How to Develop Your Cultural Competency Toolkit

Cultural competency is something every student, and professional, should be working towards building. We recently did an Instagram Live with some of our staff members to help students find ways they can develop their Cultural Competency Toolkit, even when everything is virtual. If you couldn’t make the Instagram Live — don’t worry! We sat down with Shayna Smith, Assistant Director for Diversity Initiatives at CCES, to get her insight into why cultural competency is so important and what you can be doing to develop it. 

The Importance of Understanding Cultural Competency 

The two questions people seem to struggle most with during mock interviews are: “tell me about yourself” and any questions about their engagement with diversity. It’s important to remember that the answer to that question entirely depends on the person and their own experiences. Cultural competency is more than just diversity and inclusion. It’s also social impact, morals, etc., and we’ve found that students need some help being more reflective. Many Miami students have already done/are doing things that are part of their cultural competency toolkit, they just don’t realize it yet. 

What can I be doing to develop my Cultural Competency Toolkit? 

We like to think about this as two levels: micro and macro. At the micro level, you can listen to a podcast that talks about cultural competency, sign up for a newsletter or even just talk to the family and friends around you. It can even be as simple as working with people from different backgrounds — everyone is still in class, so what does that look like when you’re doing a group project from home? The biggest thing is appreciating difference. We don’t always agree with or have the same morals as everyone, but it’s important to be able to find the synergy that comes from experiencing difference and being respectful of those that are different from you. Before you can understand other peoples’ identities, it’s crucial to do some self reflection and understand yours first. 

At the macro level, she suggests paying attention to how companies you’re interested in handle and value diversity. Ask questions during your interview (What does diversity and inclusion look like for your company? Do they have a team dedicated to it?). Additionally, you can attend D&I trainings, seminars, engage with programs Miami might offer, and many other things. 

The most important thing to remember is that we’re all continuous learners. A lot of times it feels like we live in fear when it comes to talking about cultural competence — we naturally don’t want to offend anybody or say the wrong thing. But remember that everyone makes mistakes — even the most seasoned professional can still have to do research to better understand someone or something. 

How can I talk about my experiences with cultural competency in an interview? What if I don’t really have any experience? 

Don’t underestimate your experiences! We often see students come in and struggle with this, but then they realize they worked a job two summers ago where they were able to engage with people different from them, but forgot about it because it wasn’t a formal internship. The key is to think about when you actually engaged with people different from you. What did you learn from this? How have you changed since then? 

If you can’t think of any organic experiences, then talk about a forum or training you attended. The most important thing here is to be able to articulate what you learned from it. How do you plan to apply what you heard to your life? How have you already applied it? Regardless of which route you choose to go, it’s best to talk about how you made a conscious effort to actively engage with difference. 

Why does cultural competency matter to my career? 

Most companies are global now, so being able to work with people different from you is key. In fact, by 2030 it is estimated that more than half of the population in the United States will be of a minority background. So you have to ask yourself, what are you doing now to seek difference? Some of the best learning comes from being uncomfortable, but who likes being uncomfortable? That’s why it’s important to engage with things different from you now because eventually you will leave Miami. If you can build your cultural competence now, the more comfortable you’ll be in those spaces later on. 

Final 5 Tips

  1. Becoming culturally competent begins with small steps of self exploration and reflection that can lead to immersive experiences and trainings. 
  2. Reflect on your personal values and beliefs. Have conversations with parents about family traditions and values. Think about how that impacts the way you show up in class, at internships and on the job.
  3. Assess your knowledge, values attitudes and beliefs. 
  4. If you are on LinkedIn – join a networking group that supports your identity. And consider that is not a typical group you would network with. 
  5. Read reputable newspapers and blogs about how this pandemic is impacting different groups in the US and globally. Consider how this impacts your industry, you and your community. Then act upon your findings.