Cultural Competency in the Workplace
by: SafeQuest Solano
October 11, 2016
SafeQuest Solano has been part of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Cultural Competency Project, led by My Sister’s House, for the past two years. As a domestic violence and sexual assault non-profit organization, it truly is essential for us to understand where our clients are coming from. Simply noting a person’s ethnicity is not enough to understand a person’s culture, but instead it is a process. When looking towards the API community, we make sure we understand where a person is coming from and what barriers that individual may have when accessing our services.
Before interacting with clients, we build cultural competency through our new hire training, morning meetings, and daily interactions. The new hire training is designed and conducted in a way that both stimulates and requires thinking about and challenging cultural stereotypes, biases, challenges, and gender roles. This means that before we try to understand where a client is coming from, we must know the point of view we are coming from and how that affects our perceptions of a client. We must be honest with ourselves and others about the stereotypes and biases we have absorbed from our experiences, family, friends, culture, and society. By doing so we can begin to see beyond them and see clients in a more compassionate way.
Our morning meetings continue the trend but in a much more informal way. As we discuss the appointments scheduled for the day, we discuss the cultural considerations that might be necessary to accommodate and help each individual client. What factors might have contributed to their situation, and what possible challenges they might have to bettering their life.
Thereafter, we often have spontaneous discussions about cultural norms, familial dynamics, and/or the personal experiences of clients. Here too we brainstorm, explore, and educate each other about the cultural particulars that make every culture unique and how they play out in the real world. In addition, this helps us notice our personal biases as they arise and affect our thought process. This is particularly important to acknowledge because as Americans we hold a unique perspective and tend to think that our views of what is normal and abnormal are universal when in fact they are very different than most of the rest of the world. We stress self-awareness because no one grows up in a vacuum free from the influences of social, cultural, and family. Left unchecked biases could negatively affect advocate work and client interactions.
Lastly, it is through client interactions that we have the best opportunities to develop cultural competency. Client interactions allow us to learn who they are, instead of assuming, by simply listening to them and asking the appropriate questions. It is, after all, through personal experience that we learn the most. By experiencing different cultures, learning how individuals within the same culture can be different, and how they and us can be the same as well, we are able to develop competency little by little.