The Importance of Cultural Competence for Diversity Working

Diversity remains a challenge despite society becoming more and more diverse. We often say, “the world is getting smaller each day,” or “it’s a global village we live in today,” and true indeed. Yet the irony is that although technology has made it easier to build communication with one another from anywhere around the world, yet diversity is still an issue. Learning more about other races and cultures is supposed to be more accessible. However, the more challenging it still is to be appreciative and accepting of other people. It is now more crucial than ever to understand the importance of cultural competence.

The American society is a microcosm of the global village. It is a mosaic of different cultures and ethnicities from all over. Yet, there are factors that hinder many from establishing good relationships with others just because of cultural and racial differences.

Aside from lingering traces of systemic discrimination, other challenges occur that account for lack of cohesion or segregation in communities.

Harvard University study has identified some of these serious challenges of building social capital in a large, ethnically diverse community. The more diverse a community in our study, the less likely its residents are to:

  • trust other people
  • connect with other people, even informally
  • participate in politics
  • connect across class lines

An online resource on workplace diversity, The Challenge of Diversity. Boundless Management. Boundless, says that the challenges to diversity naturally occur as a result of communication (languages and values), majority hegemony, and groupthink.

Diversity working in society is indeed a challenge and a threat to many. Still, at the same time, it presents a good opportunity to increase the level of connectedness in communities.

Importance of Cultural Competence

One good approach to increase or build connectedness in society would be to inculcate the essential skill of cultural competence – and to start from the basic unit of society – the family.

The challenge though is not every parent or caregiver is culturally competent as well – and they themselves need to be educated on this. Thus, schools can do this work, as well as reinforce the values of openness to and appreciation of others’ differences learned in more culturally-sensitive families.

Cultural competence, according to the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF, p.16), as … much more than awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competence encompasses:

  • being aware of one’s own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views
  • developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures.

It is indeed best to start young. It’s a move forward to healthier social relationships, stronger communities, and a peaceful, diversity working society. In this way, the spread of stereotyped thinking, biased attitudes, and discriminatory behavior will be lessened.

Children can grow up to be more open-minded, understanding, tolerant, and secure, too, of themselves. Studies attest to this, as this article says.

After age 9, racial attitudes tend to stay the same unless the child has a life-changing experience (Aboud, 1988). Before that, however, we have a good chance to help children develop positive feelings about their racial and cultural identity. We can also challenge the immature thinking that is typical of very young children. That’s important because this type of thinking can lead to prejudice (York, 1991). Children develop their identity and attitudes through experiences with their bodies, social environments, and their cognitive developmental stages (Derman-Sparks, 1989). As these three factors interact, young children, progress through certain stages of racial and cultural awareness.

Schools Play An Importance Role in the Importance of Culture Competence

Schools can make a great difference in educating children on the importance of cultural competence and diversity. They can help instill in young minds an appreciation of a world without hateCreating a learning environment that respects diversity sets the scene for fostering children’s positive self-concepts and attitudes. Such an environment assists children in developing positive ideas about themselves and others, creates the conditions under which children initiate conversations about differences, and provides the setting for introducing activities about differences and creating fair and inclusive communitiesSee more here.

EYLF, mentioned above, in its Educators’ Guide to the EYLF (p. 21) (DEEWR, 2010) explained why respecting, understanding and including a child’s culture is so very important: Culture is the fundamental building block of identity and the development of a strong cultural identity is essential to children’s healthy sense of who they are and where they belong.

Providing Cultural Competent Care and Support in a Pluralistic, Multicultural Society 

As the American society is becoming more pluralistic and multicultural, providing care and support is essential for people coming from different cultures to help them integrate well into the American culture.

Immigrants who come from their countries of origin bring with them a large part of their own personal backgrounds.

Their unique cultural, language, religious, and political backgrounds. Histories of internal displacement within their own countries, torture, political oppression, and extreme poverty abound among immigrant communities. Melding these backgrounds with the history, experiences, and expectations of U.S.-born ethnic and diverse populations creates both challenges and opportunities for social workers.[…] Culturally competent services are needed beyond race and ethnicity. Culturally competent social workers are also better able to address issues of gender and help persons with disabilities, older adults, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. A working knowledge of these groups’ cultures and values helps social workers tailor care, so it is effective and appropriate for their clients’ needs. – Read more here.

Providing such care and support to the different segments of the American population is a way to ensure diversity working in a pluralistic, multicultural society.

Under the Obama leadership, the federal government supports integrating immigrants as a way to promote diversity. 

“Throughout our history, immigrants have come to our shores in wave after wave, from every corner of the globe. And that’s what makes America special. That’s what makes us strong. The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life, it is in our DNA. We believe our diversity, our differences, when joined together by a common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different. From all these different strands, we make something new here in America.”

President Barack Obama, July 4, 2014

Supporting Broken Families

Not only immigrants need such care and support, but broken families as well. Broken families are becoming more and more prevalent in the US., and many of these homes belong to minorities.

In 2011, it was reported that “one in four children in the United States is being raised by a single parent.[…] In the African American community, 72 percent of Black children are raised in a single parent household.” 

In 2014, the Family Research Council (FRC) revealed a dismaying statistic about the state of American families. It said that 55 percent of 15-to-17-year-olds in America do not live in intact families. Further, more than 40 percent of all children are born out of wedlock. In addition, one in three children live in single-parent homes. The continuing breakdown of the basic unit of society – the family – is one reason for the weakening of society’s moral fabric, giving rise to countless social ills, as shown by various research and statistics.

Yet – for the sake of diversity – families and children affected by broken homes, – should not be isolated nor denied access to equal opportunities for education and employment – so that, despite their personal circumstances – they can still be able to better their lives and contribute to the upliftment of the community in which they live. Even President Obama supports broken families by affirming young black men coming from broken homes while inspiring them to rise up where your own fathers fell short and to do better with your own children. See here.

Final Thoughts

In sum, the importance of cultural competence in young children, and providing culturally competent care and support for different segments of the diverse American society, including those from broken families, are ways to enable diversity working in society. Diversity brings benefits to society in terms of social relationships. It can lead to a more just, equitable, and cohesive society. In terms of personal growth, it makes people smarter and more creative. As one article by the Scientific American said: 

Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups. […] Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints, and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.