The COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement have brought renewed attention to our country’s systemic inequalities. Sometimes the related tensions and divisions seep into our workplaces, where they can interfere with employee relationships and productivity.

As an EDI and organizational development specialist, I help businesses and organizations handle these challenges by providing consultations and trainings. Lately, I’ve been addressing many issues concerning the need for organizations to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive. This is a goal I’ve been addressing from many angles.

Beginning this past June, several organizations asked me to help their employees process the death of George Floyd and the resulting social unrest. So I started facilitating guided discussions, which allow employees to discuss their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment and gain a better understanding of their colleagues’ perspectives.

Another way I’ve been helping is by facilitating Intercultural Development Inventory assessments, which help businesses and organizations obtain a baseline understanding of how culturally competent their employees are.

Understanding the cultural competency continuum

Cultural competency refers to our ability to understand and appreciate cultural differences among other groups of people. The IDI assessment measures where people are on the cultural competency continuum.

People who are the least culturally competent fall on the left side of the continuum. They have a more polarized perspective and associate mostly with people who look like and think like they do. They’re described as having an “us” versus “them” mindset.

On the right side of the continuum are those who are the most culturally competent. They not only are more aware of other people’s cultural differences; they also are more aware of themselves. This allows them to engage with culturally diverse groups of people and embrace their differences.

Some people claim they are “colorblind,” that they don’t see other people’s differences and, therefore, treat everyone equally. While that may sound admirable, the reality is that people do have racial and cultural differences and those differences need to be acknowledged. They make us who we are.

Moving forward from where you are

The IDI assessment uses a 50-question survey to establish a baseline understanding of how culturally competent an individual is. Using that information, the IDI then creates a developmental plan with specific activities and self-reflections to help that individual become more culturally competent. The IDI can also create developmental plans for specific groups of people, such as managers or entire departments.

Some organizations are using this tool at the start of their journey, to introduce people to the concept of cultural competency. Others are using it to help make their current efforts more robust, while still others are using it to measure and validate their progress.

While today’s workforces are quickly becoming more diverse, studies report that by 2025, people of color will make up the majority of our country’s workforce. If that’s the case, it would behoove everyone to get to know each other—so we can communicate and work together cohesively and productively.

Although I’m receiving excellent feedback on the IDI assessment, I emphasize that it’s not simply a task to check off the list. Developing cultural competency is one of many goals that organizations should pursue to create a more equitable, diverse and inclusive workplace. Other trainings that can help include implicit bias, microaggressions and white fragility.

To learn more about organizational development and how it can enhance your workplace culture, click here.