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The Critical Missing Ingredient in Diversity Training for Businesses

Up until now, most diversity programs or management skills training has focused on the key areas of  diversity awareness and cultural competency. However, “Cultural Safety” is a crucial ingredient to a successful workplace and client relations. This training can help you move far beyond the goals of awareness and competence. It is a new degree of ensuring everyone in your workplace has a sense of belonging and respect.

Up until now, cultural courses delivered as part of diversity programs or management skills training have focused on the key areas of awareness and competency. However, it is important to also look at “cultural safety.”

That is the term being used to describe a state in which people feel safe and comfortable in doing business across cultures. Essentially, it transcends all aspects of traditional cultural diversity training and moves to an entirely new level.

To clarify the terms, cultural awareness is considered the first step in understanding cultural differences and it involves observing those differences and an acknowledgement of differences.

Cultural awareness focuses on the “other” and the “other culture.” It does not consider political or socio-economic influences on cultural differences, nor does it require an individual to reflect on his or her own cultural perspectives.

Cultural sensitivity, on the other hand, recognizes the need to respect cultural differences. It involves exhibiting behaviors that are considered polite and respectful by the person of the other culture. However, just like cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity focuses on the “other” and “the other culture.” It does not encourage the individual to reflect on their own culture.

The third component of traditional cultural training is cultural competence, which is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together to enable effective work in cross-cultural situations.

This competence means being able to function effectively within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors and needs presented by consumers and their communities. It is the skill to provide quality care to diverse populations.

Cultural competence goes a little further than awareness or sensitivity. It does invite the student to build upon self-awareness of their own culture and how it impacts the way they walk through the world. The downside of mere cultural competence, however is that it reduces culture into a set of skills that practitioners can master.

Cultural safety is a whole new place in cultural programs. In the health industry, for example, it is interpreted as a means of providing quality care for people from different ethnicities and cultures within the cultural values and norms of the patient. It asks: can you communicate competently with a patient in that patient’s social, political, linguistic, economic and spiritual realm?

Cultural safety moves beyond the concept of cultural sensitivity to analyzing power imbalances, institutional discrimination, colonization, and colonial relationships as they apply to health care.

The bottom line is that everyone in your workplace, whether worker or visitor, wants to feel safe and respected. They want to be able to build positive relationships with those around them and reach their full intent. That is a position known as cultural safety.

When people know and understand Cultural Safety when hosting people from different cultures, it becomes safe for people to make mistakes. Instead of a broken bridge, productive dialogue and conversation can occur.

Learning in any new culture is ongoing and having Cultural Safety allows for a safety net for people to learn about each other in a way that can help them to overcome fear and anxiety.

The Bridging Principles is a blog about doing business and life differently to create better results for all. Click here to subscribe for free. To pre-order a copy of the book “The Bridging Principles: Building Bridges for Business,” coming out soon, click here. To arrange for training in The Bridging Principles for your company, email

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