Recently, I attended a diversity workshop as an audience member rather than the leader. person leading the workshop.
By MICHELLE T. JOHNSON
Special to The Star
It was an excellent opportunity for me to take on the beginners mind when it comes to diversity issues in our society. And an usual phrase at least for a diversity beginner came up: cultural competence.
Culture is a term that most people get. Although many mistakenly equate it with race, upon reflection we all know it is really about the norms and unofficial rules and preferences that guide a united group of people.
Some of our cultures come from circumstances of necessity (say, work environments), others from birth or chosen identity (such as race and ethnicity), and some from personal choice (avid skiers or marathon runners, for example). Regardless of what cultures you are in, you know how to navigate what you know. Its other cultures that can be the problem.
Thats where the competence part comes in. Its a skill to figure out how to work beside or interact with others of a different culture. And there is almost always a fragile or at least uncomfortable learning curve in doing so if the culture conflicts with whatever preconceived idea you have about it.
Part of the reason its called competency is that you dont ever master getting to know another culture, since every single difference cant possibly come your way.
No matter how big your workforce is or how diverse you think it is, trust me, you havent hit the wall of religions, ethnicities, variations of human sexuality, physical and mental disabilities and other differences that compose the thousands of sub-cultures you could potentially meet.
Thats why, in this case, competency is not a matter of doing the minimal amount; its a way of acknowledging that perfection isnt what youre aiming for. Youre aiming to respect other people in ways that allows you both to get your jobs done in the best way.
And being in the habit of doing that means youre a little bit more comfortable doing it all over again when you have to get culturally competent about another culture.