Cultural competency development is being discussed more often as an asset in organizations, “something” everyone should become good at and embrace. We describe cultural competency as a skillset grounded in three domains of learning; these domains are increased self-awareness, new and enhanced awareness and knowledge about others, and the application of this awareness and knowledge to enhance workplace relationships, performance, self-confidence, and workplace climate. In the next sections, we will unpack each domain and introduce constructs that are relevant to leveraging cultural competency.
By Yue Li, M.S., Doctoral Candidate in Counseling Psychology, Indiana University
When we talk about sexism and gender discrimination in the workplace, many of us may first think of compelling evidence such as the gender wage gap and the strikingly and disproportionately low percentage of women CEOs in the S&P 500 companies. Yes, it is old news that American women only make about 80 cents for every dollar that men make, and the situation has remained unchanged in the recent decade based on data from OECD in 20171(See Figure 1.). A report published in 2019 by the Catalyst Organisation2 continues to find that, while about 45% of the employees in S&P 500 companies are women, only 21.2% of the board members, 11% of the top earners, and 5.2% of the CEOs are women2 (See Figure 2).
However, the whole picture of workplace discrimination and sexism expands beyond the readily quantifiable measures such as salary and occupancy of leadership positions. Underneath these more than disappointing numbers, what is perpetuating the discriminatory practices based on gender at workplace? How is everyday sexism such as gender microaggressions experienced by average working women? How might employers and managers create a greater sense of organizational justice among workers of all genders and therefore a more affirming, growth-inducing, and innovative business? Political and social psychologists Sidanius and Pratto used their social dominance theory3 to illustrate oppressive experiences at the personal, intergroup, and system-wide level, which offers an excellent roadmap to understanding gender discrimination at work.
A few months ago, I was invited to give a keynote at a university. As I thought about multiple inspirational topics, I decided on the topic of “caring”. In these days of public displays of rudeness, disrespect, and other forms of psychological harm, I think promoting acts and environments of positive interpersonal caring can go a long way. Smiles, saying thank-you, holding the door open, and when necessary, saying “I apologize”, are gestures that can lessen tension at work and perhaps even contribute to a sense of individual well-being and connection.
Pitfalls, vulnerability, and challenges to self-confidence are not uncommon for emerging professionals. Whether you are a new supervisor in healthcare or the technology field, a junior professor in STEM, or a leader for your own non-profit, trepidation is not unusual. However, many emerging leaders find themselves with an imposter syndrome that can immobilize their career trajectory. To move forward, working through the emotions and mind games must be intentional.
Ten years ago, I interviewed five diverse, emerging leaders in sales, merchandising, communications, and finance positions (Diversity MBA Magazine, 2010). Not surprisingly, their thoughts about leadership resonate with us today; especially in the rapidly changing global and technology-driven environment.
They described “leadership makers” or the qualities and skills that build leaders. These are leadership courage, belief in oneself, and grit, among other competencies.
For the past few months a good friend from law school, Emily, has been searching for a new job. She was offered a position as General Counsel with a small but growing marketing firm but nearly declined because the salary offered was quite a bit lower than her stated salary requirements. Instead, she shared that she would like to take the job but needed a salary that was 50% more than what they were offering. The company countered with another offer that still fell short and Emily was hesitant to accept it. Seeing her hesitance, the company increased its counteroffer and gave her a better job title—General Counsel and Senior Advisor. As a result, Emily happily accepted.
We all negotiate from time to time, whether we’re buying a new car or persuading a toddler to eat her vegetables with the promise of dessert. In fact, the United States’ criminal justice system functions more or less efficiently because of the negotiations system we call plea bargaining. Were plea bargaining to end, the justice system would grind to a halt, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases brought to trial. Those attorneys unwilling to negotiate and compromise from time to time risk their reputations preceding them. Similarly, approaching business with a negotiations mindset is important for a successful career.
Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou, Thurgood Marshall, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, Jackie Robinson, Katherine Johnson, Barack Obama, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, bell hooks, Michelle Obama, Janet Helms, and Carter G. Woodsen. This is but a small list of the multitude of African American activists and pioneers who have fought long and hard to bring about much-needed change in the United States. Their intellect, leadership, social justice activism, and tireless labor have brought sociocultural enrichment to all of us. Sadly, achievements by African Americans have often gone uncelebrated. You may not have heard of some of the individuals listed above. If not, I urge you to spend a few moments familiarizing yourself with who they are and their accomplishments.
As the members of the 116th Congress were sworn in earlier this month, one Representative stood in violation of the 1837 House rule banning head coverings on the house floor. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Muslim, is the first Congressional representative to wear a hijab. Later that same day, a rules change adopted by the House permitted religious head coverings on the floor, allowing Rep. Omar to wear her hijab without running afoul of House rules on a daily basis.
Empathy: Expressing understanding, a sense of concern or interest in another person’s situation without needing to have the same feelings they may be experiencing.
- Have you complained about your supervisor or co-workers to others without sharing the feedback first with that person?
- Do you tend to blame others for things that go wrong without looking at what you can do to change the situation?
- Do you take feedback or constructive criticism personally?
In a training video I used many years ago, an African American man told a group of other men:
When I look into the mirror I see my black face. I cannot change this; this is who I am and I go to the workplace every day with this black face. So, often, people cannot see beyond it.
The man was stating the obvious about his physical appearance, but also pointing out that people may not get to know him more fully if they have immediate thoughts and emotions about his appearance. In fact, this is a reality that many individuals experience in the workplace. In the model below, Dimensions of Personal Identity (Arredondo, 2017; Arredondo & Glauner, 1992), I propose intersecting dimensions of identity. While the ‘A’ dimensions are the more visible, dimensions ‘B’ and ‘C’ are more invisible, yet very much part of an individual.
In the past year, Dr. Patricia Arredondo has posted several blogs on the topics of Gender Microaggressions at Work: The Visible and Invisible (July 2018) Bullying in the Workplace (August 2018) and Historic Pervasiveness of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (November 2017). These blogs describe the microinsults that occur and the sense of disrespect experienced by the targets of bullying, sexual harassment, and “everyday microaggressions”. This month’s blog builds on contemporary sociocultural realities that affect individuals in the workplace.