Cultural safety and recognition in the workplace is an important layer of talent inclusion, with increasing focus and consideration. And it’s about time.
According to SafeWork NSW, cultural safety in the workplace is:
…the recognition, protection and continued advancement of the inherent rights, cultures, and traditions of a particular culture.
This means that every person in the workplace, no matter what type of engagement (full-time, part-time, casual, contract or any other category), must be treated with respect, inclusion, and transparent management. And this applies to all peoples, irrespective of their cultural, religious, or ethnic background.
Today, we’re going to delve into the importance of cultural safety at work. We’ll look at it from an indigenous Australian context, what a culturally safe workplace looks like, and the steps you can take towards achieving cultural safety at work.
Cultural Safety: An Important Workplace Program
Central to cultural safety in the workplace, is recognising that it isn’t just about awareness and respect of the cultures of all people at work. Rather, it’s about creating a workplace where people are encouraged to examine their own individual cultural identities and mindsets. In doing so, the goal is to establish flexibility and open-mindedness amongst all people of all people across cultures different to their own.
So, by owning and valuing your own cultural identity, you develop the same sense of recognition and respect for that of your peers.
The premise behind this concept is compelling: respect and recognition internally, enhances the ability to offer the same externally.
Critically in a workplace environment, this cultural recognition ideally extends to an understanding that an individual’s practices or values, are not always the only way or the best way to solve workplace issues. It means having an acceptance of the ideas, practices, and paradigms of others… an acceptance that leads to more efficient workplace problem solving and harmony.
Cultural Safety in the Workplace: An Indigenous Perspective
Aboriginal cultural safety at work, is evidenced in businesses who demonstrably think about and provide active policies and systems regarding Aboriginal history, culture, and protocols as they affect the workplace.
The obvious factor here is based on a talent pool of existing and potential workers who are of aboriginal heritage. So, it’s not just a mindfulness about current workers. It’s an active position organisations are encouraged to take, irrespective of current or future hires.
It’s also important for organisations to establish the same policies and systems if they are undertaking business with or providing services to Aboriginal people. And, if the business engages with Aboriginal communities or has or may have in the future, Aboriginal people in their supply chain.
Given the all-encompassing nature of the potential involvement of Aboriginal people in business today, it’s imperative for cultural safety protocols to be established so true inclusion and careful management of Aboriginal relationships can be achieved.
The concept of cultural safety protocols in relation to Aboriginal peoples, is well explained by NSW Government’s SafeWork:
Protocols are the standards of behaviour that people use to show respect to each other. Every culture has different ways of communicating. It helps to understand how people might express, see or value things differently. This builds respect regardless of background or culture.
Aboriginal people can be easily isolated in non-Aboriginal organisations. In Aboriginal-run organisations, Aboriginal people may find themselves working with people from different Country and with different protocols.
The important upshot of this definition is this: building the right cultural safety protocols within your organisation – especially if it is a non-Aboriginal organisation – will allow for the integration, inclusion, and cohesive management of Aboriginal peoples.
What Does ‘Cultural Safety’ in the Workplace Look Like?
Cultural safety in the workplace establishes actions, ideas and processes that recognise, respect, and nurture the unique cultural identities of all workers. This means workers can have their cultural expectations understood, not quashed; their rights recognised, not ignored; and their needs safely met, not unfulfilled.
As I mentioned earlier, the ideal means for establishing these protocols is when the team can undertake decision making and problem solving in the business through the lens of another person, not their own.
In a culturally safe workplace, the organisation will typically have established the following:
- Clear, respectful, transparent and open communications without being shrouded in any singular values-based dictum
- A clear trust between workers, knowing everyone’s contributions are valued
- In the sharing of knowledge and IP, a two-way communications approach is established
- Any stereotypical barriers – be they cultural, religious or otherwise – are acknowledged and avoided.
Regarding a culturally safe workplace for Aboriginal people, the organisation will be able to demonstrate:
- That the business is culturally safe for workers, suppliers, clients, partners, and stakeholders, who are of Aboriginal heritage
- That the business is connected to the local Aboriginal community
- That the business is accessible to Aboriginal people and communities
- That the business responds to the known, identified needs of Aboriginal people
- And that the business operates in a culturally safe and appropriate manner for Aboriginal peoples.
Steps to Achieving a Culturally Safe Workplace
Establishing a culturally safe workplace takes time. The initial steps you need to consider include:
- Recognising the many cultural differences that exist in business today, not only in your workplace, but in the broader context of the business community. Having historical understanding of these cultural differences is also advantageous
- Learning and practicing behaviours that are culturally sensitive, inclusive, and effective. And demonstrating these to staff, visitors, clients, and your wider business network
- Building trust and genuine partnerships inside the workplace as well and across your community
If your workplace is culturally safe, then the work environment is spiritually, socially, emotionally, and physically safe for everyone.
To get your cultural safety plan in place, your business needs to stop and recognise your existing culture. Reflecting on how you think, feel, and behave isn’t easy.
So first up, think about these questions, as you move to establish the right cultural safety plan:
- How do I see the world?
- Why do I do things the way I do?
- What do I value?
- What are my expectations of work?
- Why do I react in a particular way?
Once the business has examined the status quo, you can then look at the workplace in a broader sense. These considerations include:
- What do you know and understand about your current workforce?
- Does the business understand and appreciate the different cultures and social ethics of the workforce?
- Does the business understand the different values and attitudes of these different cultures?
- Have you recognised the value these cultural differences offer the workplace?
Finally, management buy-in is critical. The commitment of management and business leadership to a culturally safe workplace, needs to be transparently evident. Engaging workers throughout the journey is also key to building cultural safety at work.
Management must be the champions of cultural safety at work. In doing this, they will ideally be able to:
- Be clear about the objectives, benefits and processes involved in establishing cultural safety at work
- Deploy the cultural safety program with the inclusion of all workers
Cultural safety at work, is about acknowledging different cultures. And the multi-dimensional structures that exist across the many cultural representations both in your workforce, and across the business community generally. By establishing a cohesive cultural safety plan, your business will demonstrate inclusion, care and respect for all people – a definite attraction factor for talent of any cultural background.
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