What Is Cultural Competency Training?

Written by Nicola Wylie
Last updated December 11, 2023

As workplaces become increasingly diverse and globalised, cultural competency training is more important than ever. Employees at all levels of an organisation must learn how to interact with peers from diverse backgrounds with empathy, sensitivity, and respect. As such, proper education is needed to equip staff with the knowledge and tools to work in a diverse environment.

For employers, providing effective cultural competence training can reap many business rewards. From increased productivity to reduced employee churn, fostering a safe environment for all is worth the investment. 

This guide looks at what cultural competency training is, what it covers, the benefits, and examples to inspire you.

What Is Cultural Competency Training?

Cultural competency training is a structured education programme designed to improve a person’s understanding and sensitivity towards diverse cultures. The main objective is to give learners the knowledge to interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds in an empathetic and respectful manner.

Cultural competency training is common in the workplace, where staff must work closely with colleagues from diverse cultural, religious, ethnic, and social backgrounds. As such, it aims to tackle unconscious biases, discrimination, stereotypes, and misunderstandings. This results in a more inclusive, respectful, and safe workplace.

What Topics Does Cultural Competency Training Cover?

Cultural competency training should ideally be tailored to the specific organisation. That said, there are several core topics that most training initiatives cover. These include:

  • Cultural differences: This builds awareness about different cultural norms, values, beliefs and practices. By understanding these key concepts, employees gain insight into their peers’ behaviours and expectations.
  • Communication: The training should train learners on how to communicate clearly, understand different communication styles, read nonverbal cues, address language barriers, and engage in cross-cultural communication. As a result, employees have more empathy when interacting with each other.
  • Cultural sensitivity: This type of training should highlight the importance of being sensitive to cultural differences in the workplace. For instance, by emphasising actions or language that can cause offence and should be avoided.
  • Empathy: Participants should learn how to empathise with their colleagues and view situations from different perspectives.
  • Conflict resolution: Disagreements are a part of any workplace. But, cultural competency training should arm staff with strategies and techniques for resolving conflicts. In particular, those that arise due to cultural differences.
  • Self-Reflection: The training should encourage participants to reflect on their own personal biases, assumptions, attitudes, and actions. In doing so, they may recognise how their behaviours can impact others.

Benefits Of Cultural Competency Training

Providing employees with cultural competence training is beneficial to staff and employers alike. In this section, we round up the biggest advantages of implementing an employee education programme.

  • Fewer conflicts and less workplace tension
  • Better cross-cultural communication, leading to increased productivity and teamwork
  • Less discrimination and bias, contributing to a more inclusive and equitable work environment
  • Enhanced empathy, promoting a more compassionate and welcoming culture
  • Improved communication and empathy lead to better customer relations
  • Fewer conflicts and misunderstandings result in reduced staff turnover

Cultural Competency vs. Diversity Training: What’s The Difference?

Cultural competency training, diversity training … what’s the difference? Well, in reality, the two types of training are closely linked. Both types of training aim to promote inclusivity and raise awareness about the importance of diversity. That said, there are some notable differences between the two. Here’s a closer look.

Cultural Competency Training Diversity Training
Focus Develop learners’ ability to communicate effectively and respectfully with people from different cultures. It is designed to develop a deep insight into different cultural norms, values, behaviours, and communication styles. Understand the differences between diverse identities, recognising factors like age, religion, gender, and ethnicity.
Scope Covers the complexities of different cultures, develops empathy and self-awareness, and hones cross-cultural communication skills. Covers diverse identities (including but not limited to cultural differences), promotes acceptance, and celebrates diversity.
Goals Provide the knowledge and skills to engage in respectful interactions across cultures and address biases, stereotypes, and potential cultural misunderstandings. Build a sense of belonging and equity, address issues related to bias, discrimination, and exclusion, and create a culture of acceptance.

In short, while both cultural competency and diversity training aim to promote inclusivity, they have slightly different focuses. Cultural competency training is based on developing the skills for cross-cultural collaboration. On the other hand, diversity training has a broader scope, encompassing all things diversity and inclusion. 

Cultural Competency Training Examples

Is your organisation considering implementing cultural competency training? Understanding what to include and how to run the initiatives can be tricky. So to help you, we’ve compiled some examples of how to train staff to be culturally competent.

1. Cultural immersion workshops

This is an immersive approach to cultural competency training. In short, it encourages trainees to step into the shoes of their peers from different cultural backgrounds. Example activities include shadowing someone for a day, attending cultural events to gain better awareness and knowledge, or participating in role-plays that highlight the challenges other employees may face.

These workshops are an engaging and effective way to build empathy, view situations from different perspectives, and gain first-hand experience in another person’s shoes.

2. eLearning programmes

One of the biggest challenges when running cultural competency training is logistics. Getting participants in one room at the same time can be tricky, especially if your company offers flexible working options. 

A smart way to sidestep this obstacle is to deploy the training online. Digital training courses and resources empower employees to learn at their own pace. And thanks to modern eLearning tools and platforms, online training can be interactive and engaging.

Ensure learners stay engaged by incorporating interactive activities, case studies, video scenarios, simulations, and quizzes. You could also create a resource hub of articles, podcasts, videos, and other material related to cultural norms, communication, and common cultural misconceptions.

Many organisations opt for a blended approach, supplementing online training programmes with live (virtual or in-person) sessions. These sessions create a space for employees to discuss and share what they’ve learned.

3. Diversity & Inclusion workshops 

Provided you have the budget, inviting expert facilitators to conduct interactive workshops is extremely effective. These diversity and inclusion workshops usually include group activities, role-plays, and structured discussions. By working with expert facilitators, you encourage employees to share their experiences and concerns in a safe space.

Some common discussion points include cultural nuances, unconscious biases, and strategies for building a more inclusive workplace.

4. Cross-cultural communication for customer service reps

Promoting better cross-cultural communication doesn’t solely benefit your team’s morale. By honing the workforce’s abilities to interact with empathy, sensitivity, and respect, you empower them to forge better connections with clients from diverse backgrounds. 

As a result, incorporating cultural competency topics into customer service training is an excellent strategy if you serve a global clientele. Focusing on cultural sensitivity and conducting role-plays to help staff respond to different scenarios will equip the workforce with the necessary skills to work in a multicultural setting.

When it comes to choosing how to approach cultural competency training, remember to consider the needs and context of your organisation. All training methods and content should be tailored to suit your company’s desired outcomes, policies, and cultural makeup. In addition, you should review and update your training regularly to reflect changes in your organisation and industry best practices.

Wrapping Up

Providing staff with comprehensive cultural competency training demonstrates your commitment to fostering an inclusive workplace. What’s more, it provides employees with the skills and knowledge to thrive in a diverse working environment.

This guide offers best practices and advice on how to approach cultural competence training, however, it’s always best to personalise your initiatives. Including employees in the process and gathering regular feedback will ensure your training is impactful and engaging.

Partnering with inclusivity experts like Aspiring to Include to advertise jobs and enhance your accessibility is another powerful way to showcase your dedication to being a diversity-positive employer.

We collaborate with leading UK employers to connect them with the best diverse talent and to support them on their journey to become more inclusive employers. We offer a range of paid services, as well as a free resource hub for employers and job seekers.

Get in touch to see how our team of experts can help you take action and cultivate an inclusive workplace. 

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Last Updated: Tuesday August 22 2023
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