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Importance of cultural competency in the workplace from a migrant-view – Do it Right | Tara Rathnayake | Wellington

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Cultural competency is a very well-known topic in the current workplace, especially in the public workplaces in Aotea NZ and one of the top priorities for HR professionals.

What is cultural competency in a workplace? I see it as the ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds to understand their differences and respect their input. As per my experience, this is a journey that we have to navigate till we get there, as it is essential to know that diverse backgrounds can add more value to your organisation. Therefore, I thought of writing this article to share my experience of being culturally diverse in my workplace and how and why it is essential to build cultural competency.

When I started my first job in NZ a few years ago, cultural competency was not as famous as it is now. I didn’t see an inclusive workplace where I was comfortable bringing my whole self to work. Most workplaces were reluctant to appreciate cultural differences, and it was not part of their business strategies, and it was missed from the work cultures. So I had to go through a challenging road to understand differences between people and cultures.

You may be experiencing what I felt when I was in my early career in NZ. I was afraid to talk in front of people as I am different from them. I was not comfortable saying that my culture is different to others and sharing it because I thought people would be rude to me, and it is not something I could talk about openly in a workplace. Due to this fear, I didn’t share my thoughts in anything, and I didn’t ask questions as I always thought people would judge me. I didn’t correct anyone even though I felt the action was not right from my perspective. So always put me behind, and I could not add value to any discussion.

Eventually, I was comfortable accepting my difference in the workplace, I was proud of myself that I had moved here from a different culture, and I was able to Serve NZ. I believe looking at thighs by thinking about how you feel will be helpful, primarily when you have worked with a diverse group. So I thought of sharing how I did contribute to making people culturally competent and vice versa in the workplace.

  • The main things to cultural competency at work are understanding differences and knowledge of different cultures- so share and talk about your culture. Don’t be afraid of talking about what you have experienced and how you think about something. Therefore, I did start to talk to my colleagues and my manager about my experience of certain things. Then I realised they knew about my background. It wasn’t a surprise to see people have different backgrounds; others will be open to talking about themselves when you talk.
  • Also, I did start to ask questions if I didn’t understand why something happened the way it happened. So, there are things that we don’t know about specific cultures, so I learn never to jump to conclusions without knowing the facts. It was surprising to me to realise that there were people in my workplace who didn’t have the experience of feeling different from others because they never had to be in a community where they had people from diverse backgrounds. At that point, I learned that people had treated me without knowing how I would feel about it. So it’s always good to share things and talk openly about something that makes you think differently. It will help your colleague or workmates learn and understand your cultural differences to thrive well when they are working with you.
  • Socialising with different people with diverse backgrounds is also an excellent way to uplift cultural competency, which will help us to do a better job.

If your workplace does not have strategies, now is an excellent opportunity for you to encourage your organisation to have these discussions in your organisation. Don’t be afraid to develop your managers to be culturally competent, so the best way is to talk to them about how you feel and how it is important to get optimum from their employees.

As per research, Harvard Business Review found that nearly 95% of corporate board directors say diversity brings unique perspectives to the boardroom, and 84% say it enhances performance.

Talk to your people leader/ manager about your cultural differences and how it impacts your work or the way you do things. So, you can contribute to making a difference in your workplace.

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