In episode 86 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton joins with Danielle Marshall for another learning out loud episode where we do a deep dive into a topic. Today we focused on cultural competence or cultural humility and talked about ways for people to work on and enhance their cultural competence.
Danielle defines cultural competence as the ability to navigate interactions effectively across diverse cultures, emphasizing the importance of valuing differences and recognizing that no social identity is a monolith. While it is easy to think that finding the time to improve your cultural competence is too hard, Danielle offers a practical five-step approach:
- [00:07:16] Definition of Cultural Competence; Cultural Competence/Cultural Humility
- [00:17:16 Five Actionable Steps for Nonprofit Leaders in Building Cultural Competence
- [00:23:16] Cultural competence learning plan
- [00:33:16] Accountability partners and affinity groups
- [00:39:16] Continuous learning journey
Danielle is an inclusive leader focused on strengthening collaboration among teams, leaders, and stakeholders to foster problem-solving, create solutions, and improve culture. She finds her inspiration in leading systemic change work that promotes equity and inclusion.
Danielle founded Culture Principles in response to a persistent need to operationalize Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion metrics, centering REDI goals and creating accountability systems. She supports clients through her Mapping Equity Framework focused on Unearthing Knowledge, Elevating Strategy, and Transforming Sustainability. She centers her work around organizational assessment, racial equity learning intensives, and the development of racial equity action plans. Understanding that each organization arrives at this work from different perspectives, she utilizes assessment in building a customized strategy for each unique partner. Previously Danielle served as a non-profit leader for 20+ years and today works on strategy development that enables nonprofits to achieve equitable mission-driven results. Danielle holds a Master's degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Louisiana Tech University and draws on her background as an I/O psychologist in applying a racial equity lens to organizational policies, practices, and programs. She is a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP)/ Executive Coach (ACC).
During her playtime, you can find Danielle traveling, knitting, and kayaking in all 50 states.
Important Links and Resources:
Click "Read More" for Transcript
Carol: Welcome, Danielle. Welcome to Mission Impact and welcome back to another Learning Out Loud episode.
Danielle: Thank you, Carol. Always a pleasure to join you. Looking forward to our conversation.
Carol: So we decided today to focus our conversation on cultural competence. It's a topic that's popped up a couple of times as we've been talking, but really wanted to do more of a deep dive. So I'm curious, let's just start with definitions. How, how do you use and, and see this word in, in your work or, or concept, if you will?
Danielle:I appreciate that we're starting there because it is something that I'm hearing a lot more people use in conversation and a definition certainly is going to be helpful. So when I think about cultural competence, it's really our ability to, to navigate and interact effectively with people across various cultures.
And so when you think about it, it's not just an understanding or an awareness of different cultural norms or practices. But it is an ability for one to learn in terms of practicing inclusivity, openness, even adaptability from what they understand about that culture. And so as we're thinking about that, this is really embodying your, your knowledge, your attitude and the practical skills you would bring to the table when you're navigating across different.
Carol:so I had often heard the term or been in circles where the term cultural competence was used at one organization was, was part of a group that was building an assessment for cultural competence for a particular field But I've also recently, or, in the last couple of years run into some other versions one being cultural humility, which I really appreciated because I always felt a little uncomfortable Saying I'm culturally competent, like, how do you get to that stage that certainly you can always become more culturally competent from my point of view, and there's always things to learn.
So the idea of bringing humility to it just felt like a wonderful place to start. But it's also interesting to me how diversity, equity and inclusion, especially coming out of the history of the United States versus other fields that have named it more intercultural competence that have been in the international context and, and really in some ways have, have almost been siloed from each other and, and not talking even though in many ways dealing with these core skills and, and approaches.
Danielle: Yes that, and that's a good distinction that you bring up when I, when I talk about cultural competence, I think I also am talking about intercultural competence. Though I can appreciate the distinction being made and the reason I say that is in this country, We may focus on how we interact across cultures here But like we are in a much smaller world than we ever have been before and so it's not Unusual to interact with someone who is not Homeborn, in the U.S. That you might be working, whether they've moved here or you're working across borders for me when I'm building cultural competence, I'm really thinking very much about how I interact across differences regardless, ? And how we can apply that skillfully. The other thing that you said that I appreciate is this.
Idea of cultural humility? Can we ever fully be confident? Probably not.I joke often because I have a 15 year old and she reminds me how incompetent I am within my own culture And I say that jokingly but part of the reason is because there are other intersectionalities that come in so like just the fact that we're different generations means her lens on the world is different from mine and so what I understand to be true may be evolving even within the culture that represents me I'm I'm A Gen X er who also happens to be an African American woman versus her Gen Z and we have very different approaches to the world and how we see things And so I'm always taking those things into consideration but when we talk about that humility I think it is the ability to really and how we can evaluate ourselves and how we've shown up in the moment and we self critique in order to be more confident As we're learning things how do you integrate those into your understanding of cultural groups and start to apply it as you learn more
Carol:And for me growing up outside of the United States internationally, I think I, when I thought of cultural competence. I thought of it often in that international context. And then to come back to the U. S. In late high school through college and, and since then and really over, those, those years and across generations as you're talking about as a Gen Xer all the nuance of our particular country, its history, experiment, honestly, that we're doing that really has never existed to try to have a multicultural society where, and we certainly have a long way to go, where it's not, and this is in the ideal, this is not where we are.
It's not that we are looking to have. Everyone simply assimilated to the dominant culture, which was, I think, the assumption and is the assumption in many cultures that any outsider will simply figure out how to fit in. But we're trying to do something different, or at least a segment of the country is now trying to do something different, which perhaps has never been done before, or maybe it has.
And I just, I don't know. There's, there's the history that I'm unaware of.
Danielle: I there's so much in what you just said when it comes to this country and I have thought about this quite bit I mean it feels like America was based on this idea of the melting pot And we talked about the melting pot frequently But what is missed in this understanding is it really was about assimilation So we we have all of these cultures and all of these people from different lands
We bring them together We Sort of mix everybody into the pot And what gets boiled down is dominant culture Like there there's a particular thing you have to blend yourself If you'll into this this stew that we're making or this soup and the reality is People were never going to fully give up themselves
We've seen a lot of pressure over the years for folks to assimilate And I think what we are seeing at this point is a major backlash against people having to give up their identity their cultural heritage So whether it be the native language you spoke how you wear your hair how you dress the activities that you do People are pulling closer back to their own cultures in terms of saying like I'm happy to be American I'm happy to be in this country and I also need you to respect the fact that there are some things that are culturally different that I want to keep
Carol:For sure. And, and certainly that assimilation was, is not and was not benign. There were many ways in which it was certainly weaponized and just in, in really horrific ways. And now with the and I feel like there are many folks who want to be able to be respectful across differences and, and acknowledge those and, and not expect everyone to just fit in, in a certain way. Which comes back to the notion of building those muscles around cultural competence.
Danielle: And I think one of the things that I would say is that it almost feels like we need to learn to value other So as I think about assimilation what ends up happening in my experience is Because assimilation has been pushed to the forefront and people are constantly using that as the yardstick by which we measure or wrong beauty standards language whatever it happens to be. When someone sits outside of your understanding of the world you have a problem. The differences are bad in their mind. And to me when I think of difference simply means different. It's not good, it's not bad. It is just a different way of looking at a particular thing. So whether that be speaking, acting, thinking and so if we can get to a place where we value the differences. And see them as opportunities to be stronger and smarter and build better together. Those are things that are going to matter in the longer term but it is something that I at least with some of the clients that I'm working with on a coaching level they've never stopped to even think about that.
Danielle: It's never occurred to them that this is something that we should be speaking about because we don't learn this in school.
Carol: And I think there's a pressure Or organizations are and individuals are feeling the pressure to how do we manage all the different things that we're wanting to do. And so time can become a barrier or sometimes an excuse for not dealing with this because of all of it. They're not easy things to learn. There's always more to learn. You're going to make mistakes. It's uncomfortable so just saying you don't have time for it can be an easy way out.
Danielle: That's something that again I'm encountering quite a bit. I just came back from a conference where equity was at the forefront and it was a wonderful conference. great sessions with amazing people. And yet I kept hearing throughout the day people say things like I'd love to lean more into this whether it's their DEI work or it's cultural competence sort of broader strokes. But where do I find the time? Like this is important to me so I do value it. So at least they were coming from the perspective of I can see the merit of this but they struggled with how this fits in. And so I was thinking about where we might start.
And so I wanted to offer some five steps that I think could be helpful for listeners and the first is just really assessing your starting point. So in saying that it is taking an opportunity to just gauge your level of cultural competence So if you want to be proactive in this do you have a baseline of understanding. And there are a number of tools out there that can be used to establish a baseline whether it be of your full cultural competencies of the tools you use. One of the resources I particularly like is called the Intercultural Development Inventory. It gives people an idea of how they are most likely to show up when it comes to dealing with people that are different from them. So from that standpoint like what are the tools that you actively reach for every day when you encounter someone who's culturally different. So I think there's a lot of opportunity there because it's giving you a sense of -- if I've never thought about my own culture -- How do I relate to that before I worry about relating to anyone else’s. Am I willing to face some truth about my own cultural competence? And to the point you made earlier like we all have room to grow. I would say even people that work in this space on a regular basis like and maybe more so we understand there's so much space for us to grow because we never fully understand every culture and also putting the caveat that cultures change over time. So if they're always evolving no one is going to ever be there so to speak there's always room for us to develop.
And the second step that I would say is this is about setting your goals So if you have a baseline understanding of where I'm starting from cultural competence here's what I need to learn. How do you articulate that vision? Turn that into short-term goals, long-term goals so that we can start thinking about what this might mean. So it may be that we want to learn more about language. It could be that I want to understand eye contact in certain cultures. There's so many places one could go with this. But the way that I always ask people to think about it they're like what are the specific cultural norms or values that I need to understand better.
And to make this more personal, how do you think about your own work? Are there groups that I need to be either to communicate better with or I need to be able to figure out how to work more effectively? And are norms and values around this work project not aligned? That's a really good place to start. Like I'm not saying learn everything about culture in one day but is there a particular group I have to understand better in order to be effective in my work? So those are the first two things.
And then the third thing that I would say is you want to create a learning schedule for yourself. So when we're thinking about a learning schedule like this daily? Is it weekly? When are you planning to incorporate time for learning? It could be even as small as 15 minutes a day. So you're reading an article. you're watching a video. I tell a lot of my clients now you and you want to make this fun for yourself too you could be watching Netflix, visiting a museum, festivals. There's so many ways that we can interact one on one conversations with people but what you want to really figure out is like how many hours within that week can I dedicate to enhancing my work. When we can set that time .We have a plan. We will begin a plan because at least I know I have an hour a day.. I have 15 minutes a day. This is how I'm gonna move forward.
Then step four is gonna be about resources. So we're thinking about the resources again. This comes back to what are the things I can tap into. So are there articles I want to read, or books, podcasts. We're doing a podcast now. Again Netflix and Amazon both have developed specific genres about cultural groups which I have found to be really interesting to hear the narration of stories fictional and or documentaries but in the voice of the people whose Story is being told. Like that is incredibly powerful. So when you think about what you enjoy those are the things that I would start surfacing. Like one person may not like to go to a museum. the next person's gonna thrive off of that. Find the things that make sense to you and really resonate with your own learning process.
Then I'll offer one more step for you and this is just monitoring and adjusting. So as we're building these steps out and we're working on our learning plan. We've already talked about cultural humility which means we have to be self-reflected and we have to evaluate our progress as you're moving along. Whether it's short-term goals or long-term goals Sometimes we need to recalibrate. The action plan that we set on day one might not be the thing that we need to focus on as much as we move along. I want to make sure that people have a way whether it is-- I'm gonna check in monthly with myself or quarterly. How are you assessing your progress towards these goals? And that's really important. I've told people on a number of occasions that it's knowing what to do. And then maybe not doing it. Like that's the problem. So can we assess that we are actually on track and do we have progress indicators?
Carol: I love your idea of a learning plan. I actually at the beginning of the pandemic and with the racial reckoning and uprisings I read an article about someone who had created she created Google sheet and created a learning plan for herself. And I said that is an incredible idea I'm going to do the same thing. So I started tracking what I was reading and ad like so I read many of the books that were on the bestseller list that jumped to the bestseller list that year if I hadn't read them already. But then also listening to podcasts I remember I was listening to an episode of Code Switch and they happened to have a conversation around okay we're in and this was 2020 so much was going on And it was a a let's do a point counterpoint on are you reading serious books at this point or are you reading lighter fare? And so one of the books that was shared was a series of romance novels written by POC authors. So I have had not read a lot of romance in a while but it became my genre of choice during the pandemic. And but I all almost all of the ones that I read were written by black indigenous people of color rather than defaulting to the to the white authors. I was reading what's a relatively it was you talked about making it fun And so I'm reading a fun book. There's a formula for how romance novels work but there was a different perspective. And there were the characters and then There was an insight into culture. I've always enjoyed reading I read a lot of fiction generally and looking for books that are written from many may different points of view.
Many different authors with different identities that to me each one of those is a window into a different experience. Obviously it's one person's experience but they're also describing their context and their things. So much of what I've learned has been through those kinds of versus the and I also had Caste on my list to read too. So but I mean that you can have a balance and so many different entry points. That's absorbing. And as a person who does represent the dominant culture in the U. S. doing a little bit of my remedial education that most of us who are white need to do but it was fun. And of course I've done lots of different things with that but it's been fun to think about all the different ways that we can increase our skill, my skill. I can increase my skill.
Danielle: I appreciate it but I appreciate you owning that too. Because that's a piece of it. We all can increase our skill. Some of us have had more experience in having to look at other people's cultures more intentionally than others but in terms of do we all know it all no absolutely not. There's so much more to learn and going back to what you just said about finding fun ways to do things. Like I think about This movie I had to happen to stumble upon. It was called The Farewell and it was about an Asian family.
Carol: was such a wonderful Yes
Danielle: was beautifully done. And so I'm watching the movie and it was maybe like a Saturday or some weekend day. I'm watching it and I don't want to give it away to people who haven't seen it but part of the theme of this movie is how different cultures deal with death. How they talk about that as a family unit.
Carol: And what it what it means to take care of the family member
Danielle: Yes absolutely, so how do we care for people in this process? And so what struck me really profoundly as I was watching this is I literally stopped for a second and I was like I know about what happens in my family and maybe some other cultural groups that are really close to me. I was like but I've never actually thought about this like what it means to care for a loved one who has an illness. What does it mean to prepare for the final passage for people? And it just really struck me. And so what I think is really interesting about the exploration of cultural competencies is you don't necessarily know where it's going to take you. Like, I might have said, Hey, I haven't watched a movie about this particular group in a while. Let me put that on only to find out as you're doing it. There are a host of other questions that start surfacing or, or interest and you just want to follow that thread. And so I really love that.
But in particular, I think that movie hit home so much though, because it opened up a space for me where I was like, I don't know a lot about this. That was like, and I'd like to learn. And I'm going to talk
Carol: I just read a book called Sitting Pretty. And it's written from the, it's a memoir by a woman who's been in a wheelchair since she was three because of an illness she had early on. And, she's also a professor of disability studies. She has her personal experience, but she has that wider context as well.
And I won't be able to read another book or see another movie that has a person with a disability with a character without hearing her voice in my head about all the tropes that she's so tired of seeing, which I, even with a, I have a brother who has a disability, but I, I didn't necessarily have that lens.
So It's so interesting what you will learn.
Danielle: In step five, we're talking about monitoring our cultural competence. And so, how are we actively thinking about, like, what the steps are that we've laid out so whether those, again, are short term or long term, and then how are we celebrating our actions?
And so, something that comes to mind is if I said to you, Carol, like me, my plan is to run a marathon, ? The Baltimore Marathon just happened here the other day. And I know in order to run this marathon, I need to make sure that I'm getting up early in the morning so that I can get out there and start running.
That I need to – whether it is I need to eat a certain diet, I am not a runner, but I will say this, I need to eat a certain diet in order to get in shape for this race, etc. And I know that there are certain steps that I must take. If you call me and you check back and you say, it's, you've been doing this for a couple of months, like, how's everything going?
How's your time? Is your personal record looking any better because this is something maybe I've said is really important to me. It's more than just wanting to run the marathon. Maybe I want to best myself. And so if I tell you, well, I've been meaning to get out there and I've been meaning to run, but well it's been raining the last couple of days or something came up, work got really busy.
The reality is. If that was my goal to be able to run this marathon and we're getting closer and closer to the date, but I haven't been training effectively, ? I could still involve myself in this race, but the likelihood that I'm going to beat my personal record in this case is pretty low. That wouldn't be a surprise to you.
And the reason I use an example in this case is I think about all the things that we say, we know what we need to do, but we don't necessarily follow through with those steps. And so when you're building a cultural competency plan, it's the same thing. Like, if I say I'm going to read 10 books on this topic, or I'm going to watch movies on Netflix, or I'm going to go to these museums or these classes, et cetera, and then I fail to do it, there really ought not be a surprise at the end where it's like, did you deepen your cultural competencies?
Well, partially, because you've done something, but maybe not to the extent that you were hoping to. And so in that way, I think it's really important to not only have a clear plan, but an opportunity to check in against your own progress. It's not somebody else telling you to do these things, but where do you stand?
Carol:And in describing my learning a plan, the things that I mentioned were all the things that I'm passively consuming, whether it's a reading a book or watching a movie or listening to a podcast, but the thing that you, the other thing that you just mentioned around checking in, you can check in with yourself on how you're doing, but it's often really helpful.
to have accountability partners that you're working with. And so I've joined white affinity groups so that we can challenge each other and work through different resources to really have conversations or reflect on what we're learning specifically for white women, because that's a particular identity that, especially in the nonprofit sector we need to dig into.
I don't know how familiar people are with affinity spaces, but many probably are, but certainly for that one so that we can, again, do that remedial education without burdening anybody else, burdeningI don't get across multicultural or multiracial groups. You, for example, would not need to hear us babble around and, and muck around and, and be messy, and we could maybe have a little more confidence the next time we showed up.
So, I think it's both and, and then also intentionally being in multi racial and cultural groups that had a structure. Had facilitation, had some boundaries and parameters to help people learn as well. All those different things. Those have all been helpful to me.
Danielle:I definitely appreciate the both points that you just made and, I think about. What it means is, one, you have a facilitated space, so that you're all gathered with the distinct purpose of, whether it is a white affinity group or a multicultural group, we want to learn about different things. And so I think that is certainly an avenue people can take, and I also wonder what it looks like for people who just simply say, I want to have friends that look different from me that come from different places that speak different languages that are different sexual orientations. name it How do we surround ourselves with the true diversity quite frankly of the world so that it's not that I simply have to go to a class or a zoom every week type of seminar. But how do we make sure that these folks are people that are in our lives every single day? I had someone say this to me once and it was a conversation stopper and they're like Danielle I. I want your perspective as a black woman.
Now. This is somebody I care about and we're good friends. They are not black. I will start by saying that but it was a conversation stopper in that moment, because I was like, you do realize everything that comes out of my mouth is my perspective as a Black woman. I don't have another perspective to offer you?
So like, ask me the question, as opposed to framing it in this really odd way of, I want your Black woman's perspective. I was like, I don't speak for all of us. I can speak for myself. And you hear that every time we get on the phone, or we go out to lunch, or whatever. And so it was just, I think it was eye opening for that individual, and it made me chuckle, but I'm like, how often do we do that?
What's your perspective on this, as a member of this group? And I'm like, talk to people, be, like, let's not make the conversation weird if you
Carol:And that assumes a monolith. One person can be representative of an entire group. So even in describing that, memoir, that was one person's memoir. Certainly, she was sharing. a lot from the wider field that she is an expert in through getting a PhD in it and she's describing her own lived experience.
So it's both, and certainly not representing every disabled person. Who exists ? And, and, just remember that.
Danielle: The way that I ask people to think about it is if I, whatever your social identity is, if I looked at you and we're having a conversation and I'm like, does every white woman every black, cisgender male think XYZ and you're a member of that group. Your answer is going to be undoubtedly like no, we don't think the same thing but yet we're so Willing to apply that thought process to groups that we do not belong to?
How they are. This is how they act when this happens and I’m like who are they in this case? Like and does that mean everyone, how can we slow the process down enough in our own cultural development to understand like I am experiencing something now. This is a dynamic with this individual or a specific group of people meaning like maybe two or three.
At this moment, it does not mean everyone.
Carol:And even to decipher, I'm thinking about a particular instance that I've been working through with some folks and just working styles. So, is this an aspect of cultural perspective? Is this a working preference or working style? Is this around cultural norms? Is this around an individual thing?
Thinking style, it's difficult to know exactly what it might be. I mean, as I say it all out loud, the obvious thing would be to talk to the person and have a conversation and come to some understanding versus just speculating, which we often do and making up our own stories.
Danielle: I think that's a big part of it. The other piece is I do want to have some knowledge as I'm walking into. you. A conversation? So if I'm dealing with someone or I'm working on a project with someone who is from a different cultural group for me, having some knowledge of who they are, what their norms and values are, is useful. Still I need to be prepared that this knowledge that I have at this moment may not apply to this group. So, and I'll give you an example here. Like if I walk into a meeting. And my goal was to gather feedback. And let's say I am meeting with some Asian colleagues. Like, I have understanding and knowledge of the culture that says that many of them are indirect communicators.
And so I may plan ahead of time that I am going to have to show up differently than I would as a very direct American type of communicator. But when I arrive there, if this group then turns out to be very direct in their approach, I need to be able to have the dexterity in that moment to switch.
Yes, I know this to be true, but I can't hold you to it at the moment if you show up differently. And why that's important is I think that's another way that the monolith plays out. Well, you, you're supposed to act this way because this is what I know about your people. And I'm like, but they're still individuals?
Like, they get freedom of choice and, how they show up, much the same as the rest of us do. And so we can't hold people to that. I think the next level of building confidence is being willing to pivot in the moment. Like, that's a feedback loop on its own. If you get there and you're doing something and people are like, you’re being really strange, Carol.
What's happening? Can you shift? What do I mean? Like, that's the thing. Can you shift in real time? And perhaps then go back later and say, I had believed that you were indirect communicators and so I came with this particular strategy. It didn't work.
Tell me a little bit more about what is going to be effective for you? So, like, to the point you were making, how do I gather feedback to be better at
Carol: Name what's going on, name the dynamic, name, but your curiosity, well, I made this assumption, clearly, it doesn't seem like it's holding, tell me more.
Danielle: But that's what you're doing is cultural humility. To be able to admit like hey, I misstepped in this moment And I do think that is something that holds a lot of people back. They're afraid of getting it wrong? But here's the reality like we all are gonna get it wrong.
If you open your mouth, you're gonna get it wrong. I got it wrong already today several times? Like this is what happens as human beings, but where we can grow. If we're okay to fail in that moment, gather the feedback so that the next time we encounter a similar situation, you actually are smarter.
You can approach it better. And so, like, if we were to tease this out and think about teams, like, aren't we trying to build, in many cases, a learning culture into our nonprofit? It's the same thing. If you set out on a project, we debrief everything. That's like the non profit way. We debrief every meeting, every fundraising event, etc.
What did we learn from it? What are the takeaways? And this is the same when it comes to cultural competency. What did I learn that I can now apply in the next interaction I have?
Carol: Absolutely. And we could go, we could go several more rounds on this, because there's always, as we, started with cultural humility, there's always more to learn. But I really appreciate what we were able to dig into today.
Danielle: Absolutely. Anytime you want to talk about this, we can definitely come back to this topic. It's my favorite.
Carol: All Well, thank you so much.
Danielle: Thank you, Carol. Take care.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, as well as the Mission: Impact blog with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.