‘When you’re able to have cultural competent workplaces, the outcome is that employees will feel understood, valued and engaged’
Many things have changed over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but one bright light that has emerged is a growing awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion in many organizations.
“The conversation has really moved from reacting to being more thoughtful and intentional and proactive,” says Anne-Marie Pham, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) in Calgary.
“We have seen, in the last 12 to 14 months, quite a significant uptake in social discourse in the workplace with regard to anti-black racism and now anti-Asian racism and… how do we address that in the workplace? How do we look at our corporate value systems, our policies, our practices, through a diversity and equity lens to ensure that we address microaggressions and racism and discrimination, and how do we educate our workplace to be proactive around these issues?”
Because the virus seems to have originated from China, this has also brought out racist behaviours in offices too, according to Pham.
“We heard about the COVID-19 being referred to as a foreign virus, the China virus, and that has led to perhaps some individuals blaming a group of people and creating microaggressions and discrimination that are being experienced by employees and clients in the workplace.”
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These issues are forcing employers to take a hard look at the makeup of the workforce, says Pham, and how they can be engaged properly so these things don’t happen.
“They are also looking for meaningful ways of building relationship with diverse communities that are not performative, that are not tokenized. And in the process, they are learning ways in which they can educate themselves and seek to be an ally.”
4-step process to cultural competence
One of the best ways to help transform the workplace is by employing cultural competence which is defined as “the ability to understand, appreciate and interact effectively with people from cultures or belief systems different from one’s own,” says Pham.
This involves a four-step process, she says. The first step involves understanding your own world view and how you see others; the next step includes learning about other cultures; the third step is to build up a “knowledge toolkit” and truly understand others; and the fourth step is “about building cross-cultural skills, and primarily cross-cultural communication skills,” says Pham.
Once competence has been achieved within a workplace, good things happen, she says.
“The outcome is that employees will feel understood, valued and engaged. They will be able to bring their full self to work; they will be able to share their perspective; and they will feel like a contributing member of the organization as opposed to someone who may be judged based on a cultural stereotype or a bias or a lack of understanding. This is why cultural competence is so important in today’s workplace.”
Adequate representation needed
One of the keys to being a successful organization is to ensure that adequate representation exists in the organization, according to Pham.
“Representation really matters in the workplace because we are dealing with a very diverse Canadian society and a demographic trend that points to increasing diversity, because our workplaces are microcosms of our larger societies.”
For HR departments, it’s critically important to embed inclusion as a key component ─ but that involves work.
“Inclusion doesn’t happen automatically. It is an intentional, mindful and ongoing effort to connect with your diverse employees, to understand from them what it is to have an inclusive workplace, a respectful and engaging workplace and create not just policies but a culture that is welcoming and inclusive,” says Pham.
“Create a great environment. Learn from your experiences. Listen to the voices of your diverse employees, adapt and create culturally competent programs, services and solutions and when you have this key core elements in place diverse candidates, community members, your clients, your customers will see that and they will say, ‘I want to buy products here. I want to work there.’ Your reputation will shine and it will happen oftentimes through word of mouth.”
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