The ability to interact effectively with people of different backgrounds and cultures – also known as cultural competency – is increasingly important in today’s multicultural work environment. Cultural sensitivity training can help organizations increase cultural competency and prevent conflicts that can lead to incidents of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Here are five ways cultural sensitivity training can help your workforce:
1. Raising Cultural Awareness
Sensitivity and diversity training can help employees recognize and respond to their unconscious or hidden bias based on stereotypes and unfair assumptions. The incident that occurred at a Philadelphia Starbucks this spring amplifies the need to raise cultural awareness before one employee’s racial bias creates a crisis for an entire organization. Starbucks is also an example of doing the right thing. With the full support of its CEO and Chairman and Founder, the company quickly took responsibility for the incident and then demonstrated their commitment to raising cultural awareness by closing thousands of its stores so 175,000 employees could participate in sensitivity and diversity training.
2. Changing behaviors
Connecting successfully with individuals at work, whether it’s with coworkers, vendors, customers or clients depends a lot on having a positive attitude and behaving appropriately. But what constitutes acceptable or offensive behavior can mean different things to different people. Cultural sensitivity training can help ensure that all employees understand what your organization (and the law) considers appropriate and inappropriate behavior towards people based on their race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion or sexual orientation. In addition to the list of characteristics that are protected against discrimination and harassment, sensitivity training also explores the types of inclusive and actions that can improve teamwork and motivation.
3. Making better decisions
Stereotypes and unconscious biases are the result, in part, of the human brain’s need to categorize and store vast amount of information. While everyone has unconscious biases, it can create problems when they surface in the workplace. For example, when a qualified candidate isn’t offered a job or a high-performing employee doesn’t get a promotion because of their accent or gender, not because of their abilities. Through cultural sensitivity training, employees see how unconscious biases can distort decision-making, and they learn what they can do to avoid making snap judgments about people that can hurt the organization and lead to discrimination claims.
4. Improving communication skills
A lack of cultural sensitivity can limit employees’ ability to communicate effectively with different groups – internally and externally – and can alienate or offend customers, partners and colleagues working in different regions, countries and cultures. Cultural sensitivity training can help employees understand the nuances of cross-culture communication, and the importance of words, actions, gestures and body language in cultivating relationships with different people and groups.
5. Speaking up
Effective cultural sensitivity training should stimulate ongoing conversations among employees at every level about how to deal with bias and insensitive remarks and behavior. Training should also encourage employees to speak up, ask questions, raise concerns and report incidents of discrimination they experience or observe.
In today’s #MeToo era, many organizations are implementing cultural sensitivity training, including unconscious bias and diversity and inclusion, as part of a holistic approach to preventing discrimination and harassment. Sensitivity training can be an important step in helping employees recognize and respond to bias so it doesn’t influence business decisions or interfere with their ability to work successfully alongside people with different backgrounds, cultures, styles and beliefs.