By Maria Collar
Chief Consultant, Serendipity Consulting Service

In the recent inaugural speech the words “we were all created equal” resonated with great vivacity. Although from a diversity point of view this is certainly true, in truth to treat everybody the same is discrimination. Even though we were all created equal, to obliterate the distinct differences between “you and I” would be the same as to deprive life of its true essence.

Today, given the nature of a melting pot society, the term diversity encompasses initiatives that are less “affirmative action” oriented in that they value and manage diversity. Valuing diversity, in a multicultural world, involves acknowledging and recognizing the uniqueness of each individual, whereas managing diversity emphasizes developing strategies, policies, procedures, and objectives that understand the unique needs and contributions of every single individual. Thus, successful strategies do not only require a basic understanding but also contextual and functional knowledge of unique differences.

In this day and age, effective implementation of both inclusion and diversity strategies require an effort to change corporate culture and attitudes. Workplace inclusion understands the distinct values and, therefore, effectively manages the ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender variety within and between entities. An environment that authentically values our unique differences is able to thrive by fostering collaboration, participation, and innovation, as leaders who concentrate on integrating rather than polarizing values make better business decisions.

In the journey towards becoming a more culturally sensitive and inclusive individual it is important to adopt the appropriate transparencies. The following four competencies have been strongly linked to cultural identity development models in the literature. They will assist in gaining a deeper understanding of an individual’s culture in order to begin the critical introspection that is needed to move away from the “us” and “them” approach.

1. Awareness of own cultural values and biases. Culturally skilled individuals have moved from being culturally unaware to being aware and sensitive to their own cultural heritage and respecting differences. Therefore, they are able to recognize the limits of their competencies and expertise. Culturally skilled individuals are comfortable with differences that exist between themselves and others in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic, and beliefs.

2. Knowledge of cultural differences. Culturally skilled individuals possess knowledge about their social impact on others. They seek out educational, training, and experiences to improve understanding of culturally different populations. Consequently, are knowledgeable about differences on communication styles, they seek to better understand how different styles may clash with minority individuals and lessen the negative impact it may have with other individuals. Culturally skilled individuals pursue educational experiences that foster knowledge, understanding, and crosscultural skills.

3. Awareness of other individual’s worldview. Culturally skilled individuals are aware of emotional reactions towards other racial and ethnic groups, which may prove detrimental to the business process. Moreover, they are willing to contrast their own beliefs and attitudes with those of their culturally different affiliates in a nonjudgmental fashion. Culturally skilled individuals possess a knowledge base about other cultural groups, therefore are aware of the differences in life experiences, cultural heritage, and historical background.

4. Develop culturally appropriate strategies. Culturally skilled individuals are able to engage in a variety of verbal and nonverbal helping responses. They are able to send and receive both verbal and nonverbal messages accurately and appropriately. They are not tied down to only one method or approach, instead recognizing that styles and approaches may be culturally bound. When the cultural skilled individual sense that their style is limited and potentially inappropriate they are able to ameliorate its negative impact.

The personal arsenal of a culturally sensitive professional evolves throughout the journey of life. Mastery of appropriate techniques and skills is a lifelong process necessitating continual awareness of self, working knowledge of surroundings, and effects upon it. Attributes necessary for becoming a sensitive professional do not emerges from theoretical knowledge but with the holistic understanding of self and others.