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Working well with cultural diversity


Communicating effectively with people from diverse backgrounds involves developing important skills related to ‘cultural competence’ and ‘cultural safety’. These terms are often used in the context of working with cultural diversity. The former usually refers to individual skills and the latter to the organisation.

It is important for organisations, and those who work in them, to reach a level of cultural competence or ‘cultural safety’. This means that they can meet the needs of people from different cultural backgrounds, recognising what those needs are, and having the skills and resources to provide the necessary services. If an organisation is culturally safe, then it will not make decisions and mistakes based on stereotypes and ignorance. If members of the community recognise that an organisation and its staff are culturally competent, they will feel confident to use its services and provide it with support. Thus, this is good practice for all concerned.

Cultural competence

A culturally competent individual has skills that will help in communicating with people from other cultural backgrounds. These general guidelines for developing cultural competence can assist in this sometimes confusing process.

Developing good cross-cultural communication skills is also an important asset in developing cultural competence. You may find this practical advice for improving cross-cultural communication in a multicultural workplace setting helpful. Although provided for newcomers to Canadian workplaces, it can be adapted to a wide range of workplace settings, especially multicultural settings. It is useful for Australian workplaces, as Australia, like Canada, is a country with a huge variety of immigrant cultures as well as Indigenous cultures.

The importance of preparation for culturally safe working cannot be emphasised strongly enough. This is illustrated by one nurse’s experience in the Alice Springs hospital.

Cultural safety

A culturally safe organisation is one with a set of principles and procedures that ensure delivery of services in a fair and culturally sensitive way. Some organisations make an effort to develop practices according to cultural safety principles. A good example of this is a diamond mining company in northern Australia that has negotiated working arrangements suited culturally to the local Aboriginal communities’ needs and customs.


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