Cultural Competence in Human Services Work

Cultural competence refers to the ability of individuals working in a particular field to deliver their responsibilities effectively and in a manner that acceptable by clients with different cultural beliefs. It is one of the fundamental factors considered by employers before hiring employees. The increased diversity in the human services field poses both opportunities and challenges for the stakeholders in the industry to function effectively.  In the field, individuals are considered to be culturally competent if they possess the right skills, values, and principles that enable them to respect and work to the optimum while serving all clients irrespective of their cultural or ethnic background (Truong, Paradies& Priest, 2014).

Characteristics of culturally competent individuals

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Courage- One way in which culturally competent individuals demonstrate courage is by challenging entrenched organizational practices that encourage homogeneity regardless of the popularity of their recommendations. One can also demonstrate courage by acknowledging their personal limitations and seeking contributions from colleagues.

Cognizance of bias- Culturally competent individuals understand the negative impacts of personal and organizational bias, which may include hampering objective decision-making. They endeavor to identify their bias and formulate ways of managing them (Moone, Croghan& Olson, 2016). They also seek to implement organizational policies aimed at promoting diversity in their working areas or surrounding.

Commitment-Culturally competent individuals understand that cultivating a diverse community takes time, and thus they have to pursue it for long. They, therefore, maintain fairness, belief, educate their colleagues while also learning from them on what it takes to achieve diversity and eliminate bias in an organization.

Curiosity- Culturally competent people are open-minded, possess a passion for learning, and seek exposure to different ideas and cultures.

Cultural intelligence- Knowledge, and understanding of other peoples’ cultures are also essential for cultural competence as it enables individuals to understand people from a different culture.  

 Significance of multicultural human services

Representation puts patients at ease- Cultural competence enables a human service professional to be proactive in assisting clients with personal and cultural practices whenever they recognize cultural sensitivities(Butler-Byrd, 2010). Professionals are likely to encounter issues such as the language barrier, and thus, clients feel more comfortable being served by a person who understands their situation.   

Improved patient satisfaction and results- Healthcare clients appreciate having their backgrounds understood and respected. A multicultural nurse who understands the client’s unique background can explain test results or diagnostics better than one who is not culturally competent.

Furthermore, cultural sensitivity, insight, and local knowledge results in high quality of services which attracts both clients and professionals into an organization.  More benefits of multicultural human services when working with diverse clients include it increases the range of services offered since people from different backgrounds have varying needs. An inclusive and culturally diverse healthcare setting creates an opportunity for the growth of not only the facility but also the professional growth of individuals.    

 Challenges experienced in a multicultural context

The challenges faced by professionals working in multicultural settings include the fact some colleagues may be reluctant to contribute during discussions which makes it difficult to understand and incorporate their perspectives when making decisions. Moreover, integration across multicultural groups might be difficult when there is prejudice or negative cultural stereotypes. Professional communication might also be a challenge due to misinterpretations or difficulty in understanding between people of different cultures or people speaking different languages (Butler-Byrd, 2010). Colleagues from different cultures may also introduce varying workplace attitudes, values, and etiquette. Different etiquette might work well in enhancing diversity but may also cause misunderstanding among team members. Individuals from different cultures may also have conflicting working styles which are likely to interfere with productivity.

Understanding social issues and circumstances from the peoples perspective requires skills. They should understand how their self evaluation affect clients perspective. Human service professional should also be mindful of adhering to professional ethics. There exist several fundamental values that guide human services professionals. They include respecting the welfare and dignity of all people, enhancing self-determination, encouraging cultural diversity, and advocating for social justice. More ethical standards for human service professionals involve acting with integrity, honesty, and maintaining professionalism (Fisher-Borne, Cain, & Martin, 2015). The values are focused on increasing responsibility to clients, public society, colleagues, employers, and the entire profession.   

Strategies to increase cultural competence

Attend diversity-focused conferences

A human service professional can develop cultural competency by getting training on diversity-related research and practice issues. Attending conferences helps individuals to not only obtain the training but also interact with people from different backgrounds which might help one to understand life from a different perspective. Talking to individuals and asking questions with respect and curiosity about their culture may help an individual to appreciate other diversity and make them open to embrace new ideas.   

Self-assessment and self-awareness

Cultural competency entails understanding yourself and other people better.  Reflecting on personal biases and prejudices will help an individual to develop the attitude and values necessary for one to interact and engage with people from a different background (Moone, Croghan& Olson, 2016). By assessing oneself, an individual realizes that everyone has their own biases, and thus human beings need to accommodate each other’s biases for peaceful coexistence. Experts recommend acknowledgment of one’s bias and advise that individuals identify and work on reducing their biases and prejudice.

Active listening

A human service professional who wishes to develop competencies is encouraged to engage in effective communication which involves speaking and active listening. When exchanging ideas with other people, active listening enables an individual to learn about the other party’s views and perspective of life. Listening entails feeling the other person’s emotions, empathizing with the person, and avoiding distractions.  Showing emotion acts as evidence of the real intent and involvement in the conversation.


Butler-Byrd, N. M. (2010). An African American supervisor’s reflections on multicultural supervision.Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 4(1), 11.

Moone, R. P., Croghan, C. F., & Olson, A. M. (2016). Why and how providers must build culturally competent, welcoming practices to serve LGBT elders. Generations, 40(2), 73-77.

Truong, M., Paradies, Y., & Priest, N. (2014). Interventions to improve cultural competence in healthcare: a systematic review of reviews. BMC health services research, 14(1), 99.Fisher-Borne, M., Cain, J. M., & Martin, S. L. (2015). From mastery to accountability: Cultural humility as an alternative to cultural competence. Social Work Education34(2), 165-181.

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