Typically, in the workplace, one should try to avoid heated or highly sensitive topics such as politics. A rising issue within the workplace is addressing multiculturalism and race. Many are unsure how to bring these topics up without being insensitive. Race and multiculturalism are something that needs to be addressed in the workplace with tolerance and sensitivity.
To begin, multiculturalism refers to the presence of multiple cultures within an environment. Acknowledging multiculturalism means recognizing and respecting different cultural attitudes, costumes, and behaviors. It is disrespectful to address multiculturalism by addressing those outside of the predominant culture as the other. An example of disrespectful ways to address questions about multiculturalism is by phrasing questions as demands. The following questions are examples of how NOT to address multiculturalism:
- Why don’t you eat [pork, cow, meat, etc]?
- If you have questions about someone's dietary choices it is a better idea to ask them if they have any dietary restrictions when having a company party or potluck. Waiting for a communal event does not single out a singular person and is an appropriate time to ask questions about dietary restrictions. Asking randomly can come off as rude, nosy, and unnecessary.
- You’re different from other [insert here ethnic group or race].
- Referring to someone as “your people” emphasizes otherness. This type of phrasing is based on stereotypes and biases. Even if your intent is well, if you find yourself phrasing things in this manner it is a good idea to do some self-reflection on implicit biases.
- Why do you dress like that?
- Regardless of culture, we all have different ways of dressing. How someone likes to dress is not necessarily better or worse than others. If you have questions about why someone dresses a certain way it is better to ask “do you have fashion influence” or “I like your [shirt, pants, headscarf], does it have any significant meaning?”
Creating cultural competency in the workplace requires mutual respect and understanding. According to Forbes Council members, a critical element in the success of creating cultural competency is by having safe places of discussions. A vital part of creating a safe space to discuss cultural competency is having an open mind and being open to backtracking previous misconceptions. If you believe your workplace is not creating a safe space for your identity (race, sexual orientation, disability) visit https://www.nea.org/your-rights-workplace/inclusive-workplaces to see a comprehensive list of legal rights you have to demand equity in the workplace.
To improve your cultural competency first do some self-assessment to avoid being insensitive or biased. Do personal research to gain cultural knowledge and show interest and respect in understanding those outside of your own culture.