Developing Culturally Competent Leaders

June 20, 2022 2:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By: Cheryl Lucas-DeBerry

Diversity is becoming one of the fastest growing focal points for companies. Each company is at a different stage of the journey and not every company has the same goals or desired outcomes. Regardless, all companies with a focus on DE&I need the support of leaders to make it successful. This includes leaders at all levels, from top executives to employees with strong personalities. Building that leadership does not happen through wishful thinking and takes time, effort, and stamina. Cheryl Lucas DeBerry, Learning and Development Instructor at MRA, offers tips on how companies can develop culturally competent leaders.

Q: Define what culturally competent leadership means.

A: This includes a lot of things, but primarily it is about leaders being lifelong learners. It requires being able to openly admit mistakes and wanting to engage in training and learning. It is also critical for culturally competent leaders to have the ability to understand people from different cultural, ethnic, and sexually oriented backgrounds and to be able to treat everyone the same. This may involve stepping out of comfort zones to figure out how and when to talk to people about topics while understanding how to be empathic to their needs. It means adjusting and communicating with people from their perspective and a having a willingness to be uncomfortable engaging in those courageous conversations.

Q: How can employers influence their employees’ understanding of what diversity means in the organization so everyone is on the same page?

A: It helps for companies to have an open line of communication with employees about the goals and initiatives that are in place. Start by making sure the company’s objectives are known and communicated. For example, include a company statement written into the DE&I policy or widely communicate a separate commitment statement. Make sure it is not just created, but that it is known and communicated. From there, make sure it is modeled at all levels within the organization. Make it part of the strategic plan and include accountability at all levels.

Q: Who should be the key players involved in the effort?

A: The senior team should be involved, but also include a cross-section of employees that are not afraid to say “this is what we need” and recognize what it means to be a culturally competent leader. The key players will, ideally, represent different departments and levels of the organization, from individual contributors to senior management, and provide another layer of diversity within the group.

Q: Do you have tips for how to create continuity for communication within an organization?

A: Again, this starts at the top. Work with leadership to create a statement related to DE&I and how it applies to the organization. It should include statements addressing what the company stands for and how leadership envisions DE&I will be exemplified within the organization. Make everyone responsible for communicating the message.

Q: Are there any tips for coaching leaders who express an understanding of diversity but struggle to emulate it?

A: The best thing is to find a way to communicate the disconnect to that leader. It is important for leaders to understand their own cultural biases and stereotypes. These situations provide HR and other leaders an opportunity to engage in those courageous conversations and practice becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Other tips include:

  • Enroll the leader in an Unconscious Bias training course.
  • Provide the leader with feedback from peers or other departments on where there seem to be struggles. Provide examples so the leader can understand how his or her perception may differ from what others observe.
  • Sponsor learning circles or sharing of experiences.
  • Encourage continuous learning to help provide an understanding of cultural diversity.

Q: Once you have developed a DE&I program, what is the best way to encourage continuous involvement?

A: Keep it at the forefront of each meeting or include some aspect of it in every meeting so it doesn’t begin to seem like a flavor-of-the-day conversation. Take steps toward making sure it becomes engrained in every aspect of the organization and isn’t going away. It is important for organizations to understand that change doesn’t happen overnight. Gradual incremental changes will help this effort be more successful. Be patient, have realistic goals, and don’t be afraid to have those uncomfortable conversations. Understand that it is not a quick training, but instead a long-term effort that provides long-term results.


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