I have heard my colleague Steve Pemberton, who is the author of A Chance in the World, and Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreen's, say that he does not like the term "cultural competence" because it implies that there are those who are competent and those who are not. He espouses that we are all in a continuous learning process. I hold Steve in high esteem. He is one of the thought leaders in our field and I agree that we should see ourselves as ongoing learners always in the state of becoming better, more competent.
I feel strongly that we want leaders who are competent in a number of disciplines, including diversity and inclusion. The Business Dictionary online defines competence as: A cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge and skills that enable a person or an organization to act effectively in a job or situation.
We have many leaders today who may want to behave and lead in inclusive ways, but simply do not have the skills to do so.
In a 2008 article that I co-authored with Rohini Anand, Sodexo's Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for the Academy of Management Learning and Education Journal, called, A Retrospective View of Corporate Diversity Training From 1964 to the Present we share how we have evolved from diversity training being a matter of compliance to it being about awareness and sensitivity and now finally, forward looking companies understand that inclusion is a competency. The article indicates that diversity learning should have the following characteristics for it to lead to competence.
- Integrated, ongoing, relevant, applicable, and based on solid needs assessment.
- Based on building blocks that start with elementary concepts and move on to increasingly more difficult material, just as you would do to gain competency in any subject.
- Not just happen in the classroom but rather should be integrated into other business processes and activities.
Striving for competence does not suggest that once you have achieved a level of skill in understanding and navigating differences that you should stop learning. It is clear that awareness and sensitivity about diversity are not enough. One can be aware of differences and sensitive to them but if he/she does not know what to do about them (lack competence), we will continue to be "stuck" in truly creating work environments that are equitable and inclusive.
We absolutely all need to be more culturally competent if we are to successfully navigate our increasingly multi-cultural global world. It goes beyond the event-based classroom training to a mindset of non-judgment and openness to learning.
"Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good gets better and your better gets best."