparent/perceived differences. The process of Cultural Competence takes time and can’t be done overnight.

Start by assessing your own positive and negative assumptions about others. What do you consider “normal”? How accepting are you of people with different beliefs? As you strive to make a difference, be prepared to face challenges. As a general rule, don’t assume anything with anyone, coworkers and clients alike. Be supportive, patient, and respectable to all individuals. Most importantly, look for the best in each unique person. And remember, just because you respect and understand another person with a different cultural view than you does not mean you have to adopt their culture or beliefs.

Educate your employees on proper, culturally competent practices, and encourage their application. Here are a few things you can do to facilitate a culturally competent workplace:

  • Incorporating cultural knowledge into policy making, infrastructure, and practice
  • Identify and understand the needs and behaviors of consumers with regards to delivering products/goods
  • Design and implement services that are tailored to the unique needs of individuals, organizations, and communities your company serves
  • Service delivery systems practice consumer-preferred choices, not culturally blind or culturally free interventions
  • Work in conjunction with culturally diverse communities

As always, at the end of the day, it is up to you to make change that will help you become truly competent and to create a culturally competent workplace. You have to take the time to understand the cultures around you, and agree to be culturally competent in order to make a change for the better for yourself and for the ultimate success of your company. What have you done today to embrace Cultural Competence?