Q&A - Key Diversity Terms Defined

Exerpt from Interview with Jon Grannis - Sollah Interactive, LLC

Q&A - Key Diversity Terms Defined

I was recently asked a few questions from a board member at Iowa State University on various diversity trends – as it relates to college seniors entering the workforce. Below is a small portion of that exchange.

Question: You provide, among many things, tools to for companies training their employees about many issues. One course teaches “cultural competency”; can you tell us what that is? Are there other ways to learn those skills?

Response: It’s important to understand key concepts like diversity and inclusion – especially as the U.S. continues to evolve and change. The current workplace is different much different than it was a short decade ago. And the change is happening faster! Let me give you a few definitions that will help put these core concepts into perspective.

Diversity has to do with human differences.  So a lot of times when people say “diversity” - what they really mean is race or gender or ethnicity.  Diversity is much more than that – it’s any point of difference. It can be differences in race or gender, but it also could be differences in work style, differences in personalities, differences in terms of our organizational cultures any type of difference that matters. So with that in mind, we don’t have to do anything to create diversity, diversity just is!

Inclusion is a tool or a strategy or an approach. Inclusion exists when we create a culture within an organization that makes a space for everybody to be present and to participate and contribute and feel valued.  When we think about inclusion, we think about words like belonging, fitting in, acceptance, togetherness, being in or out - and we can also think about it in terms of engagement.

Cultural competence is a set of behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, organization or among professionals and enable that system, organization or those professionals to live or work effectively in cross-cultural situations. The word culture is used because it implies the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values and institutions of a racial, ethnic, religious or social group. The word competence is used because it implies having the capacity to function effectively.

Learning to be more culturally competent is a process. There is no short cut. We have to be cognizant of ourselves – and how we act/react to others; as well as cognizant of our environment. So the first steps are always knowledge and awareness. Cultural sensitivity is next. Simply put, that’s knowing that differences exist between cultures, but not assigning values to the differences, better or worse, right or wrong. This tends to be much harder than it sounds. Humans tend to be judgmental. It’s in our nature. Putting that immediate reaction to judge others (either individuals, societies, cultures) is a key part of gaining competency. A culturally competent person has the ability to view and assimilate many different behaviors, attitudes, and policies and live/work effectively in cross-cultural settings to produce better outcomes.

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