There’s a new phrase on the block that I think we all need to understand. It’s ‘cultural safety’. The words aren’t new, but the significance of the word is an emerging movement. But what does it mean? It’s a whole lot of things but in essence, it’s a sense of belonging.
If I was to ask about your organisation’s cultural practices, you might respond with something along the lines of ‘we’ve done cultural awareness training and we employ people from culturally diverse backgrounds’. Which is great, but it often doesn’t quite reach all corners of the issue.
Here’s a question for you: What is it about your organisation that makes culturally diverse people WANT to work there? Is it because it pays well? Is it because they have a passion for that kind of work? These things won’t retain people forever, so it has to be something bigger. Equally, ask yourself what might make culturally diverse people want to receive your services and potentially have you in their home.
Cultural safety is about creating an environment where culturally diverse people are not only treated with the same respect and courtesy as all others, but they know their presence is welcomed and valued rather than tolerated. It goes beyond being polite or performing an appropriate greeting for a particular culture. Get to know the individual.
A safe environment is where we can all go about our business without fear or anxiety about being who we are without exclusion, or where we feel comfortable that our positions are secure because our unique life experience, skills and attributes are recognised and valued. In essence, it’s about being understood and feeling at ease in the environment.
Which brings me to the next big question… How do we work towards a culturally safe workplace? A good place to start is learning as much as you can about as many different cultures as you can. If this is too broad, start with the cultures that you encounter the most. Learn about the history, the people, their values. Get involved. Ask questions. Be open to hearing the answers even though you might feel uncomfortable. But most importantly of all, reflect on what you’ve learned and ask yourself how those experiences would affect you and your life if you had worn their shoes a while.