Recently, I spent 2 weeks in London and I met a wonderful couple from Pakistan. As we were driving through their neighborhood, they both commented that many of their neighbors are Jewish but it’s fine because they are very “tolerant”. For a moment, I thought this is a good thing but then I looked up the definition of tolerant and this is what I found: “showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” So is it enough to be tolerant?
Today, with the ever-evolving demographics of most organizations, cultural competence has become an essential ingredient in the creation of a positive work climate. Cultural competence is the ability to work effectively with people from a variety of cultural, ethnic, socio-economic and religious backgrounds. Cultural competence is achieved when maneuvers of the company honor, respect and value diversity in both ideology and in practice. Cultural competence starts by recognizing that every cultural group brings values which help enrich the overall community.
Here are a number of ways that you can become a culture partner in your organization.
- Begin to explore and understand your own culture, beliefs and values. What many people often ignore is the importance of knowing one’s own culture, values and beliefs in order to be able to relate more effectively across cultural lines. Awareness of your own culture keeps you from projecting your values unto others. Projecting is the tendency to think that other people are acting in a specific way for the same reasons that you would. If you are so unaware of the values that drive you, then you are unable to distinguish them from the values held by people in other cultures.
- Spend time with individuals of a different race or ethnicity outside of work. Get to know someone from outside of your cultural backgrounds by spending time and sharing experiences together. Of course, there is more comfort in sticking with what you know rather than trying to meet people who are different from you. However, making the effort to understand cultural differences through experience can open you up to new possibilities.
- Educate yourself on multicultural issues. There are a number of ways to educate yourself. I personally like travel to places I haven’t been before and meet new people. But if travel isn’t in your immediate plans, then visit your local library and discover the world of reading. While reading about other cultures isn’t the same as having an experience, it can go a long way to building bridges of understanding.
- Engage in conversations with colleagues to increase cultural literacy. Most people have a genuine interest in sharing stories of their life experiences provided they are met with genuine curiosity and respect.
By learning about other’s cultural background, you gain a better understanding of their life. America is still the largest “melting pot” and the place that people come to escaping persecution and oppression in their native lands. If more people take the time to learn about different cultures, fear and hatred will be greatly reduced, freeing up people to make connections with others based on common ground. It’s not easy to step out of your comfort zone, however the payoff from learning new things and experiencing another culture is greater than the fear of remaining stuck in your negative beliefs. It’s time to move beyond tolerance and step into true acceptance, respect and understanding.
CEO, MACH4 Ventures
Gina Lepore is the CEO and founder of offering coaching, team building and execution consulting for individuals and organizations. She is a board certified coach and experienced executive with multiple decades of practical business experience. Services include: Executive Coaching, Training and Building Team Trust and Collaboration and Business Oversight Services. For a consultation, call (413) 728-2398.