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Disruptive Inclusion: Cultural Competency in the 21st Century

First, they deny, then dismiss, then minimize, then consider and finally adapt

When the concept of diversity first entered the lexicon in the latter half of the 20th century, it was primarily to comply with the dictates of new laws banning workplace discrimination. Managing diversity initiatives was largely seen as an HR issue. Goals focused on understanding the law and avoiding workplace discrimination lawsuits. For many companies, this is still the preferred approach.

In the 50 years since the civil rights legislation, the 21st-century has sparked new concerns and opportunities. Worldwide, female students are more likely than their male counterparts to receive advanced degrees. Not only have a record number of women assumed leadership roles in a variety of industries, but also the domestic workforce continues to become ever more racially, ethnically and generationally diverse. Technology, social media and the explosion of international business concerns have made it imperative that we can relate to coworkers and customers around the world.

The facts of life in the 21st-century economy have elevated the need for cultural competency skills beyond the realm of HR 101. Recognizing, understanding and addressing the needs and perceptions of a diverse population to meet their needs is crucial to business sustainability. Those sound like skills Sales, Marketing, Production, and Distribution Managers should master in a global economy.

Is it time to get disruptive?

In 2012, I defined the phrase “disruptive inclusion” as the conscious and deliberate effort to inject and foster gender, ethnic, racial, cultural, etc. difference into the work environment for business results. It’s an uncomfortable truth that moving from a monocultural to an intercultural mindset can be difficult. Backlash and resistance are an organic part of any real social change. For some, experiencing phases of denial, minimization, and polarization is a natural progression toward acceptance and adaptation. I have discussed this shift in regards to the #MeToo movement.

A shift in the mindset of this sort is neither simple nor easy. People – and the institutions they create - must make this journey in their way and time. A change in thinking is also not a linear process, as evident by the events currently playing out in our society. Today, we are becoming more inclusive AND exclusive in our thinking and behaving.

Even as the world evolves, and many smart, successful people advocate for an adaptation to an intercultural society, there are a significant number of people who are not comfortable with that level of change. They yearn for the familiarity of the monocultural society where they felt safe and secure. Understandably – even predictably – such people are prone to slip into self-protective stances of denial and polarization.

The fact is, progress stops for no one. Just as the Luddites were unable to stop the industrial revolution, nothing is going to turn back the ever-evolving economy we are now experiencing. Developing the cultural competency to achieve adaption to an intercultural economy is not an initiative – it’s an imperative.

Monocultural to Intercultural – Where do you stand?

As our companies, customers, and colleagues fight to maintain their footing during this tumultuous time, culturally competent leadership is more important than ever.

Empirical evidence has proven that the ability to identify, understand and address the concerns and expectations of an increasingly diverse population is vital in today’s global marketplace. Successful companies will be those who effectively recognize and celebrate – rather than downplay – differences. Collaboration across different experiences and perspectives leads to more robust, inclusive solutions to meet the needs of a diverse marketplace.

Your cultural competence can play a critical role in ensuring your organization’s growth and sustainability. However, as any traveler knows, it’s important to place the oxygen mask on your face before assisting others. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses when dealing with people and experiences different than your own is the first step toward being an effective leader.

I invite you to come back next week and learn more about your cultural competency. The Leading Inclusively assessment measures four attributes essential for high performing teams and organizations: Awareness, Engagement, Empowerment, and Achievement. The assessment and workshop will help you capitalize on your strengths, work on your areas of discomfort, and be a stronger change agent for your organization.

In future posts, I will explore some of the most significant events in the 21st century; their impact on the Diversity & Inclusion field; and influence on the Leading Inclusively assessment and workshop.

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