What’s the difference between Cultural Competence and Cultural Safety?

Cultural competence refers to understanding and interacting respectfully with people of other cultures, along with developing relationships and collaborations that exceed the sum of their parts.

As demand for online cultural competency training grows exponentially, it presents an opportunity to explain why cultural awareness promotes cultural safety – and the difference between the two terms.

What is Cultural Safety?

The core difference between cultural competence and cultural safety is that the latter goes beyond cognition and acknowledgement.

In a workplace, cultural safety means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are in an inherently safe and protected environment.

Individuals benefit from shared appreciation, knowledge, and experience, with active listening to overcome barriers to inclusion and empower teams to grow and develop together.

Principles of Cultural Safety

To implement a culturally safe climate, managers need to generate pathways to positively recognise and celebrate the diversity of cultures within their organisations.

There are variances between:

  • Cultural sensitivity: a grasp and knowledge of cultural differences.
  • Cultural awareness: a greater depth of understanding about divergent cultural identities.

Before a team can become culturally safe, it must first be culturally competent, as the initial building block in a foundation where every person can contribute.

The Importance of Cultural Competence

Many Australian companies, groups, clubs, and businesses will have a diverse range of individuals with varying racial and ethnic backgrounds.

However, we must appreciate that cultural competence does not solely apply to corporate environments and is necessary for all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional.

The value of cultural competence is that it gives us the tools to create dialogues and truly engage with one another, rather than co-existing with others we haven’t taken the time to understand.

A lack of basic cultural competence risks miscommunication, bias (systemic and endemic) and disengagement.

Putting some effort into learning cultural competence aptitudes is a powerful way to avoid these problems and ensure everybody has the opportunity to succeed, engage and perform their roles effectively.

Advantages of Cultural Competence in the Workplace

There are many situations where cultural competence can profoundly impact the end outcomes, whether removing language barriers, appreciating traditions, or respecting different approaches.

Some of the primary benefits include:

Broadened Skills and Lived Experiences

The wider the range of knowledge, talents and perspectives within the workplace, the more innovative the results, with better problem-solving capacity.

Where teams have diverse make-ups, there is increased potential to resolve issues with unexpected and dynamic ideas to push progress forward.

Market Expansion Prospects

Businesses equipped to communicate and engage with diverse location cultures have improved prospects for global market expansion.

A culturally competent company can use that knowledge to inform their approaches, promotions, language, and development to appeal to customers in a respectful, positive, and successful way.

Enhanced Collaborations

Managers and leaders who advocate for the advantages of cultural competence are positioned to reap the rewards of strong connections, coordinating work between clients and co-workers.

Inclusive teams with diverse representation and culturally competent communications achieve higher productivity and make decisions significantly faster.

Higher Workforce Motivation

Staff turnover and retention rates can be an extremely difficult challenge for businesses. 

Where colleagues are seen, respected, heard, and given a voice to participate fully, they are far more likely to be satisfied with their role and wish to continue contributing.

Making cultural competence a priority is also beneficial to employees looking to augment their self-awareness as a life skill they will retain for the long term.

Employees can harness cultural competence training to feel more confident in their dialogues, producing strong relationships and greater creativity.

How to Become Culturally Competent

Cultural competence is a resource we apply when meeting new people or in different environments, with the openness to respect worldviews.

Leaders in the workplace can take proactive steps to embrace the value of cultural competence by working through the following stages.

Evaluating Cultural Competence 

The first place to begin is to collate feedback and conduct surveys to assess employee experiences and views on the cultural competence displayed by managers and colleagues.

It is also important to understand the make-up of the workplace and develop policies that emphasise the importance of diversity and cultural competence.

Providing Training Programmes and Workshops

Training programmes and online learning effectively address gaps in cultural awareness, sensitivity and competence.

Developing Collaborative Opportunities

Communication breakdowns can thwart team-building opportunities. Developing collaborative working structures and projects helps form bonds and ensure employees of different cultures are included.

Incorporating Diversity Into Workforce Schedules

Every culture may have holidays or proportions of the day that have significance, so looking at time zones and holidays when organising meetings, events and projects will ensure inclusivity of globally and culturally diverse participants.

Forming a Foundation of Transparency

As a basis for cultural safety, the key to cultural competence is to ensure every individual feels comfortable and safe in sharing authentic experiences and thoughts about the workplace.

Regular meetings or feedback are valuable ways to identify any potential issues, including intolerance, prejudice or discrimination, that managers can address appropriately, backed by thorough cultural competence training.

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