Over the weekend I was considering cultural competency versus cultural humility.
If you’ve been to one of my workshops, chances are you’ve heard me talk about the latter as a new (and more appropriate) point of reference than the former in terms of D&I work.
Cultural Humility is about recognizing that there are things we don’t know, can’t know and likely will never know about a culture that is not ours.
It reminds us that we must be humble, and ask questions so that we can better understand. This is especially useful for client care in the social services, but it applies anywhere and to anything: your in-laws, a work colleague, a global business client, a friend, when your company is opening a new office overseas… etc.
When we remember that ourway is not the only way, and that there are things that we simply don’t know – but that it would be good to know about – we can approach people and situations differently, and we have the opportunity to be much more effective and respectful in our transactions. You can watch this documentary about cultural humility by Vivian Chavez here.
Cultural Competency is the idea that we can learn about other cultures and become competent in those, as we work together or provide service. If you consider the beauty of cultural humility, you can likely see why this is problematic.
Cultural Competency can have us believe we can learn all that we need to know (or enough) about a culture that is not ours. The words “need” and “enough” are dangerous, because we may learn a lot, and think we know everything we need, but that would be based on our lens and point of reference, rather than the lens of the person or community in question. I believe that the idea of cultural competency can make us arrogant, closed to learning, and ineffective.
Having said that, here’s a twist:
When you are part of a culture, and have that knowledge and insight, you are culturally competent.
So I take it back.
Cultural competency is important.
And it is possible to be culturally competent – when you are part of the culture in question.
Diversity and Cultural Competency
When we think about diversity, we must remember that this cultural knowledge is an advantage. (And remember a culture isn’t just about ethnicity or place or origin. Every identity-specific group has a culture, and you know it when you’re part of it. Also, within those groups there is diversity. Let’s not forget that!).
When we hire with diversity in mind, we are hiring someone who has extra competencies in the area of understanding their cultural group(s). This can make a huge difference to client and customer care, program development and delivery, team building in the workplace, outreach, recruiting, promotion, community building, reaching new markets, advertising/marketing. When you remember that, diversity shows up as the value add it is.
We need both
Of course, the rest of the folks in that environment need to practice cultural humility and let those individuals who are culturally competent take the lead in the areas they are culturally competent in. And to do that, the environment has to be inclusive.
So really cultural competency and cultural humility work together to help ensure that perspectives and needs are recognized – and then that recognition is put into practice.