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How to Conduct an Effective Cultural Awareness Workshop

Ryan Ayers
Ryan Ayers

Improving diversity in the workplace and cultural awareness is both morally sound, and proven to be a good business move for employee retention and the bottom line.

Improving diversity in the workplace and cultural awareness is both morally sound, and proven to be a good business move for employee retention and the bottom line.

Cultural awareness is one step that many companies are taking to ensure their workplaces are inclusive and empowering for employees. Awareness then stems to diversity training, anti-racism training, recognition of implicit biases and how to work past them.

Creating a cultural awareness workshop should not be a one-time thing if, indeed, you want it to be successful. It should be a regularly occurring part of your team's training protocols, just like cybersecurity practices and proper conflict resolution tactics. 

Here are some tips on how to conduct your first cultural awareness workshop and how to continue to improve workplace inclusion.

Your first workshop

The why

The amount of time you spend conducting your first workshop should be dependent on the size of your employee pool. For small companies ( fewer than 40 people), a few hours could suffice, but to really make your team know that this is a very serious initiative, taking a whole day, at least for the first workshop, is recommended.

Many employees may scoff at the thought of being at work and not conducting the work they are paid to do. With this in mind, it's not a bad idea to begin your workshop informing your employees that the workshop will, indeed, make the company stronger and increase productivity, meaning the work that will be asked in said workshop is just as important as the work employees do directly relative to the jobs which they were hired for.

A good second step in the workshop process is a review of historical disparities that have caused even the fairest of leaders to miss the mark on cultural inclusion. When something is the norm for so long, like having an office Christmas party, but nothing for Ramadan, for instance, people simply don't realize that practice is not an inclusive one. Opening your employees' eyes to the "why" can set you up very well for a successful "how" when it comes to improving cultural awareness.

First focus

Depending on your employee pool, your first focus in your cultural awareness workshop should be something relative to a member or members of your staff, as this makes the training more personal to everyone. To continue with the simple example of religion (though this can be race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), having an employee who practices a religion unfamiliar to the majority take some time to explain their beliefs and upbringing, rather than using a PowerPoint, is a very good move to increase engagement of the audience.

Empower this employee to share moments when he or she felt shunned or left out due to their religious beliefs, and also how that made them feel in regards to wanting to work hard with and for their colleagues. Adult show-and-tell is always welcomed, too, and perhaps this individual would want to share something like a cultural food, which is likely to make everyone in the room a little happier to be present.

Global focus

After adding a personal touch from a face familiar to everyone at work, it's time to add a more global focus to your training. One of the silver linings of the coronavirus pandemic has been a realization by many companies that many employees can work very well from home, which expands your hiring pool to literally anyone on earth.

With the increasing probability that someone in your company will be working from another country, or many different countries, cross-cultural communication should be a point of focus when discussing awareness on a global scale.

Other touch points

In addition to cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication, cultural competence, cultural safety, cultural humility and cultural intelligence should all be talked about during your workshop. Here is a brief definition of each:

  • Cultural competence: Cultural competence is an understanding that your own world views are not the only world views. Though it is more than OK for one to be proud of their beliefs, it is important to understand that other people have the right to be proud of their beliefs as well, and ultimately these differences help serve an equally diverse customer base.

  • Cultural safety: Most workplaces are physically safe, but cultural safety is ensuring that the workplace is spiritually, socially and emotionally safe. Competence comes into play with this, as a general acceptance of everyone is the best way to ensure a culturally safe environment.

  • Cultural humility: This is defined by the National Institutes of Health as "a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique" regarding one's cultural upbringing. 

  • Cultural intelligence: Cultural intelligence embodies the knowledge one has about different cultures. Cultural intelligence workshops should be held regularly, especially regarding those cultures of members of your staff.

Tracking Your Progress

Vocally prioritizing cultural awareness is an easy task, but leading an initiative is a much more difficult task, as is measuring your team's progress. There is a tough line to toe when it comes to providing hands-on training to employees that is not particularly relevant to their job, but with cultural awareness, it's worth the work to ensure that everyone is comfortable and confident in your workplace.

These hands-on trainings can include worksheets that must be completed/passed. Keep a running list of trainings that your team members have attended and passed, and revisit them on a regular basis (quarterly or biannually may best).

Repetition

If your cultural awareness workshop is a one-time event, you're doing it wrong, and it will come across as a superficial box to check in your employees' eyes, making it, at best, something that isn't being taken seriously, and, at worst, something that members of minority cultures in your company will be hurt by, ultimately hurting team unity, rather than building it.

It is not something that can happen overnight, but having cultural awareness be something that is, at least, mentioned regularly and ingrained in the company's future goals will result in a happier staff, and a happier staff works harder!

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Ryan Ayers
Ryan Ayers
business.com Member
Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of Fortune 500 companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs with a keen focus on sustainable scaling, professional development and business growth.