15 MAY, 2022


What is cultural competence in the workplace?

With an increasingly diverse workforce and multinational companies relying on cross-cultural collaboration, cultural competence in the workplace is gaining in importance. Essentially, it describes the ability to successfully communicate, collaborate and work across cultural boundaries. To build cultural awareness in the workplace, employees have to understand and respect that people with different backgrounds from their own have different traditions, communication styles, perspectives and values, and everyone needs to work to bridge gaps. 

This also involves becoming aware of the water you’re swimming in, so to speak, and recognising that what you may simply see as ‘normal’ are cultural practices specific to your background that could be foreign or confusing to someone outside of your culture. 

 The benefits of promoting a culturally-competent workplace

Modern Australia is represented by a diverse workforce, with a third of Australians born overseas and over 300 separate languages spoken at home, according to the Australian Bureau for Statistics. Understanding how to manage cultural diversity within your team, promote cross-cultural learning and understanding, and reap the benefits of diversity is essential in our diverse nation and globalised world.

Why is cultural competence important in the workplace?

Not only is the Australian workforce getting more diverse, many large companies also operate across borders, which requires employees to be able to collaborate effectively in highly diverse teams. Effectively managing diversity in the workplace means investing in your employees’ cultural competence so that they and your organisation can be enriched by diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

Benefits of cultural competence in the workplace

Countless studies have shown that diversity in organisations is an asset. A 2019 report by McKinsey, for instance, notes that the most diverse companies outperform the least diverse companies by 36% in profitability. It’s obvious that cultural competence is more than just a circumstantial necessity – investing in it can bring real benefits to your organisation and team.

Increased awareness of individual strengths and abilities

With an increased understanding of the differences between people comes an increased appreciation of how those differences can translate into skills and strengths at work. By building on these individual strengths, you can improve your team’s performance.

New perspectives and approaches to solving problems

With cultural diversity come new perspectives, which can invigorate workplace discussions and lead to innovative ways of solving problems. If you have culturally competent team members and leaders, these diverse opinions will be promoted and synthesised much more efficiently.

Greater empathy and better relationships between employees

Promoting cultural awareness will lead to improved relationships between employees, as they feel valued and respected by each other, and gain better insight into each other’s lives.

Better customer experience

Cultural competence doesn’t just extend to relationships within teams, though. It also helps staff members interact with customers from different cultures, anticipate their needs, and create more inclusive customer experiences.

Better stakeholder relationships

Lastly, cultural competence, especially at the leadership level, is also an essential part of building lasting stakeholder relationships. Stakeholders, like customers and employees, want to feel respected and valued. Understanding their cultural background can also help you initiate more effective communications and ultimately improve strategic results for your organisation.

How can your workplace increase cultural competence and awareness?

If you want to reap the benefits of diversity, you will need a culturally competent team. Developing this involves a whole-of-company approach from policy design to training leadership and employees.

Design policies around improving cultural awareness

Ensure that your organisation has a solid diversity inclusion framework, or establish one with a diverse and representative working group. This will be the building block of promoting diversity and cultural awareness in your organisation.

Create training programs for developing cultural competence

Learning never stops, and a key to success in managing cultural diversity in the workplace is to give people the tools they need to build cultural competence and awareness. This could be an internal training program or through external workplace courses, like DeakinCo.’s course in cultural engagement.

Develop transparent and cultural-sensitive communication channels

Create a culture where everyone feels safe to express themselves, and take action when issues are raised so that you can counteract misunderstanding and miscommunication as quickly as possible. Foster understanding for communication styles that differ between cultures, and make employees aware of important ways in which they can avoid miscommunication.

Promote healthy discussion about cultural diversity

It is crucial that your employees feel like they can express uncertainties, disagreements and issues openly and in a healthy way. Encourage healthy discussions by addressing the topic directly and openly, establishing diverse work groups and promoting cultural learning regularly.

Celebrate your employees’ cultural differences

Make a point of celebrating cultural differences within your organisation. For instance, many Australians expect that their most common holidays and traditions are acknowledged and respected at work, but for cultural minorities, this is often not the case. Acknowledge and show that you value your employees’ traditions and celebrate the differences that make each of us unique.

Develop your workplace’s cultural engagement with bespoke training from DeakinCo.

With our workplace courses, DeakinCo. can provide customised training in technical and soft skills, including cultural engagement and leadership credentials, to develop your organisation’s cultural competence. Whether it’s one course or an entire training program, DeakinCo. offers tailored programs for companies to drive your organisational performance.

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