Diversity vs. Cultural Competence

diversityHappy Friday! I hope that you are looking forward to a fun weekend ahead, maybe even a weekend with some volunteering! I am spending Saturday representing fair trade at an artist market, so I have the privilege of both.

Within the nonprofit sector, we have a fairly pervasive diversity dilemma. Many nonprofit boards and senior leadership teams are primarily white and middle or upper class. This is not a bad thing- white and middle class are not dirty words. However, the problem is that they are disproportionately white and middle class, whereas many of those same nonprofits are serving populations that are primarily poor or people of color. When this happens, there is a diversity dilemma. Thankfully, many organizations see the problem and are actively working to add more representation from all races, and even some difference in socioeconomic background, on their leadership team. They have begun managing for diversity.

At the core though, many of these leadership teams are still culturally the same. crosscultureRepresentation means nothing until it translates to cultural competence. Georgetown University’s National Center for Cultural Competence defines it as “a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professions to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.” Basically, it means questioning the how and why we behave a certain way, and taking the lead from the people whom we serve.

Cultural competence is a process. We must move from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism, which is a lifelong journey for individuals of privilege. But, the fact that it is a long process does not take away its importance.

To develop cultural competence, start with these steps:

  1. Start with diversity. 
    You cannot be culturally competent without managing for diversity first. Your board cannot behave with cultural sensitivity toward the population served if there is no one from that population represented. So, if you have a leadership diversity problem, you need to solve that first.
  2. Ask questions.
    Inquire of the group you are serving. How would they like to be spoken to? What do they really need?
  3. Language matters. 
    Use people first language always. It’s not that the girl you’re tutoring is a dyslexic, she is a little girl who has dyslexia. Language changes attitudes.
  4. Learn more!
    The Georgetown National Center for Cultural Competence has a variety of online learning resources. Take the time to become more culturally competent yourself, and your organization will surely follow.

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