Is cultural incompetence holding you back?

Improving diversity is a worthy goal for many organizations, but some HR leaders discover that a more diverse workforce means more misunderstandings and miscommunication.

Is cultural incompetence holding you back?
It can be hard enough for two people with the same first language, same cultural background and from the same generation to understand each other. When you add in people from a range of countries, ethnicities and generations those communication barriers get even more challenging.

It was a major concern for the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, especially when trends showed that highly educated and experienced immigrants were leaving Canada for the US, according to Heather Orr-Francis, who manages the Ministry-funded Cultural Competence Training Program.

“If you have a lot of people from different backgrounds in an organizations you find that people don’t understand each other,” she said. “If you only build cultural competency in one direction it won’t help, it needs to be built in all directions. Making sure people understand the differences and how to overcome them then the organization will be a good place to work.”

From simple things like calling people by their first name or expected employees to shake hands, to complicated methods of communication and expectations around workplace manners – cultural misunderstandings can have a big impact on workplace morale, engagement and productivity.

“The biggest mistake I see organizations making is thinking there’s only one way to fix it or that there is one correct method. Every organization is different and what works for one organization might not work for another,” Orr-Francis said. To address these issues, the Ministry and HRPA developed a program focused on helping HR and frontline managers address specific policies and processes within organizations, rather than trying to apply one-size-fits-all changes.

Orr-Francis said organizations needed to ensure the process was not top-down. It was important to listen to employees and to use the “iceberg” approach to determine what was unseen in the company culture.

“Organizations often think that over time things will change and improve without intervention, but that’s rarely the case,” she said.
For more information on the Certificate in Cultural Competency Training Program is available on the HRPA website.

Related reads:
Rewriting workplace diversity
Human Equity: Moving beyond diversity
Address unconscious bias to reduce turnover, boost diversity


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