Three Insights for Developing Cultural Competency in Your Organization

Engaging Difference in Leadership

By David Worley - February 20, 2019

We live in a socially volatile period. It is clear that people are struggling across cultural difference. The good news is that our current times are inspiring many people to attempt to do better at diversity and inclusion. But how is this accomplished?

I was fortunate to interview Lisa Z. Fain of the Center for Mentoring Excellence to ask her about navigating these complex times. Lisa clarified that cultural competency is central for fruitfully engaging diversity and inclusion. In the course of our discussion, Fain provided three insights to help you and your team better engage difference.

Acknowledge that this is more complicated than surface appearances indicate. Much of our identity is hidden. While people are aware of superficial differences in race, sexual orientation, positional status, economic privilege and a variety of other relatively apparent features, these are metaphorically just the tip of the iceberg. Much more, related to our identity, exists below the surface. Getting people to recognize this complexity is the first step in building cultural competency. Beyond this recognition, careful listening helps us understand more about our colleagues. These crucial details mainly exist below the iceberg’s waterline.

Examine our biased behavior. As a leader, it is nearly impossible to build a culture of inclusivity if we don’t model inclusive behavior. Since promotion and advancement is closely tied to our image in the organization, it is paramount that leaders provide opportunities for folks from underrepresented populations to be organizationally seen. This goes beyond formal projects to include informal exposure to key people and social activities. If access is limited by bias, this constitutes a form of organizational and systemic inequity. Leaders must break these tendencies by example and by developing intentional operational practices intended to highlight and connect with team members from marginalized groups.

Seriously study the data in your organization. Who is getting promoted? Who is getting new opportunities? Even paying attention to seemingly mundane characteristics like who is getting invited to lunch and other social outings is valuable data for assessing what is happening. The data may cut through false perceptions the organization has about itself. It also may reveal where your intentions are having a positive impact. The adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure is apt here.

As I stated at the outset, these are socially volatile times but there is opportunity in difficulty. This era provides us with the potential for real growth around more constructively engaging difference. For more on the conversation between Lisa and me, please listen to the Groler podcast episode 2 or read the full transcript of our discussion also available on this site.
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