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What is cultural competence, and why is it important?

In the landscape of today’s global economy, corporate and government agencies can expect to have employees and clients from numerous cultural backgrounds and varied cultural practices, needs, and expectations. As a result, businesses worldwide are looking for ways to bolster relationships across cultural lines. Relationships are what make a business successful, after all. They help foster a sense of belonging, give us reason to affect change, and to feel like we have something valuable to contribute to the world.

However, it can be challenging to connect with others without a solid understanding of their unique background(s). So, in a corporate or government setting, how can we learn to interact respectfully and knowledgeably with clients and co-workers in cross-cultural situations? And how can we use our cultural diversity to strengthen our bonds with diverse populations? The answer is cultural competence.

What is cultural competence?

Cultural competence is the ability to understand and effectively interact with people from cultures different from our own. It also means being able to negotiate cross-cultural differences to accomplish practical goals. Multicultural competency requires the following:

● A basic understanding of your own culture and ethnicity

● A willingness to learn about the cultural practices and worldview of others

● A positive attitude toward cultural differences

● A willingness to accept and respect these differences

Cultural competence has four major components: awareness, attitude, knowledge, and skills.


Many of us have blind spots or unconscious bias when it comes to our personal beliefs and values. That's why it's vital to examine diversity-related values. We need to bring awareness to stereotyping and prejudices that can create barriers in the workplace.


Values and beliefs convey the extent to which we are open to differing views and opinions. Whether we are part of an underserved ethnic minority or not, the more deeply held our beliefs are, the more likely we are to react emotionally when we come up against cultural differences. For example, African American and Hispanic populations tend to have different values and beliefs about diversity and equality than white populations. The differences are, in part, due to varying degrees of exposure to discrimination and oppression.


The more informed we are about different cultures, the more we can be considerate to others. Knowing how culture impacts management style, problem-solving, asking for help, etc., can help us communicate better in cross-cultural interactions.


One can have awareness, plenty of knowledge, and a good attitude about cultural differences, but these won't do much good without the skill to manage differences effectively. We need to learn and practice skills in cultural competence to avoid cross-cultural discrimination.

Why is cultural competence necessary?

America comprises people with diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds, -- and we have to interact with each other in our everyday lives. That's the nature of our increasingly diverse and wonderful world. The Census Bureau estimated that in 2020, international migration added one person to the U.S. population every 34 seconds. As the nation becomes increasingly diverse, we expand our opportunity to build stronger relationships with different people.

Without cultural competence, it would be impossible to build these relationships. We would have to co-exist with social groups we don’t understand, unable to navigate differing socioeconomic statuses and cultural barriers, or exercise respect, empathy, and consideration for the well-being of others. Cultural competence encourages the acknowledgment and acceptance of cultural beliefs in appearance, behavior, and culture. As we improve our levels of cultural competence, we start to demonstrate improved DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion) and a greater appreciation for our client’s journeys.

How can you increase cultural competence?

We need to make an ongoing effort to increase our cultural competence. Even if we have a good grasp of these concepts, it is a skill that requires continuous development. Here are some ideas for how you can continue to increase cultural competence in your organization.

Cultural Humility

It's impossible to be an expert on every demographic. That's why it's essential to admit that you're not an expert and instead be willing to ask questions. You can't fully understand the cultures of everyone you meet -- but a willingness to ask questions and listen to others demonstrates your respect. Cultural humility is the ability to admit what you don't know and embrace opportunities to learn.


Awareness is about committing self-assessment and self-critique. It involves recognizing the opportunity that we have to remain open-minded with diverse groups. It is crucial to be aware of our own unconscious biases and remember that we are looking through the lens of our gender, race, economic background, religion, sexual orientation, etc. All of these things color our perception of our interactions. When we recognize this, it helps us be more empathetic in our interactions with other cultural groups.


A commitment to ongoing professional education is at the core of cultural sensitivity. There are many valuable resources available that offer information on diversity and the pursuit of cultural knowledge. These include podcasts, books, news, and other outlets that offer different perspectives on race and encourage us to enhance our cultural awareness through education.


Organizations that embrace diversity and increase their cultural competency tend to attract new talent and customers more successfully. BCT Partners is an organization dedicated to providing insights about diverse people that leads to equity. Contact us to learn how we can help your organization gain the necessary insights to create a more equitable workplace.



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