Workplace violence prevention

Workplace violence prevention

Too many times, Marilyn Knight has heard the same refrain after a violent workplace incident.

“Nothing could have been done.”

“We can only hope something like that never happens here.”

This mindset frustrates Knight, who has worked with organizations worldwide to develop violence prevention and crisis management programs. Something can be done, she says. Employers can take steps to reduce the risk of violence and educate workers.

“Quite frankly, ‘hope’ is not a strategy,” said Knight, who is president and CEO of the Novi, MI-based Incident Management Team. “There are indeed warning signs. There are things you can do. There are ways to mitigate threats, and you can take proactive steps so you’re not just sitting there at the mercy of something and hoping that somebody doesn’t do this.”

Workplace violence is an issue that safety professionals need to acknowledge and address. Although some organizations such as health care facilities and late-night retail establishments face increased risks for violence, the potential for a violent incident exists across organizations of all sizes, in all industries and in all geographic locations.

The outcome can be deadly. In 2014, workplace homicides claimed the lives of 403 people in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Although that figure is considerably lower than the 677 workplace homicides that occurred in 2000, it still represents 8.6 percent of 4,679 on-the-job fatalities in 2014. Meanwhile, OSHA has stated that almost 2 million people report workplace violence every year, and many more cases likely go unreported.

In response, federal and state agencies have stepped up their efforts to help organizations implement and maintain effective workplace violence prevention programs. Grant funding is available for some workplace violence prevention training programs. Although federal OSHA and state agencies don’t have specific regulatory requirements on workplace violence, the General Duty Clause allows agencies to cite organizations that neglect the issue.

“It’s important for organizations to make workplace violence prevention a priority because workers are a company’s most important asset, and their safety is paramount,” Michigan OSHA Director Martha Yoder said. “Workplace violence is a recognized hazard that can cause serious physical harm or death to employees, and it’s an employer’s duty to provide employees with a work environment that is free from known and recognized hazards.”

Start the conversation

Any safety professional who wants to speak about preventing workplace violence faces a difficult task. How can you speak frankly without scaring workers? How can you increase awareness about the topic without fostering anxiety or animosity?

Knight said the answer is simple: Emphasize that the program is about keeping people safe.

“We want to make sure that our entire workforce knows what early warning signs are, and that the program itself is seen as a benevolent and caring process,” Knight said. “It’s not search and destroy. It’s not to get rid of the people we don’t like. It is about identifying people who may be at risk so we can help them help themselves before they reach a point where they feel like they have nothing left to lose or nothing left to live for.”

Safety professionals shouldn’t feel that they must tackle workplace violence on their own. Knight recommends attending seminars or training sessions and bringing in a consultant or law-enforcement expert who could help design an effective program. Smaller workplaces may belong to larger associations within their industry that also may provide help.

Media reports often paint a false image of workplace violence, Knight claims. Headlines such as “Worker snaps” imply a lack of warning signs prior to the violent event. Rarely is that the case.

Minnesota OSHA offers more than a dozen indicators that may point toward an increased risk in worker violence, including:

  • Sudden, persistent complaining about unfair treatment
  • Blaming others for problems
  • Change in behavior or decline in job performance
  • Stated hope for something bad to happen to supervisor or co-worker
  • Increase in absenteeism
  • Refusal to accept criticism about work performance
  • Inability to manage feelings; outbursts of swearing or slamming doors

The danger isn’t limited to co-workers. Sometimes, individuals may show up to a domestic partner’s workplace with the intent to do harm. Or a customer may feel wronged by a particular company and want to take out his or her frustrations on employees.

Dr. Steve Albrecht is a security consultant and threat assessment expert based in San Diego. Albrecht said a program viewed by workers as benevolent and caring can help cultivate a collective safety effort.

“What I try to say to employees in training is, don’t ignore your gut instincts,” Albrecht said. “We have a process for this now. And you telling us something, even a small piece of information, could make a huge impact on keeping everybody else safe. I think more and more employees have the courage to do that because they now see it as an ‘us’ issue.

“My belief is that the subject has evolved to become a mature workplace issue – kind of like sexual harassment. So, you say, ‘We have a sexual harassment policy, we have an investigative response, we have consequences for the perpetrators and support for the victims.’

“Well, it’s the same thing for workplace violence. If you say or do something inappropriate at work, there is going to be an investigation, we are going to decide whether there are going to be consequences, and we’re going to provide support for the people who were around what happened.”

Three simple words

Experts say an effective workplace violence prevention program should include active shooter drills. Not unlike emergency drills for a fire or weather emergency, active shooter drills allow workers to practice what they would do if someone with a gun entered the facility.

Albrecht said workers should remember three simple words: Run, hide, fight. If able, workers should flee the building and bring as many colleagues as possible. Run to a safe location away from the building and then call the police. If exits are blocked, seek shelter in an enclosed room and barricade the door shut. Finally, as a last resort, be prepared to fight the shooter. Look for objects such as phones or laptops that may be used in self-defense. If there’s time, decide who will try to overtake the person and how it will take place.

“People really remember small things,” Albrecht said. “That’s why 911 works. That’s why ‘duck and cover’ works for an earthquake; or ‘stop, drop and roll’ for a fire. Well, three things for this: ‘Run, hide, fight.’ That is the national protocol. That’s what we’re trying to get people to do.”

However, organizations must be careful not to undo the progress by frightening their workers.

“I don’t want companies to overthink it,” Albrecht said. “I don’t want to make them create scenarios where people are afraid to come to work, or afraid to participate, or afraid this is going to happen. But say, ‘Look, file this away: Get out of the building as safely as possible, barricade as safely as possible, or fight back.’ Practice the drill without making it super dramatic.”

Workers often feel grateful hearing open, honest dialogue about workplace violence.

“A lot of employers are reluctant to do a program because they’re afraid that their workforce might think that there’s something going on they don’t know about,” Knight said. “But my experience has been, rather than being traumatized when a program is implemented, people feel empowered. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, my employer cares about me.’”


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Workplace Violence Training: Why Your Organization Needs to Do It

Workplace Violence Training: Why Your Organization Needs to Do It


Unfortunately, all we have to do to understand the prevalence of workplace violence in the U.S. is watch the evening news. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), over two million workers become workplace violence victims each year – ranging from verbal bullying to homicide – with the vast majority of incidents being unreported either out of embarrassment, fear of retaliation, or simply because the employees do not know they should report an incident. 

Organizations need to consider addressing this issue through training. I had the opportunity to chat with Todd Wulffson, managing partner at Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP, based in California. Wulffson has been focused on counseling and defending businesses in labor and employment matters for over 25 years. Prior to joining CDF, Wulffson served as general counsel and SVP of HR at Palace Entertainment, overseeing the SEC filings, legal and human resources issues for a company with over 12,000 employees at 40 locations in 11 states.

Please remember that Todd’s comments should not be construed as legal advice or pertaining to any specific factual situations. If you have specific detailed questions, they should be addressed directly with your friendly neighborhood labor attorney.

Todd, briefly describe “workplace violence” and how pervasive is it in business today.

[Wulffson] The Bureau of Justice defines workplace violence as “nonfatal violence (rape/sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault) against employed persons age 16 or older that occurred while they were at work or on duty. Attempts are included with completed victimizations.”

Seventy percent (70%) of U.S. workplaces have no formal program covering workplace violence; and only 4 percent of workplaces actually provide workplace violence-related training according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

What types of activities can organizations do to reduce the number of workplace violence incidents?

[Wulffson] The fundamental components of a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program are easy to list, but complicated in their application. They involve:

  • Background checks on all applicants – Only convictions can be considered, you cannot have a blanket prohibition on anyone with a conviction, and there are dozens of state-specific laws governing certain types of convictions, such as possession of small amounts of marijuana;
  • Monitoring of employees to spot problems before they arise – Serious privacy concerns come into play with workplace cameras, reading emails and monitoring employees off-duty;
  • Training and encouraging employees to provide necessary information – This includes making sure employees who obtain restraining orders let the employer know that the workplace is covered by the order; 
  • Conducting proper investigations of workplace incidents;
  • Consistent, effective discipline that reduces the threat of future incidents from the same person – Termination may be the right decision but it also may encourage violent behavior in response; and,
  • Routine training and drills to ensure that all employees know what they are supposed to do – For example, ‘run, hide or fight’ is fine – but run where, hide how and fight who?

I’m always reluctant to say “everyone” when it comes to who should receive training, but this seems like one of those topics where everyone needs to attend training. That being said, should everyone receive the same type of training?

[Wulffson] Everyone should receive training, because everyone needs to be aware of the dangers and how to spot warning signs. Managers should also receive a heightened level of training to emphasize their role, and their potential personal risk, in preventing workplace violence.

While we’re talking about workplace violence training, what are the most important objectives that organizations should address?

[Wulffson] The most important aspects of the actual training are:

  1. Making sure employees understand that they should report issues that may relate to or lead to workplace violence (the employer cannot mitigate risks that it does not know exist);
  1. Providing examples of the most common workplace violence (active shooters are rare, but verbal arguments in the workplace lead to violence all the time);
  1. Performing drills with the employees for common scenarios (think fire drills – except drill for responding to a gun in the workplace, suspicious character lurking around the facility or dealing with a coworker who is threatening to do something stupid).

Does offering workplace violence training provide a proactive defense against any litigation that might arise? Why or why not?

[Wulffson] Yes, having a proper policy and practice will minimize litigation. Most workplace violence incidents are covered by workers’ compensation, and neither federal law nor specific state laws explicitly require a workplace violence prevention program. However, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its state analogs, mandate that employers provide a workplace free of ‘known health and safety hazards,’ which easily applies to workplace violence incidents. Many states are actively working on legislating a requirement, and a very good argument can be made right now that it is negligent for employers not to have such programs in place.

It is also equally important to make sure that the program applies to the workplace and that employees are properly trained on how to implement and administer it. A policy downloaded from the Internet that no one reads is arguably worse than having no policy at all. It also can help dramatically in a lawsuit brought by a third-party (i.e. someone not confined to workers’ compensation) to be able to show that the business took reasonable steps to try to prevent workplace violence.

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Learning to be an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds

Learning to be an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds


  • What are allies?

  • Why should you be an ally to people from diverse backgrounds and oppressed groups?

  • How do you become an ally?

"Mind your own business."

Does that phrase sound familiar? Many of us heard that phrase in our families growing up.

As community builders, there may be many times when we really need to mind our own business, but often our work requires us to be involved with other people and make their business ours. We need to get to know people, find out what they're up against, and support them in their struggles. That's a lot of what allies do--get involved and support people, instead of staying on the sidelines.

If we want to develop effective partnerships and coalitions, we need to learn how to be active allies to each other's groups. If we want people to stand up for our concerns and interests, we need to understand and stand up for theirs. If we want to make changes in society so that oppression is not acceptable, we need to learn how to work together as each other's allies.

What is an ally? An ally is any person who supports, empowers, or stands up for another person or a group of people.

Everybody has had the experience of needing an ally. When you were a young person, did you ever have an adult blame you for something you didn't do? Did you ever have so much bad luck that you needed a lot of help from others to turn your situation around? Did you ever get targeted because you were different? Whatever your life story, there are probably dozens of times, when you could have used a person or group to help you when you were in a jam or when you were unfairly blamed, targeted, or left without resources.

In this section we are going to focus on how to be allies to people from diverse backgrounds and oppressed groups.

Why? Because people from targeted or oppressed groups are systematically bombarded by society with unfair treatment, hostility, violence, or other forms of discrimination. People who are targeted need support from those people who are not targeted in the same ways.

Why? Because in order to be an ally to people in groups that have been targeted, it is important to understand how you have been targeted in your life or how your family has been targeted in the past. The history of your own cultural group, often generations back, can influence the way you see other groups. If you are aware of how your own heritage and history has influenced you, you will be better equipped to be an ally to others.

On the other hand, if you are a person who is already aware of your own oppression, some of the information in this section may be familiar. Unfortunately however, our first-hand experience of oppression doesn't automatically teach us how to be allies to members of other groups. In order to work in close partnerships with other groups, we all have to learn how to be effective allies to each other.

Why do we become allies to others?

There are a few important reasons. First, it is in our own self-interest to be an ally. In the long-run, each of our own struggles is tied to everyone else's. In order to live in the kind of communities we hope for, in order to build real unity, and in order to reach our goals of building strong communities, we need to understand that we are all affected when any one person or group is not getting a fair deal or is not able to live a normal decent life. Second, being an ally is simply the right to do. If we want to live in communities that have a high moral standard, we ourselves need to start the ball rolling by doing what is right.

In this chapter we will talk about:

  • What allies are
  • Why community builders should learn to be allies to people from different cultural backgrounds and oppressed groups
  • How to become an ally to people from diverse backgrounds and oppressed groups

What are allies?

There are many different ways to be an ally.

  • A man tells his coworkers that he's no longer interested in telling or listening to any jokes that put down women.
  • An experienced manager gives a new hire from an oppressed group some tactical advice on how to work the system.
  • A individual helps a person of color or a working class person to run for office, through encouragement, fund-raising, and direct campaigning.
  • A college educated man works at a community center in a low-income neighborhood. He trains neighborhood people to lead community meetings, rather than leading the meetings himself.
  • Parents and teachers organize a program about teasing and targeting to help teenagers who are being harassed for being gay in their high school. They also launch a program in which all students can come to small groups to talk about their feelings about sexuality, sex roles, and other related topics.
  • A person stands up in a town meeting and speaks on behalf of an immigrant group that is being scapegoated for "taking jobs" from people who have lived in the community for a longer period of time.
  • A couple helps a teenager by taking him into their home because the teen's family is not able to take care of him.

Sometimes, it's just reaching out and caring; sometimes it means taking a stand against ethnic, sexist, or other oppressive jokes; sometimes it is thinking about a person and encouraging them to keep trying; it can mean helping a person get a seat on an influential board, it could also mean speaking out publicly against injustice; sometimes it means backing a person's leadership; sometimes it entails organizing a demonstration against discrimination.

Whatever the circumstances, as community members, we probably have a greater capacity to be effective allies to each other than we realize. We have the ability to think about each other, empower each other, and act on each other's behalf in our day-to-day lives or in emergency situations.

And like almost anything else, being an ally is a skill. Although being an ally often comes quite naturally, you can learn how to be an ally; and the more you do it the better you get at it.

If you are not a member of a particular cultural group, you have a role to play that is different from the members of that group. You may be able to intervene and be effective in supporting the group in ways that the group members may not.

As an ally, you have a perspective that is different than people directly involved. Have you ever watched an accident take place? Perhaps you stood and watched while two cars crashed. You would certainly have a different perspective on what happened than the people who were in the accident. If you are an ally, you are not directly targeted by that particular oppression or set of circumstances. You can see outside of it and present a different point of view. Your point of view can be helpful to people who are targeted. You are in a distinct position to help.

Additional important points to remember about being an ally:

  • You don't need to wait until someone invites you to become an ally--you can simply take the initiative. You may need to go slowly and learn as you go, but don't assume you are not wanted just because no one asked.
  • Anyone can be an ally to anyone else. If you are Polish, African American, White, Jewish, Catholic, Latino, Native American, Arab, Protestant, disabled, young, old, poor, gay, etc., you are entitled to be an ally and act on behalf of any group you choose.
  • As you learn to be an ally, remember, allies make mistakes! It is part of the job description. If you are going to get involved, you are going to make mistakes. It's either that or sit on the sidelines.
  • Being an ally is not only a one-way relationship. It is often reciprocal.

Why should you be an ally to people from oppressed groups?

As we said earlier, it is in our own self-interest to be an ally to people from diverse and oppressed groups. Ultimately, our own struggles are tied to everyone else's. Here is why:

  • We live in an increasingly diverse country. In order to organize, unify, and empower communities, people need to learn how act on each other's behalf.
  • When you give support to others, you are developing allies for your own groups and your own causes--in fact there is probably no better way to make an ally than to be one to someone else.
  • In order to address and change the systemic problems that cause oppression, you will need a lot of people who work together cooperatively and who are not vulnerable to divide-and-conquer tactics. Strong alliances between many groups can provide the necessary people power to make systemic changes.
  • When you are standing up against oppression, you are creating a moral standard in your community. You are putting people on notice that targeting any group will not be allowed.
  • Groups are frequently isolated from each other: "Us" from "them" and "them " from "us." Often groups that are targeted feel that no one cares about "their" issues and they can't get help. Often non-target groups feel that their lives are not impacted by racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, etc.; they feel powerless, numb, and distant. Being an ally is an antidote to isolation for those targeted by oppression and those in the targeting role--it empowers everyone involved.
  • Our communities need the voices, opinions, and help of people from many different groups. As we reach out to groups, they will be more likely to become involved in and give their energy to the bigger community.
  • Last, but not least, in the process of becoming an ally, you have an opportunity to regain your humanity in a society that can often be dehumanizing.

Why shouldn't you become an ally?

Not everyone should be an ally in all situations. There are times when our motivations are not useful or can even be detrimental.

Here are some examples:

  • Don't be an ally to diverse groups as a way of avoiding your own group. If you don't like your own group or background, you won't be effective with people in different groups. People will detect your lack of pride and will not trust you. In addition, you have to be open to understanding all groups
  • Don't be an ally to alleviate feelings of guilt. Alleviating guilt is not usually a sturdy long-term motivator. Lillian Roybal Rose, expert in cross-cultural communication, said in Impacts of Racism on White Americans, "If you feel guilty this can eventually lead to anger, and your behavior then becomes reactive and resentful." Rose goes on to draw an analogy between a guilty ally and a parent who is compensating for not meeting her children's long-term needs for attention by bringing the children big gifts. The gifts don't take care of what the children need; they are still not happy and the parent becomes angry because the children are not grateful and appreciative.
  • Don't be an ally in order to "help" people because you are "better" than they are. This may be obvious, but it is important. Sometimes people are motivated by the unconscious belief that oppression is the fault of the oppressed--that if members of oppressed groups were more clever, smart, or harder-working they would not have gotten themselves into this bad situation. If we think we are better than others we are merely reinforcing oppressive messages.

Okay. Now let's get down to the nuts and bolts of how to be an effective ally.

How do you become an ally?

Establish friendships with people who belong to groups that are not usually in the center of mainstream culture.

Establishing a friendship may not be a sensational occurrence that gets reported in newspapers, but it is probably one of the most significant things you can do as a community builder and ally. Each person needs to know they matter--friendship is one the most powerful tools we have to communicate that. One of the most damaging parts of oppression is the message given to people that they don't make a difference to other human beings. Friendship is the antidote to that message.

Also, friendship is the foundation for almost any other step in being an ally. For example, having a friendship with someone in a different cultural group can help you get a first -hand look at the problems people face in their day-to-day lives. Breaking down barriers and mistrust between groups usually occurs between two people, not just in the acts of legislation or policy-making.

So, how do you make friends with people from different cultural groups or oppressed groups? In most ways, it is the same as making friends with anyone. You spend time with people. You try to set up projects in which you can work together so that you can have day-to-day contact. You ask what people are interested in and you listen to the answers. You also open up about yourself and put your trust in the people you want to get to know.

Establishing friendships is a slow process which builds with each interaction. When you are making friends with people who have a different culture, or who have a history of oppression, it is important to be more sensitive, more patient, and make more of an effort. When people have been mistreated by society as a whole or by your group in particular, trust will take more time to establish. That is okay; you can't expect that people will trust you right away.

Also, if people tell you about their disappointments about you or other people in your group, try not to be defensive. It may be a sign that you have earned enough trust for people to be honest with you about the way they see things. You want people to be real with you.

Learn about each other's cultures and histories.

If you want to be useful to people of a cultural group, you should learn something about that group--it's history, religious beliefs, its strengths, or how its people have been oppressed. For example, if you want to be an ally to Japanese-Americans, then reading some of books about the U.S. Internment Camps during World War II would be one piece of your self-education plan.

Or, if you want to be an ally to elders, you might ask them what it's like to grow older. How are older people are treated in society? Are they taken seriously? Are they left out of celebrations? And what is it like to have to contend with health care cuts?

Examine your own prejudices.

In order to be effective allies to people that are different from ourselves, we have to face our own prejudices. Otherwise, unintentionally, we can act in ways that are not as helpful as we would like. We have to become aware of the ways that we unintentionally may be racist, anti -Semitic, sexist, homophobic, etc.

We all carry misinformation and stereotypes about people. Especially, when we are young, we acquire this misinformation in bits and pieces from TV, from listening to people talk, from watching the expressions on our parents' faces, and from the culture at large. We also witness people being treated badly because they are people of color or are poor, etc. All these experiences are confusing to young children; they are hurtful experiences that make us feel bad about ourselves and make us feel distant from both those who are targeted and those who are acting out the prejudiced behavior. These experiences, like any hurtful experience, get locked away inside us, but don't disappear. They provide us with a foundation of misunderstanding and fear upon which our prejudices are built.

We are not bad people because we acquired prejudices; no one requested to be misinformed or confused. But once you have them, what how can you undo these prejudices?

You can heal from them. Below are two different methods for overcoming your prejudice:

Re-evaluation Counseling Model:Reevaluation Counseling, an organization that promotes peer counseling, uses a model of healing from prejudices in which people take turns listening to each other. The theory of Reevaluation Counseling states that people are good and no one would develop prejudices unless they, themselves, had been hurt.

In this model, people establish a listening partnership or support group with others who have similar cultural backgrounds. In these groups or pairs, people take turns talking about how they acquired prejudices when they were young, while others listen without judgment.

People often start out by focusing on their experiences being targeted and hurt by others. As each person remembers their own battles with oppression, they are more equipped to face the ways in which other people have been targeted.

When people are ready, they tell about their experiences in acquiring prejudices, or in colluding with discriminatory practices. Surrounded by others who are also taking risks, people are able to overcome their defensiveness. As people tell their stories, they often feel their emotions. People sometimes cry, laugh, or tremble, as they thaw out the parts of themselves that have been frozen in unaware prejudice.

In a group, a man--we'll call him Steve--talked about how he became vulnerable to prejudiced attitudes. As a boy, Steve was consistently targeted for being shorter than other boys. At school no one intervened to help him. He came to expect that the adults would not stand up for him when he was teased or beat up.

He was told to "toughen up." Having to deal with these problems on his own, he began to expect that everyone would have to learn to take care of their problems by themselves. So when Steve's African-American or Jewish or Polish friends got targeted, he did not expect grown-ups to help with the situation. Nor did he feel that he could do anything to help the situation.

After meeting in a support group for awhile, Steve remembered what it had been like to be targeted for being short. He also remembered that early on, he had had friendships with people from many different cultural groups. Eventually, Steve talked and cried about being left on his own to struggle against cruelty directed at him and others.

He began to understand that he had gotten in the habit of distancing himself from others who needed help, and he grieved the loss of his earlier friendships with children of different races and cultures. He made a decision to not let his old experiences hold him back from making friends with people different from himself.

Lillian Roybal Rose, cross-cultural expert, says, in reference to healing from racism"...if White people only confront these issues on a cognitive basis, they will wind up as hostages of political correctness. They will be careful about what they say, but their actions will be rigid and self-conscious. When the process is emotional, as well as cognitive, the state of being an ally becomes a process of gaining one's own humanity. Then there is no fear, because there is no image to tear down, no posture to correct. The movement to a global ethnic point of view requires tremendous grieving. I encourage white people to not shrink from the emotional content of this process,"

What Lillian Roybal Rose says about how White people need to grieve about racism, can also apply to men needing to grieve about sexism, gentiles needing to grieve about anti -Semitism, wealthy or middle-class people needing to grieve about classism, and any other group that needs to overcome their unaware prejudices.

Study Circles Model:Study circles are small-group, democratic, peer-led discussions that provide a simple way to involve community members in genuine dialogue about issues such as race, immigration, and cultural differences. In these discussions people from different backgrounds talk openly about their experiences related to cultural differences, race, immigration, violence and other issues that divide people. Oftentimes in these discussions, people become more aware of their prejudices by listening to the experiences of others and by having a chance to talk about their own experiences and beliefs.

Study circles can take place within organizations such as schools, unions, or government agencies. They have also been used very successfully as large-scale community-wide programs in which sometimes thousands of people address these issues.

Take a stand when groups are targeted with unjust treatment.

Perhaps the most important way to be an ally is to act, speak out, or take a stand when a individual or group is being targeted.

There are a variety of methods and avenues which people use to take action when injustice is being aimed at a group. The one you choose will depend on the situation. It could be an ad in the paper, a boycott, a demonstration, or using behind-the-scenes negotiations to change the situation.

In Billings Montana, in December, 1993, a series of hate crimes occurred. Someone broke the windows of Jewish families who had menorahs in their windows. The town organized and distributed paper menorahs. All around town people put menorahs in their windows, taking a stand against anti-Semitism.

Taking a stand or speaking out against injustice usually requires courage, but it is the bottom line when it comes to being an ally.

Promote the leadership of people in groups that traditionally don't take leadership positions.

You can be an ally by promoting people into leadership roles. This empowers people, so they can take charge of lives, instead of being dependent on help from others. In particular, you can make leadership opportunities more available to immigrants, women, people of color, low-income people, people with disabilities, young people, and others.

You can promote leaders by providing informal or formal leadership training, mentoring them, by inviting individuals to take leadership roles, or by supporting them in elections for local offices.

The organization "Youth on Board" in Somerville, Massachusetts, trains and supports young people to be involved in decision-making that affects their lives. For example, people in Youth on Board:

  • Have helped establish city commissions for young people (run by youth)
  • Support young people to serve on boards of non-profits and school committees
  • Encourage foundations to create committees of young people who help make funding decisions
  • Have provided coaching to a group of young people to negotiate with architects who were designing their high school

In general, they help young people have a voice in any decision that affects their lives.

 In the example above, an entire organization's goal is to empower young people to lead. However, as individuals, we can also act on a one-to-one basis to support people to lead.

Once you have successfully promoted someone into a leadership position, they will need you as much as ever. Everyone needs support when they are in a leadership role, especially people who don't have a lot of experience. For example, you may need to listen to a leader as she thinks through the challenges she confronts. Or you may need to work with group members to teach them how to support their leader, or overcome any prejudices they may have about her.

Support different groups on the issues that affect them most directly.

This one is rather obvious--help people where they need help. If you ask a few questions or pay attention for a short time you can usually figure out what the key issues are for any group and then you can decide to offer assistance. A group may need short-term emergency aid, information about drug prevention, economic development consulting, or other kinds of help.

In the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago, where economic development is a key issue, a few non-profit organizations worked together to help Vietnamese immigrants become entrepreneurs. The Uptown Center Hull House and St. Augustine College with the Vietnamese Association of Illinois set up bilingual programs to teach Vietnamese immigrants skills in bookkeeping, marketing, licensing, customer relations, how to get a bank loan, and how to set up a business plan. The results have been highly successful. For example, Hero Phan went through the program and started Saigon Auto Repair which attracts customers from the Northside of Chicago and some suburbs. He started with plenty of experience as an auto mechanic, but had no experience operating a business in the U.S. The program to support entrepreneurs provided Phan with the skills he needed to make a go of it.

Support groups to gain power in their communities.

One of the most effective ways of being an ally is lending your financial, technical, or human resources to help groups gain long-term power in their communities. This may mean consulting with groups to help them write grants which will enable them to be independent, it may mean supporting a cultural group to gain more power in local politics, or in may mean helping people gain more control over their housing.

In Minneapolis, a Hmong and African-American neighborhood was displaced by a city-sponsored market-value housing and business development. The families were given some compensation, but were relocated throughout Minneapolis, thus dispersing their cultural communities. A Minneapolis group is organizing to support the Hmong and African -American families to help them obtain the right to buy or rent housing in their redeveloped neighborhood.

Help bring isolated or marginalized groups into the center of activity: don't leave groups isolated.

Every group should have contact with the larger community. When groups become isolated, they often need help. For example, young people who belong to gangs need help to become engaged in the mainstream community, so they don't get involved with drugs, violence, or other crimes. Also, sometimes new immigrant groups need to be welcomed and encouraged to interact and become involved in the larger community. Immigrants may need ESL classes, employment counseling, or relationships with people outside their group.

As allies we need to bring people and groups into the middle of things. Here is an example of helping a group with a disability become less isolated:

At Kinzie school in Chicago, a group of teachers and parents worked over a period of years to integrate a group of deaf students into mainstream classes with hearing students. The school started out with two entirely segregated programs. Slowly teachers started bringing the children together. Together, hearing and deaf students learned dance, studied drama, did mural painting, and participated in sports. Then, the hearing students began to learn how to sign. Eventually, the classrooms became fully integrated.

Work to change the system-wide problems that may be root causes of inequality and oppression.

People often direct their anger at groups different from themselves, rather than confront the inequalities in our government, economic, and other social systems which often cause much of their anger. It is easier to be angry at groups of people's scapegoating them--than it is to fix a system that doesn't work. Anger is a great motivator for action, but it's important that our anger and our actions are directed at the real causes of problems, which often lie outside of the target groups. Using the "But Why?" technique can help allies get to the root causes of what's going on.

How can an ally make a difference? You can start by looking carefully at how institutions and organizations affect those who are the disempowered, or who may be different from you. Your first step might be to vote for politicians, laws, ordinances, or policies that create conditions that promote tolerance, empower the disadvantaged, and enhance interaction among diverse groups.

Let's look at a couple of examples. Why are poor people poor? Is it because they are lazy? Or is one reason because they can't get the training that will help them obtain better employment? If that's the case, why is training not more accessible to them? Or if minority businesspeople can't afford to open a retail store in their neighborhood, is it because they don't know how to run a business, or is it because they can't get a business loan?

In both cases, some of the members of the disenfranchised group may be advocating for systems change themselves. Helpful changes might make it easier for a low-income person who lacks transportation to get a ride to appropriate training, or the changes might focus on a bank's lending practices. Whatever the change might be, it will be in those institutions and organizations that have a lot of influence and power over the target group, but which the target group has little influence with. And this is where allies often are able to step in, and use their power where it will do the most good, striking at the root causes of problems.

Get help: train other people to be allies.

As an individual you can accomplish a lot as an ally, but there are some bigger goals you can't accomplish by yourself. You can be much more effective if you work in a group with others. For example, you can organize a group that is committed to thinking about race issues and working to end racism. In such a group you can support each other to become effective allies and set goals to work together to handle racism in your community and make the community more aware of race issues.

Develop alliances among groups.

Being an ally is not usually a one-way relationship. It is more often reciprocal and can involve more groups than two. Partnerships and coalitions between Blacks and Jews, laborers and people on welfare, youth and elders, Latinos and Asians, and many more will make our communities stronger. Being an ally is an empowering role.

As you become an ally to an individual or group, invite them to become an ally to you or your group. As you do so, you will probably need to teach people how to be effective allies for you. Don't blame people if they don't already know how, or if they make mistakes--blaming people often scares them away. Learning to be an ally takes time.

In Summary

As we all learn how to be more committed and caring to each other, we will build a strong foundation for change in our communities. The stronger the trust and commitment people have, as individuals and between groups, the more effective they will be in uniting around important issues.

James Banks, a multicultural educator, says that living in a diverse society requires that we "know, care, and act." In other words, we need to learn about people and understand their issues, care about people with our hearts, and take the action necessary to make sure that people are treated well and that justice is done. That is, basically, what an ally does.

We all have the capacity to care deeply about each other. We all have the capacity to learn and take action. Why wait for someone else to invite you or give you permission to take the initiative? You can make a difference to people throughout your community. You can be an ally to anyone at any time, as an individual, or as a member of an organization. It will make a big difference, in the short and long run.

Marya Axner

Online Resources

Study, Discussion and Action on Issues of Race, Racism and Inclusion - a partial list of resources utilized and prepared by Yusef Mgeni.

Print Resources

Axner, M. (1999, January). Interview with Arthur Himmelman.

Banks, J.  (1997). Educating citizens in a multicultural society. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Brown, C., & Mazza, G. (1997). Healing into action. Washington, DC: National Coalition Building Institute.

Duvall, L. (1994). Respecting our differences: A guide to getting along in a changing world. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Press, Inc.

Ford, C. (1994). We can all get along: 50 steps you can take to end racism. New York, NY: Dell Publishing.

Flavin-McDonald, C., & McCoy, M. (1997). Facing the challenge of racism and race relations. Pomfret, CT: Topsfield Foundation.

Garrow, D.(1986). Bearing the Cross. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Helmer, D. (1996). When hate comes to town. Teaching Tolerance, 5, (2), 16-17.

Kaye, G., & Wolff, T. (1995). From the ground up!: A workbook on coalition building and community development. Amherst, MA: AHEC/Community Partners. (Available from Tom Wolff and Associates.)

McCoy, M., et al. (1997). Toward a more perfect union in an age of diversity: A guide for building stronger communities through public dialogue. Pomfret, CT: Topsfield Foundation.

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women's studies. Wellesley, MA: Center for Research on Women, Wellesley College.

Rose, L.  (1996). White identity and counseling white allies about racism. In B. P. Bowser & R. G. Hunt (Eds.), Impacts of racism on white Americans (pp. 24-47). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Ruenzel, D. (1996). Let's talk. Teaching Tolerance, 5, (1), 20-26.

Sutton, L. (1998). Teaching immigrants to succeed in business boosts the whole community. Doing Democracy, 5, (2), 6-7.

Takaki, R. (1993). A different mirror: A history of multicultural America. Boston: Little, Brown and Company

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Strategies and Activities for Reducing Racial Prejudice and Racism

 Strategies and Activities for Reducing Racial Prejudice and Racism

  • What is racial prejudice and racism?

  • Why is it important to reduce racial prejudice and racism?

  • How can you reduce racial prejudice and racism?

You're at a restaurant with a group of co-workers after work. You're telling them about your decision to buy a house in Western Heights and how excited you are. One of them says to you, "Are you sure want to move there? I hear that there is a lot of crime in that area, you know, robberies, drugs, and even murder. It's a Black neighborhood, you know, that's probably why. Did you consider Eastern Heights? You may fit in there better! It's a nice middle-class, White suburban neighborhood. Definitely no crime there, if you know what I mean." You're dumbfounded. You can't believe that someone is actually saying this. You start to tell her that she's wrong and ask her what made her think that way.

You think some more about what happened on your way home. You realize that your colleague is but one person; who knows how many other people out there think like her? It helps to change people's racial stereotypes and attitudes, but the only way real change can come about is if our institutions and systems implement policies that promote racial equality. You suddenly feel angry. What if redlining still goes on because real estate companies are filled with people who think like your colleague? What policies exist to stop such institutionalized prejudice?

The above encounter at the restaurant is an example of racial prejudice. Redlining (refusing to sell a property to someone based on his or her race), which is illegal, is an act of racism or institutionalized prejudice. It is important to understand the distinction between racial prejudice and racism because they are affected differently by issues related to power and, therefore, require different levels of involvement and effort to address.

There are many forms of prejudice and oppression, not just based on race, but on gender, class, sexual orientation, etc. This section does not attempt to deal with all the possible forms. The strategies and activities described here for addressing racial prejudice and racism can, however, provide ideas for dealing with other forms of discrimination. As you work on addressing such inequities, think also about ways to prevent them by encouraging and establishing inclusive practices right from the start. Imagine that this work resembles two sides of a coin. One side represents the negative values and practices you are against. The other side represents the positive values and practices you are for. In other words, start thinking about building inclusive communities while fighting the "isms" that exist in our society.

What is racial prejudice?

To be racially prejudiced means to have an unfavorable or discriminatory attitude or belief towards someone else or another group of people primarily on the basis of skin color or ethnicity. For example, John is prejudiced because he believes that the new Hmong refugees in his community are stupid and barbaric because they kill chickens in their backyard. He has reported this to the local police many times.

What do you think should be done in this situation? One possibility is to invite John and Cha (his Hmong neighbor) to a meeting to help John understand the Hmong culture and to help Cha understand the state laws and regulations about killing animals in your home. The meeting should be facilitated by someone who has experience with conflict management and is deemed credible by both John and Cha. This attempt could result in change at the individual level.

What is racism?

When racial prejudice is supported by institutions and laws, racism is present. For example, when the Hmong neighbor, Cha, is arrested and put in jail for killing chickens in the backyard and no attempt is made to understand why he did it or to explain the laws to him (because he does not speak English), racism is present.

What do you think should be done in this situation? One possibility is to invite the police chief and other officers to a discussion about how the newcomers to the community are affecting law enforcement. It is likely that they have tried to explain the laws to the newcomers so that these complaints can stop, but it's not working because of cultural and language barriers. You might want to try and work with the police and local Hmong leaders to develop a strategy for increasing the police department's cultural competence and, at the same time, increase the newcomers' understanding about the laws in this country. This attempt could result in change at the institutional level.

While we can never be entirely free of racial prejudice, we have to be able to identify and address racism because it perpetuates the unearned privileges of some and imposes undeserved restrictions on others. The economic well-being of a group of people is intertwined with racism and unless it is addressed intentionally and thoroughly, a community building effort will not reach its full potential.

Racial prejudice and racism have most been perpetrated in the U.S. by people of European descent against various other groups, such as African-Americans or Latinos. However, because of the shifts in our communities' demographics in some parts of the U.S., racial prejudice and racism also lead to tensions between people of non-European descent, such as between African Americans and Asian Americans. As the U.S. becomes more diverse and the world's residents more mobile, we must be prepared to act in order to reduce the potential for hostility due to differences in our physical traits and other characteristics.

No matter what culture or part of the world you're from, you've seen the results of racial prejudice and racism, even if you've never directly felt it aimed at you. The results of racial prejudice and racism can be seen everywhere: stereotypes, violence, underfunded schools, unemployment, police brutality, shabby housing, a disproportionate number of African-American men on death row, etc. Racial prejudice and racism can be found in many different areas of society: in the media, in service organizations, in the workplace, in neighborhoods, at school, in local government, on your block -- in virtually every area of daily life.

Why is it important to reduce racial prejudice and racism?

Here are some further reasons why racial prejudice and racism should be reduced:

  • They impede or prevent the object of racism from achieving his or her full potential as a human being.
  • They impede or prevent the object of racism from making his or her fullest contribution to society.
  • They impede or prevent the person or group engaging in racist actions from benefiting from the potential contributions of their victim, and, as a result, weaken the community as a whole.
  • They increase the present or eventual likelihood of retaliation by the object of racist actions.
  • They go against many of the democratic ideals upon which the United States and other democracies were founded.
  • Racism is illegal, in many cases.

Racial prejudice and racism feed on each other. If racial prejudice is not reduced, it could lead to racism, and if racism is not addressed, it could lead to more prejudice. This is why strategies to address discrimination on the basis of race should be thorough and multifaceted so that both individual attitudes and institutionalized practices are affected.

In addition, here are some examples of why racial prejudice and racism should be addressed in your community building effort if more than one racial or ethnic group is involved:

  • Every participant in your effort has his or her own understanding of the world and how it works. The European American residents in the neighborhood don't understand why the new immigrants from Guatemala have to stand at the street corner to get work (they are commonly referred to as day laborers). They think it is because they are either "illegal" or too lazy to find full-time jobs. Part of the problem is that the residents have not had the opportunity to debunk these stereotypes through direct interaction and contact with the day laborers and to hear their stories.
  • Every participant in your effort is polite, respectful, and empathetic towards each of the others, and understands that in order to address a common concern, they all have to work together; yet, they have not been able to engage a representative from the African American group in their community. It helps to understand why African Americans have traditionally been "left out" and how important it is to keep finding ways to engage them.
  • The board of directors of a local community center gets together to discuss ways to improve the center so that it is more welcoming to people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. They come up with ideas such as hiring more culturally diverse staff, posting notices in different languages, hosting food festivals, and celebrating various cultural events. It helps the participants to understand that even though they are taking the first steps to becoming culturally sensitive, their institutional policies may still be racist because they have not included anyone from the various racial and ethnic groups to participate in the strategic planning process, thereby not sharing their power.

Addressing racial prejudice and racism also means dealing with racial exclusion and injustice. Ultimately, this means that your community building effort is promoting democracy, a value of the United States and its Constitution.

In other words, there are both moral and sometimes legal reasons to act against racism. There are also strong pragmatic reasons as well. Racial prejudice and racism can harm not only the victims, but also the larger society, and indirectly the very people who are engaging in the acts. What's more, some important new research suggests that in some cases, racist actions can cause physiological harm to the victims. For example, a recent review of physiological literature concludes:

"Interethnic group and intraethnic group racism are significant stressors for many African-Americans. As such, intergroup and intragroup racism may play a role in the high rates of morbidity and mortality in this population." (Clark, Anderson, Clark, and Williams, 1999).

While we try not to moralize on the Community Tool Box, let's face it - racial prejudice and racism are just plain wrong.

How can you reduce racial prejudice and racism?

While we try in the Community Tool Box to offer easy, step-by-step instructions for community work, changing a group of people's prejudiced attitudes and an institution's racist actions isn't so simply carried out and it doesn't happen overnight. Reducing racial prejudice and racism is a complex task that varies from community to community, so it doesn't lend itself well to simple, 1-2-3 solutions that can be adopted and applied without having a thorough understanding of the context and environment. Something like this takes knowing your community well and choosing strategies that best fit your community's needs, history, context, energies, and resources.

With that in mind, we offer a variety of activities and strategies you can conduct in combating racial prejudice and racism so that you can decide which of these tactics might work best in your workplace, school, neighborhood, and community.

Note: None of these activities or strategies alone will lead to sustainable change at the individual, institutional, or community levels. In order for such change to occur, you have to take actions that will allow you to consistently affect the different levels over a long period of time.

Before you decide on the best activities and strategies, do the following:

  • Learn about your community (e.g., what groups live there, what has been the nature of their relationships, what incidents have occurred in the past due to racial prejudice or racism).
  • Document activities in your community that reflect racial prejudice or racism. Documentation will show proof that there is a problem, especially when the community is in denial that racism exists.
  • Invite a group of people to participate in the planning process, if appropriate (e.g., the advocates who always take action, the representatives of each group, the people who are affected).
  • Understand the depth of the problem (e.g., it's a new problem because of a group of newcomers, or it's an old problem that won't go away).
  • Identify and understand the kinds of policies that may need to be challenged.
  • Determine the short-term and long-term, if any, goals of your strategy (e.g., change people's attitudes and/or change an institutional policy).
  • Consider how far the selected strategy(ies) will take your community (e.g., as far as initial awareness, or all the way to electing officials from the under-represented groups).
  • Consider what existing resources you can build on and what additional assistance or resources you may need (e.g., anti-racism training, funding, or buy-in from the mayor).
  • Consider how much time you have (e.g., are you responding to a crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately, to the need to curb a festering issue, or to the desire to promote the value of diversity).
  • Review your strategies to ensure that they deal with racial prejudice and racism at the individual, community, and institutional levels, and they link dialogue to action.

Note: Appropriate structures and processes need to be set up in the community to implement these activities

Things You Can Do In The Workplace: From Reducing Racial Prejudice To Reducing Racism

Actively recruit and hire a racially and ethnically diverse staff.

While it's not enough just to fill your staff with a rainbow of people from different backgrounds, representation from a variety of groups is an important place to start. Contact minority organizations, social groups, networks, media, and places where people of different ethnic and cultural groups congregate or access information. If you use word-of-mouth as a recruitment tool, spread the word to members of those groups, or key contact people. Also, consider writing an equal-opportunity policy for hiring and promoting staff.

Actively recruit culturally and ethnically diverse board members, executives, and managers.

Racial prejudice can be reduced if the staff becomes diverse and raises the awareness of each other, but racism is reduced when power is shared by the leadership.

In order to move beyond racial prejudice and ensure inclusiveness, your organization’s board members and executives should reflect the communities or constituencies it serves. For instance, one group decided to reserve a certain number of slots on its governing board for representatives of the cultural and ethnic groups in the community.

Talk to the people of color on your staff and ask them what barriers or attitudes they face at work. Examine your newsletter or other publications and look out for negative portrayals, exclusion, or stereotypes.

Find out how you can improve your workplace for members from diverse racial and ethnic groups that work there. This will not only give you some practical ideas about what you need to work on, but it will also signify that the needs of every group is taken seriously. Look around at any artwork you have in your offices. Are any groups represented in a stereotypical way? Is there diversity in the people portrayed? For example, if all the people in the clip art used in your newsletter are European Americans, you should make an effort to use clip art that shows a bigger variety of people.

Form a permanent task force or committee dedicated to forming and monitoring a plan for promoting inclusion and fighting racism in your workplace.

Racial prejudice is reduced by developing relationships and ensuring that materials are culturally sensitive, but racism is reduced when there is a permanent task force or committee that becomes part of the governance structure to ensure inclusive and just institutional policies.

Things You Can Do In The Media: Reducing Racial Prejudice To Reducing Racism

Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper or contact your local TV and radio station when the coverage is biased or when there is no coverage at all.

The media plays a powerful role in conveying messages to the public. Racial prejudice exists in the media if, for instance, the reporters always reveal the cultural or ethnic background of a group of loitering youth when they are persons of color, but not otherwise. Writing a letter or contacting the local media stations will help increase their staff’s awareness about the implications of the prejudiced way in which they cover the news.

Organize a coalition of leaders from diverse communities and from the local media groups to discuss how they can work together to address the way people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds are presented in the media.

Having a long-term vision of how the community and media representatives can work together will help address racism at the institutional level. In order to do this, it is advisable to organize the community leaders and media representatives separately to discuss their issues and then facilitate a meeting between them. This will provide you and the facilitator a chance to know about the concerns and challenges before convening everyone.

Contact the local media and organize presentations.

You can contact and organize presentations to educate the staff about the values and traditions of diverse groups and help them understand the negative implications of their coverage related to race and ethnicity.

Pressure the local media organizations to develop and enforce policies for hiring staff from different racial and ethnic background.

You can help broker relationships between the media organizations and organizations that serve a specific cultural or ethnic group (e.g., NAACP, National Council of La Raza) so that networks can be developed to distribute job announcements.

In order to get information about how to cover different cultural and ethnic groups, media representatives can seek advice from the following:

Asian American Journalists Association

South Asian Journalists Association

National Association of Black Journalists

Things You Can Do in the Schools: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism

Form a diversity task force or club. Recognize holidays and events relating to a variety of cultural and ethnic groups.

This can be done in a school or university setting. Your diversity group can sponsor panel discussions, awareness activities, and cultural events to help prevent racism. Observing and conducting educational activities about events like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and other dates of significance to minority groups provides an opportunity for students to learn about the history of different cultural and ethnic groups and reduce misinformed or inaccurate perceptions.

Conduct field trips to historical places that represent struggles against racism or places that embody the values and traditions of another group of people.

Work to include anti-racism education in your school's curriculum. Develop a strategy to change racist policies in your school.

Recognizing the traditions of other cultural and ethnic groups and developing intercultural relationships will reduce racial prejudice. Examine and change school policies that perpetuate exclusion of some cultural or ethnic groups.

Develop procedures for dealing with racist acts and provide incentives (e.g., extra credits, special recognition) for efforts to promote cross-racial understanding.

Lobby your school board to make changes or additions to the curriculum to teach anti-racism and to provide seed grants to teachers or instructors to help them conduct research and activities about racism and to promote anti-racist values and principles.

Examine the recruitment, application, and admissions process for students, teachers, and staff from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Things You Can Do in Your Neighborhood: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism

Welcome all newcomers. Make "safe zone" signs or stickers.

Form a committee to welcome anyone who moves into your neighborhood regardless of what they look like. Send representatives from your committee or neighborhood association over to the new person's house with flowers, a fruit basket, or some other small gift and say, "We're glad you're living here. We welcome you." Some neighborhoods have made small signs or stickers for their homes that read, "We welcome good neighbors of all traditions, backgrounds, and faiths." These stand in contrast to the small signs in many yards that warn would-be intruders of the particular security system they've had installed.

Write articles about different cultures and their traditions in the neighborhood newsletter or newspaper. Place advertisements about different cultural celebrations.

Identify and change policies that are exclusive and maintain the status quo.

Making someone feel a part of your neighborhood helps to reduce racial prejudice. Addressing redlining (the illegal practice of a lending institution denying loans or restricting their number for certain areas of a community) reduces racist policies.

Organize a committee of lawyers, real-estate agents, lending institutions, and community and civil rights leaders to conduct a study and present the facts to the local government. If there is a neighborhood association or council, consider if it is representative of the neighborhood's demographics and diversity. If not, develop strategies for engaging leaders (formal and informal) from the underrepresented groups.

Things You Can Do in Your Community: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism

Organize a cleanup or rebuilding campaign to erase racist graffiti or eliminate vandalism. Put up "Hate Free Zones" signs in the community.

Doing something as a community to repair physical damage done by racism shows that the people in your town won't stand for such displays of hatred. It also can attract media attention to your cause and put a positive spin on a negative situation.

Organize a city-wide coalition of community leaders made up of representatives from the different cultural and ethnic groups, as well as different community sectors (e.g., police, schools, businesses, local government) to examine their existing policies and determine what needs to change.

Doing something as a group of residents demonstrates the individuals' commitment to reduce prejudice. Creating a governing body that represents institutional leaders helps to reduce racism at the institutional level.

Reviewing hiring and contracting policies in the city government will help change institutional norms that could be perpetuating economic disparities.

Identify and support new candidates from different racial and ethnic groups to run for city council and other community-wide governing bodies.

Conducting candidate forums and voter registration drives will increase residents' knowledge about the candidates and what they stand for, and increase the candidates' accountability to their constituents should they win.

St. Francis De Sales Central Elementary Cleanup Campaign
In Morgantown, West Virginia, a convenience store had been painted with racist skinhead graffiti. After their teacher showed them a video on how another town had fought hate, a 6th grade class at St. Francis De Sales Central Elementary decided that if the graffiti was left alone, it would give the impression that the community didn't care about racism. The kids got together and painted over the graffiti, earning them the thanks of the state Attorney General and publicizing their point.

Toronto Coalition Against Racism
In the summer of 1993, Toronto experienced a rise in increasingly violent racism, much of which was directed at Tamil immigrants. Much of the violence was being done by neo-Nazis. Eventually, a large protest was held, with 3,000 people led by the Tamil community chanting "Immigrants In! Nazis Out!"

The people who organized the protest went on to form the Toronto Coalition Against Racism. TCAR is a coalition of 50 community-based anti-racist and social justice organizations. According to its website, TCAR has been involved in many community actions since forming, including:

  • Opposing a ban placed on Filipino youth from entering a local mall
  • Working with the Somali community to oppose harassment by security guards and landlords at a housing complex
  • Mobilizing the public through forums and actions in defense of immigrant and refugee rights
  • Supporting the Tamil Resource Center as it struggled to rebuild its library and office after a firebombing in May 1995

Put together a community forum or town event on racism.

Give citizens a chance to talk about how racism affects your community can give you insight into how people feel on the subject, ideas on what you and others can do to combat racism, a chance to let people who share similar concerns to network with each other, and to publicly let racists know that your community will not stand for racism in its midst.

Create an intentional strategy that engages local government, business, education, media, and other leaders to demonstrate the commitment to eliminate racism in the institutions in your community.

Conducting public forums and events will increase awareness and reduce racial prejudice. Working in a coalition made up of cross-sector leaders and developing a clear plan will move your community towards a more sustainable effort to eliminate racism.

Bringing together leaders to create a strategy that deliberately, systematically, and explicitly deals with racism will enable your community to have a longer-term vision for a just and healthy community. Each institution should find a way for how it can contribute to eliminating racism in its policies and practices. The media should be involved to help get the word out. Credible leaders need to take a public stand to promote and validate the effort. Work to ensure that diversity is valued and included in the city government's mission statement

Make an effort to support events that celebrate the traditions of different cultural and ethnic groups.

This can be as simple as including such events on the community calendar and actively publicizing them. Your organization can also co-sponsor these events to show its support.

Organize vigils, anti-racism demonstrations, protests, or rallies.

If a racist group or incident occurred in your community, organizing a vigil, demonstration or public protest will not only give you and others some effective way to respond, but also help give hope to your community by having everyone come.

After September 11, various immigrant communities held vigils to express their sympathy for the World Trade Center and Pentagon victims and their families, speak out against anti-Muslim acts, and show their commitment and loyalty to the United States.

The Center for Healthy Communities in Dayton, Ohio hosted a community forum titled "Race, Ethnicity and Public Policy: A Community Dialogue" in the fall of 1997. This community forum gave a panel of local expert as well as members of the audience the chance to ask mayoral and city commission candidates questions about the impact of racism on the Dayton community and the role it plays in local public policy decisions. More than 150 people attended, including state and local officials, community organizers, clergy, citizens, and students.

South Orange/Maplewood Coalition on Race's long-term vision for an integrated community
The Coalition developed strategies at the individual, community, and institutional levels to foster and support an integrated neighborhood. The Coalition is planning to conduct study circles to provide residents an opportunity to build relationships. A community-wide activity was to invite Beverly Daniel Tatum to a community forum to talk about racism and how it affects our children's education. The Coalition worked with local bookstores to first sell Ms. Tatum's book at a reduced cost and to publicize the community forum. During the community forum after Ms. Tatum's presentation, small group discussions were held by facilitators that the Coalition provided. At the institutional level, there is loan program for homebuyers that is designed to encourage and improve neighborhood diversity in particular areas of the community where one race is underrepresented. They also worked closely with the school district to "reinvent" a school to become a "Lab school," which has attracted a more diverse student population to the school, and increased demand among people of different races for the neighborhood around the school.

Things You Can Do As An Individual: Fighting Racial Prejudice to Fighting Racism

You don't have to form a group to do something about racism. As an individual, there are many steps that you can take to reduce another person's prejudice, including:

  • Make a commitment to speak up when you hear racial slurs or remarks that signal racial prejudice.
  • Take advantage of events and other informational materials during Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month and make it a point to learn something new about different cultures.
  • Think about ways to improve your workplace to promote racial understand and equity. Be proactive about making suggestions.
  • If you are a parent, give your child opportunities to attend events about other cultures. Integrate different traditions about parenting and children's festivals into your parent teacher association and your child's school. Work with the teachers to coordinate such opportunities.

Changing people's attitudes and institutional practices is hard but necessary work. A commitment among individuals, organizations, and institutions to valuing diversity is essential for healthy communities. Changes will not happen overnight, but you can begin to take small steps towards making a difference, as suggested in this section. These small steps build the foundation for more organized, deeper, and larger efforts to build inclusive communities, a topic that will be discussed in the next section of this chapter.

Chris Hampton
Kien Lee

Online Resources

Brown University Training MaterialsPower and Privilege Issues with Culturally-Diverse Communities in Research: New Challenges of Partnership and Collaborative Research. The Northeast Education Partnership provides online access to PowerPoint training slides on topics in research ethics and cultural competence in environmental research. These have been created for professionals/students in environmental sciences, health, and policy; and community-based research.

Political Research Associates

Center for Democratic Renewal. (1995). Responding to hate groups: Ten points to remember.

Center for Democratic Renewal. (1995). Responding to hate-motivated activity: Monitoring , research, and security.

Southern Poverty Law Center

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Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Executive summary

This study investigated the contribution made by cross-cultural training to the workplace

performance of vocational education and training (VET) graduates and examined current practice

in its delivery in VET. The study also sought the views of employers on cultural competence and

the role of cross-cultural training.

Research background and rationale

The role of education systems in contributing to social cohesion has been recognised nationally and

internationally in recent years (McGaw 2006), as has the importance of social capital to human

capital (Putnam 2000). In multicultural societies in particular, social capital is underpinned by

cultural competence, broadly defined as the ability to work effectively in situations characterised by

cultural diversity. A review of the Australian and international literature for this study highlighted a

broad recognition of the importance of cross-cultural training in the development of cultural

competence and social capital.

A recent national study of cross-cultural training in the Australian public sector completed by the

author found the training to be effective in improving workplace performance and in contributing

to multicultural policy objectives (Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

2006). In that study, as in this, the majority of employers surveyed predicted increased demand for

cultural competence and cross-cultural training over the next five years in response to the

expanding cultural diversity of employees and customers. Increasing globalisation of business

practices was also predicted to affect demand for cultural competence and cross-cultural training.

Most employers surveyed included cultural competence in career development strategies and

planned to conduct cross-cultural training programs. Cultural competence was also included in

recruitment and performance appraisal processes.

As the need for cultural competence becomes more widely recognised, employers in many

industries will increasingly look for cultural competence among new recruits and for ways to

develop it among existing staff. In anticipation of these trends and demands, this report set out to

indentify what the VET sector needs to do to better understand the nature, scope and effectiveness

of its current and potential capacity to provide cross-cultural training. Decisions to include crosscultural

training in VET qualifications require evidence that it contributes to the performance of

learners in their workplaces and careers. A literature review, wide-ranging consultations with key

stakeholders and online surveys of VET graduates, educators and employers were conducted to

address four research questions:

􀂗 How has cross-cultural training undertaken by VET students contributed to their performance

in the workplace and benefited their employers?

􀂗 What is the current extent and range of practices for teaching VET students cultural

understanding and developing their cultural competence for employment?

􀂗 What approaches and models of cross-cultural training provision are most effective in particular

occupational and industry domains and settings?

􀂗 What strategies and processes will best enable VET providers to develop and offer vocational

training leading to cultural competence?


An online survey of VET graduates who had completed cross-cultural training as part of their

qualification in the last five years generated 134 responses. The graduates had received an average of

31 hours of training in cross-cultural communication and working with cultural diversity. About 80%

were employees in government agencies or private enterprises, the rest working for community and

voluntary organisations. The cross-cultural training undertaken focused on general awareness,

specific cultures and working with or managing diversity within 12 national training packages.

Sixty-one managers and teachers from 38 training providers who were identified as providing crosscultural

training within the relevant training packages responded to an online survey. Cross-cultural

training was also provided as part of English language training, staff induction, professional

development, Aboriginal cultural awareness and community programs. The most common

objectives of cross-cultural training were to improve: customer service; workplace communication;

community relationships; and compliance with equity policies and laws.

A telephone survey was conducted with executives and middle managers from 34 medium-to-large

organisations (18 private, 16 public sector), representing a wide range of industries, and four

industry skills councils, covering the relevant national training packages.

Contribution of cross-cultural training to VET graduates’

workplace performance

Almost 60% of graduates who responded rated their overall satisfaction with their cross-cultural

training as above average or excellent. Around 70% stated that the training had greatly or very

greatly improved their: understanding of cultural diversity issues; cultural self-awareness; knowledge

of cross-cultural communication skills; understanding of other cultures; and confidence in dealing

with people from different cultures. Over 80% of graduates rated highly the importance of cultural

competence for working with culturally diverse co-workers, clients and customers. These findings

were supported by the graduates’ qualitative responses, which commonly reported increased

awareness, acceptance, recognition, understanding and greater patience and empathy.

These positive messages are reinforced by the findings that over 60% of graduates would like

further cross-cultural training, 85% would recommend cross-cultural training to others, and 89%

believe cross-cultural training should be mandatory for all employees in customer contact positions.

The findings from the graduate survey are similar to those reported in the survey for the Standing

Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (2006) report. Together, the two studies

confirm the effectiveness and contribution of cross-cultural training, while identifying areas for

improvement in the design, duration and approaches of cross-cultural training, organisational

support and follow-up, and the professional development of cross-cultural training facilitators.

Current practice in cross-cultural training in VET

The VET providers’ ratings of perceived student satisfaction with their cross-cultural training and

their improvements in workplace performance were very similar to those given by the graduates

themselves. Providers’ ratings of the degrees of importance placed on cultural competence also

closely matched the ratings given by graduates and employers. This general congruence of ratings

across the three groups lends validity to the results, as does their close similarity to the findings of

the public sector study (Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 2006).

Over 90% of VET providers who responded expected increased demand over the next five years

from employers for VET graduates to be culturally competent, particularly in the areas of

community, health, business, government, hospitality, tourism and training. However, the current

scope of cross-cultural training provision appears limited. Fewer than 23% of the training providers

identified as providing qualifications that include diversity units responded, with several declining to

10 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

participate because they did not provide cross-cultural training as such or had not done so in the

study period of the previous five years.

While over two-thirds of the 31 responding VET cross-cultural trainers had more than six years

cross-cultural training experience, 75% had not received any formal training in this area. Eight in

ten indicated they would like professional development and about half recommended the

development of training resources reflecting the Australian context. They also identified areas for

further research and the need for more consistency in policy and provision of cross-cultural

training in the VET system. Their responses closely matched those of trainers in the Standing

Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (2006) study.

Cross-cultural training effectiveness

The study identified numerous models and learning pathways for cross-cultural training, most of

which recognise that acquiring cultural competence is a lifelong process. While there are guidelines

and criteria for training and trainer effectiveness, the cross-cultural training field is diverse and

complex and, furthermore, contains no universal benchmarks for quality or outcomes of training.

The most common and most highly rated types of cross-cultural training undertaken by the

responding graduates were general cultural awareness, working with or managing cultural diversity

and culture-specific training. The most highly rated training approaches balanced lecturing and

interactive exercises or combined lecturing and fieldwork. The knowledge and skills of the trainers

was also rated as one of the best aspects of cross-cultural training.

Satisfaction ratings by graduates for elective cross-cultural training units were 12% higher than for

core units. While three-quarters of responding graduates said the duration of cross-cultural training

was appropriate, half suggested that increased time would improve the training. They also

recommended increased interaction and content.

Strategies for developing cultural competence through VET

Given the positive views on the value of cultural competence among graduates and employers and

the significant performance benefits reported, the VET sector should give serious consideration to

expanding the current cross-cultural training provision. The policy, curriculum and quality

frameworks are already in place. Support for the engagement and professional development of

cross-cultural training facilitators would help to ensure capacity and capability to meet the

anticipated growth in demand. A study of the quality and availability of existing training resources

would assist in identifying areas for new resource development.

VET organisations need to be encouraged to formally review their current practices in the

provision of cross-cultural training, in terms of student and industry needs. Using these research

findings as a basis for benchmarking, longitudinal evaluations of the vocational contribution of

cross-cultural training should be encouraged. The design and delivery of cross-cultural training

should also include strategies to increase the teaching and learning focus on the deeper cognitive

and attitudinal objectives of cross-cultural training and to ensure support for participants to

continue their learning and apply it in their workplaces and communities.


The findings of this study provide further evidence of the importance of cultural competence for

individual and organisational effectiveness and for the creation and maintenance of social capital in

Australia’s multicultural society. The findings also demonstrate the effectiveness of cross-cultural

training and its important role in developing cultural competence. The Australian VET sector, in

consultation with industry, has a significant role to play in the further development and

sustainability of the nation’s social capital.


Background and introduction

Cross-cultural training in Australia

In 2003 the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nominated the

need for work on the capacity of education systems to contribute to social cohesion as a major

policy issue (McGaw 2006). The Australian vocational education and training (VET) system

confirmed its role in fostering equity and diversity in its national strategy for VET 2004–2010

(ANTA 2004).

Underlying social cohesion and equity and diversity is the ‘social capital’ of societies.

Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties

of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals—social networks and

the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. (Putnam 2000, p.19)

Social capital is seen to take two forms. Bonding social capital is established among relatively

homogeneous groups. Bridging social capital is established between heterogeneous groups,

including ethnic groups (Putnam 2000) and is of particular significance to social cohesion in a

multicultural society and its workplaces. A recent study of the social costs and benefits of migration

observed that, while there is greater acceptance of the benefits of migration and cultural diversity,

‘at the heart of any consideration of social capital is the question of how well Australia is currently

accommodating ethnic groups and categories of visa entrants’ (Carrington, McIntosh & Walmsley

2007, p.55).

VET graduates work in many occupations and environments where the cultural diversity of coworkers

and customers directly influences their performance. Employers increasingly emphasise the

importance of communication and behavioural skills as critical to employability (Department of

Education, Science and Training 2002) and consequently provide cross-cultural training for

employees (Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 2006). There is increased

awareness of and interest in the concept of cultural competence, particularly in human service

industries, such as health and community care (Johnstone & Kanitsaki 2005).

A national longitudinal study produced statistically significant evidence that cross-cultural training is

of direct benefit to individual employees and organisations across the public sector and in

community organisations (Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 2006).

Almost 90% of employees who had undertaken cross-cultural training recommended that it should

be compulsory for staff in customer service positions. Nearly 70% believed it should be

compulsory for all staff. The study also found high levels of support for cross-cultural training, with

74% of organisations surveyed predicting increased or greatly increased demand for cross-cultural

training over the next five years.

These developments and findings confirm the positive impact of cross-cultural training on job

performance and its value to employees. As the need for cultural competence becomes more widely

recognised as a contributing factor to social and human capital, employers in many industries can

be expected to look increasingly for cultural competence among new recruits and for ways for

developing it among existing staff.

12 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance


While the cross-cultural training field is diverse and complex, there is general agreement on the

following broad definitions of culture and cultural competence.

The term ‘culture’ is used in this report in the anthropological sense and refers to the total learned

and transmitted cultural domain of a social group, including social differences stemming from

nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, arts, language, gender and generational differences, histories and

socioeconomic status.

The term ‘cultural competence’ (also known as cross-cultural or intercultural competence or

competency) has come into increased use in recent years, particularly in the health industry, where

it has been defined as:

A set of congruent behaviours, attitudes and policies that come together in a system, agency,

or amongst professionals and enables that system, agency or those professionals to work

effectively in cross-cultural situations … A culturally competent system of care acknowledges

and incorporates—at all levels—the importance of culture, the assessment of cross-cultural

relations, vigilance towards the dynamics that result from cultural differences, the expansion

of cultural knowledge, and the adaptation of services to meet culturally-unique needs.

(Cross et al. 1989, pp.iv–v)

In this report, the term ‘cultural competence’ refers to the awareness, knowledge, skills, practices

and processes needed by individuals, professions, organisations and systems to function effectively

and appropriately in situations characterised by cultural diversity in general and, in particular, in

interactions with people from different cultures.

The term ‘cross-cultural training’ refers to all modes of training and education aimed at developing

cultural competence. It includes workshops, seminars, training courses, coaching, mentoring and

formal qualifications. While the terms ‘cross-cultural’ and ‘intercultural’ are either used

interchangeably or seen to carry different connotations, this report uses the term ‘cross-cultural’

and does not make a distinction between the terms.

Cultural competence and cross-cultural training and the

VET system

In the past two decades, the concepts and practices of diversity management, cultural competence

and cross-cultural training have been increasingly considered within the broader context of

Australian social and economic trends, with a particular focus on social inclusion and cohesion and

organisational development. This mirrors trends in the United Kingdom, the United States and the

European Union (Bikson & Law 1995; Chief Executive 2003; Hassid 2002; Valjus 2002; Weber

2006). As discussed above, there is also increasing demand for cross-cultural training and

recognition of the roles that education systems play in developing both social capital and human

capital (McGaw 2006).

While cross-cultural training has traditionally been perceived as a separate and specialised area of

development, in the context of social cohesion it needs to be seen as an important element in the

development of cultural competence as a generic capability.

In recognition of these drivers and trends and in response to industry advice, the Australian VET

sector has developed 12 national training packages that incorporate units of competency in working

with and managing diversity, some of which have been imported into other training packages

(National Training Information Service 2007; Department of Immigration and Multicultural and

Indigenous Affairs 2005; Manidis 2005). All of these units can be delivered with varying degrees of

focus on cultural diversity and cross-cultural communication. However, this study found that, for


many employers and educators, the position of cross-cultural training in training and development

frameworks and strategies was generally not clear and that cultural competence was not yet

considered a generic skill in most industries. While the concept of ‘cultural competence’ is

recognised in several service industries, many of the VET and employer representatives consulted

for this study had not previously heard of it, although they agreed that it was a useful concept and

that cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication skills could be seen as competencies.

Units of competency addressing cultural diversity are not commonly included as core units. VET

trainers consulted for this and the public sector study (Standing Committee on Immigration and

Multicultural Affairs 2006) often expressed reluctance to go beyond general references to diversity

matters within their training programs, a situation usually attributable to a lack of expertise,

resources and the confidence to deal with the complex issues raised by diversity.

Cultural competence as such does not feature strongly in the VET literature, which is concerned

mainly with equity and diversity in the broader sense. The national VET strategy 1998–2003

emphasised student equity, declaring that VET ‘is viewed as a means through which to overcome

social inequality and achieve an informed and just society (ANTA 1998, p.2). During development

of the 2004–10 national VET strategy, support was evinced for a model that would also address the

business case for managing equity and diversity and enable VET providers ‘to model good practice

in equity and diversity management and to prepare students with the knowledge and behavioural

skills to operate effectively, ethically and equitably in diverse workplaces, communities and markets’

(Bean 2004, p.285).

The current National Strategy for VET 2004–2010 recommended that:

The learning needs of people who face barriers due to age, gender, cultural difference,

language, literacy, numeracy, cost, unemployment, imprisonment or isolation are addressed

through an integrated diversity management approach. (ANTA 2004, p.3)

In support of this approach, several studies and resource development projects focused on the

equity strategies of training providers (McIntyre 2004 et al.; Miralles 2004; Robertson & Schlanders

2004). A guide to cultural diversity management resources for VET sector educators and managers

(Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs 2005) described learning

pathways, beginning with cultural awareness at the lower certificate levels, to the leadership and

management of culturally inclusive organisational strategies at diploma levels.

Effectiveness of cross-cultural training

Cross-cultural training aims to enable participants to develop the awareness, knowledge and skills

required to be culturally competent in cross-cultural situations (Pusch 1981). As with any form of

training, cross-cultural training, to be effective, must meet its intended objectives, include some

measure of this attainment, actively involve the adult learner and be based on a model or theory of

culture that is linked to the objectives. The critical factors in meeting these requirements are

effective trainers, good design and suitable resources.

The literature has discussed the attributes of effective cross-cultural training in some detail (Landis,

Bennett & Bennett 2004; Paige 1993; Porter & Samovar 1991). There is general agreement that

cross-cultural training has a deeper educative role because of the pervasiveness of culture in all

human interaction and that ‘intercultural trainers are concerned with human relations … and

making learners aware of the impact of culture on their lives’ (Paige 1993, p.149). Paige has also

referred to the ‘transformative nature’ of good cross-cultural training. Indeed, many practitioners

refuse to define what they do as ‘training’, as they see the development of cultural understanding

and cultural competence as a lifelong process and their roles as far more complex than those of

knowledge transfer or skill development.

14 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Cross-cultural trainers face unique challenges in acquiring the relevant competencies. While all

trainers need to be sensitive to the needs of learners, cross-cultural trainers must be able to deal

with the intensity of emotions that cultural differences can arouse in participants, including

frustration, defensiveness or anger. Participants are typically faced with information and situations

that may challenge their sense of cultural identity and personal beliefs. The trainer must help

participants to understand and recognise other ways of seeing—without sacrificing their own

integrity—and assist them to function effectively in situations demanding accommodation of two

or more cultural frames of reference.

The design of cross-cultural training programs begins with the recognition of adult learning

principles, particularly those relating to participants understanding the reasons for learning,

participants being involved in their own learning and their being protected from surprises,

embarrassment or confusion. Some of the basic criteria for effective cross-cultural training program

design are that it should be of adequate duration to meet its objectives, be provided in a timely

manner relative to the participants’ needs and tailored to the participants (Graf 2004), principles

shared across all training domains.

Although no single study has been able to determine which method of cross-cultural training is most

effective or which methods are most effective for particular situations, the literature uniformly points

to the superiority of the experiential and interactive approach over the didactic approach (Bennett

1986; Bhawuk & Brislin 2000; Black & Mendenhall 1990; Kohls & Brussow 1994; Paige 1993).

Reflecting the emphasis on interactivity and experience, two recent studies (Berardo & Simons

2004; Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 2006) found that the main

tools used by cross-cultural trainers are: models for understanding culture; case studies; exercises;

simulations; role plays; games; and intensive group activities. Both studies reported strong demand

for the development of new resources, particularly in relation to conflict resolution, working in

multicultural settings, establishing the business case for cultural competence and examining the role

of culture in power, privilege and politics.

All of the above studies conclude that the cross-cultural training facilitator’s skills and methods of

presentation are more important than the quality or extent of the training resources.

… the message can precipitate some changes in cultural diversity sensitivity, but the

methodology used to reduce resistance and nurture and reinforce the message has a greater

influence. (Brown 2004, p.325)

Several studies have found positive correlations between cross-cultural training and: improvement

in participants’ interpersonal relationships; changes in their perception of their own and other

cultures; a reduction in their experience of culture shock or intercultural conflict; increased capacity

to recognise and negotiate any differences arising from cultural background so as to achieve a

positive outcome; and improvement in their performance on the job (Black & Mendenhall 1990;

Hammer, Bennett & Wiseman 2003; Bawhuk & Brislin 2000; Martin & Nakayama 2004).

Any comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of cross-cultural training must also take into

account the subjective nature of cross-cultural experiences and the psychological effects of

experiential training. It is far easier to measure outputs such as types and levels of activity than it is

to assess levels of awareness and acceptance, perceived relevance to duties, transference of skills

and knowledge to the workplace, and the influence of cross-cultural training on team and

organisational cultures.

As the literature attests, because of the ever-changing nature of cultures and the unpredictability of

individuals, the acquisition of cultural competence is a lifelong learning process, at no point in

which can the learner confidently state that they are fully competent. Furthermore, while crosscultural

training has the potential to transform participants’ views of their own and other cultures,

its influences may not be immediately perceptible, particularly during or immediately after the

training program.


A review of several studies indicates that cross-cultural training seems to be effective in enhancing

knowledge and satisfaction, but is much less effective in changing behaviour and attitudes, although

it is acknowledged that measuring such changes is difficult (Kohls & Brassow 1994). The Standing

Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs study (2006) involved 195 training providers

and employers and conducted pre-training and immediate post-training evaluation surveys of 515

public sector employees who had undertaken cross-cultural training. Of these employees, 145

responded to a second survey five to ten months after completing cross-cultural training. A

comparison of immediate post-training and the subsequent evaluations found that the crosscultural

training had produced statistically significant differences in three areas:

􀂗 understanding of organisational cultural diversity policies and issues (12.3% increase)

􀂗 knowledge of cross-cultural communication skills (17.1% increase)

􀂗 knowledge and understanding of the customs, values and beliefs of diverse cultures (16.7%


Later in this report comparisons are made between the findings from the current study and the

Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs study, both being national in scope

and both focused on the VET sector and the contribution of cross-cultural training to job

performance. Previous national and international studies of cross-cultural training were

predominantly limited to specific occupational fields or focused on specific areas such as

Indigenous cultural issues or health services and were generally small in scale. Quantitative studies

have proved inconclusive, leading to a stronger emphasis on qualitative data and a study of

participants at various points in their development of cultural competence (Black & Mendenhall

1990; Bawhuk & Brislin 2000; Hammer, Bennett & Wiseman 2003; Martin & Nakayama 2004).

Research objectives and methodology

The literature review and consultations identified a number of research challenges to be taken into

account in the design and analysis processes. There is considerable diversity in cross-cultural

training design, delivery, approaches, trainer qualities and evaluation methodology. Participants and

trainers also bring a great diversity of beliefs, perceptions, needs, purposes and expectations to

cross-cultural training, which will influence their experiences and evaluations of the training. The

degree to which participants are able to apply their learning to job performance is conditional on

their personal motivations and the level of organisational support for the development and

application of cultural competence. Because informal workplace learning has been shown to be an

important element of skill development (Figgis et al. 2006), it is difficult to assess its contribution

and that of other non-training experiences to an individual’s cultural competence.

The main objective of the study was to determine the contribution of cross-cultural training

undertaken by VET students to their subsequent workplace performance. The study also aimed to

review the current practice, status and scope of cross-cultural training provided by VET

organisations, with a focus on programs within the 12 national training packages that include units

of competency in diversity.1

Consultations and surveys were designed to address four research questions.

􀂗 How has cross-cultural training undertaken by VET students contributed to their performance

in the workplace and benefited their employers?

􀂗 What is the current extent and range of practices for teaching VET students cultural

understanding and developing their cultural competence for employment?

1 The 12 training packages are: Business Services, Community Recreation, Community Services, Conservation,

Correctional Services, Entertainment, Health, Hospitality, Tourism, Public Safety, Public Services and Training

and Assessment.

16 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

􀂗 What approaches and models of cross-cultural training provision are most effective in particular

occupational and industry domains and settings?

􀂗 What strategies and processes will best enable VET providers to develop and offer vocational

training leading to cultural competence?

The project comprised three stages of research, beginning with a literature review of cultural

awareness and cultural diversity training in the Australian VET sector for the period 2001–06,

discussed above.

The second stage involved consultations with key VET sector stakeholders in multicultural

education, curriculum and program delivery about current practice and issues in cross-cultural

training. This was followed by an online survey to examine current practice in cross-cultural

training delivery and to profile individual cross-cultural training trainers working within the VET

system. Invitations to participate in the survey were sent to 166 registered training organisations

listed by the National Training Information Service as delivering qualifications that include units of

competency in diversity in the 12 national training packages of interest to this study. Sixty-one

responses, around 23% of the survey sample, were received from managers, teachers, coordinators

and project officers employed by 38 large and small public and private sector training organisations.

Many of the invited organisations did not respond and several declined to participate in the survey

as they had not conducted any cross-cultural training in the previous five years.

While the sample was representative of those training organisations that provide cross-cultural

training in units of competency, it is not representative of the VET system as a whole. However,

the use of an online survey creates a voluntary response bias in the sample.

The third stage involved an online survey of VET graduates who had completed cross-cultural

training as part of their qualifications. Graduates were contacted with the assistance of several

registered training organisations. Through this approach, 255 graduates indicated a willingness to

participate, with 134 completed surveys received.2 The survey focused on the graduates’

experiences and their evaluations of cross-cultural training received in their VET studies, the

contribution of cross-cultural training to their workplace performance and their recommendations

for future cross-cultural training provision. The survey also elicited information regarding other,

non-training and education ways in which respondents may have developed cultural competence.

A national survey of 34 senior and middle managers from medium-to-large organisations (18

private and 16 public sector) was conducted mainly by telephone interview. The objectives of the

survey were to assess the importance of cultural competence to employers, their current practices in

developing cultural competence and their view of future demand for employee cultural

competence. The sample represented ten of the 17 Australian and New Zealand Standard Industry

Classification (ANZSIC)3 categories and included the four industry skills councils covering the

main national training packages that include units of competency in diversity.

All of the surveys replicated some of the key questions of the Standing Committee on Immigration

and Multicultural Affairs study (2006), enabling some direct comparisons of the findings. The

current study differed from the 2006 study in that it covered all forms of cross-cultural training

provided through VET, including Aboriginal cultural awareness training, and surveyed VET

graduates across public and private sector workplaces, with the graduates in this study receiving an

average of 31 hours cross-cultural training, compared with six hours for the 2006 study respondents.

Copies of the surveys and tests of statistical significance can be found in the support document.

2 An incentive for participation was offered. This took the form of a draw to win one of 10 $50 retail chain gift vouchers.

3 The industries represented in the survey of employers were agriculture, mining, manufacturing, electricity, water,

wholesale trade, transport, communication services, finance, government, and health and community services.


Contribution of cross-cultural

training to workplace performance

of VET graduates

Profile of survey respondents

The 134 respondents were predominantly female, with an average age of 38 years. Two-thirds were

born in Australia, with 84% speaking English as their first language.

Just over half of the respondents were employed by governments and one-third by private

enterprises. The others were employed by community organisations or were volunteers or students.

Three-quarters were staff-level employees and one-quarter were middle or senior managers. Nearly

all respondents worked with customers or clients from culturally diverse backgrounds and most

worked with culturally diverse co-workers. (See appendix C for details.)

Sample bias arises from under-coverage of some areas, in that responses were sought primarily from

graduates with qualifications that included cross-cultural training. Further, there may also be a nonresponse

bias, as only 134 of the 255 graduates who indicated a willingness to participate actually did.

Cross-cultural training experience

Three-quarters of respondents had completed their training within the last two years, with only

10% having completed it five or more years ago.

Three-quarters of the cross-cultural training programs were undertaken as a core unit or part of a

core unit, with only 16% undertaken as an elective unit or part of an elective unit. The crosscultural

training was also organised as special workshops, group projects or work experience tasks

(see appendix C for details.) The cross-cultural training was undertaken in 11 national training

packages in shown in table 1.

Table 1 Distribution of cross-cultural training units by national training packages, expressed as a

proportion of respondents

National training package % No.

Public Services 33.3 44

Community Services 31.8 42

Business Services 18.1 24

Training and Assessment 14.4 19

Health 10.6 14

International Business 8.3 11

Hospitality 7.6 10

Tourism 7.6 10

Community Recreation 3.8 5

Conservation 3.0 4

Public Safety 0.8 1

Other: Teaching English, Teacher Training 4.5 6

Notes: Percentages add up to more than 100% as respondents could choose more than one option.

n = 132

18 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

For three-quarters of respondents, the highest level of qualification that included cross-cultural

training was a VET qualification, with nearly half completing a diploma or advanced diploma. For

about one-quarter of respondents, their highest levels of qualifications, including cross-cultural

training, were outside the VET system, mostly in university courses or workplace training programs

(table 2). The level of detail and complexity of cross-cultural training increased in line with the level

of qualification.

Table 2 Highest level of qualification achieved that included cross-cultural training

Qualification level % No.

Certificate I 5.6 7

Certificate II 10.5 13

Certificate III 25.0 31

Diploma 21.0 26

Advanced diploma 13.7 17

Other: High school, BA, MA, MBA, workplace training 24.2 30

Total 100.0 124

Missing 10

Note: n = 124

The most commonly reported delivery styles of cross-cultural training were a combination of

lecturing and interactive discussions and exercises and a combination of field or project work and

lecturing (table C5 in appendix C). The most commonly reported subject areas covered in crosscultural

training were general cultural awareness and working with cultural diversity. The other

reported subject areas, in rank order, were cultural diversity management, Aboriginal cultural

awareness, other specific cultures, occupation-specific cross-cultural training and working with

interpreters and translators (table C1).

Cultural competence is also acquired in many informal ways. Respondents reported a range of

experiences that had contributed to their understanding of cultural differences, including working

in Australia with people from different cultures, having friends from different cultures, having

family members from different cultures, living or working overseas, learning a language and

migrating (table C2). While the contribution of these experiences to respondents’ cultural

competence cannot be directly related to other survey ratings, the importance of these kinds of

informal learning cannot be over-emphasised.

Graduates’ evaluation of cross-cultural training

Graduates were asked to rate six key aspects of the cross-cultural training they had undertaken, on a

scale of 1 (below average) to 5 (excellent). As shown in table 3, all aspects were rated at 3.5 or above.

Respondents rated their overall satisfaction with cross-cultural training at 3.75. Just over 65% of

respondents rated their satisfaction with cross-cultural training as above average or excellent, with

approximately 13% rating their satisfaction as below average or poor. While participant satisfaction

with training is not a predictor of its contribution to performance, ratings of satisfaction reflect and

support other ratings of effectiveness, which underpin ratings of applicability to performance. To

explore some of the predictors of participants’ overall satisfaction with their training, the percentages

of respondents rating their overall satisfaction at 4 (above average) or 5 (excellent) were filtered by

mode of training, style of training and recency of training completion. (See appendix C for details.)

Satisfaction ratings of above average or excellent were 13 percentage points higher for crosscultural

training undertaken as elective training than for cross-cultural training delivered as core

training (78.9% vs 65.9%; table C4).


Table 3 Evaluations of six key aspects of cross-cultural training programs reported as a Likert scale

rating and as a percentage

Survey question Average



1 Over all, how would you rate the effectiveness of the cross-cultural training trainers? 3.7 74

2 How much did cross-cultural training improve your understanding of workplace

policies and issues regarding cultural diversity?

3.6 72

3 How much did cross-cultural training increase your awareness and knowledge of the

ways in which your own culture influences your thoughts and feelings

3.7 74

4 How much did cross-cultural training increase your knowledge and understanding of

cross-cultural communication skills?

3.7 74

5 How much did cross-cultural training increase your knowledge and understanding of

the customs, values and beliefs of other cultures?

3.6 72

6 How much did cross-cultural training increase your confidence in dealing with people

from different cultures?

3.5 70

Note: n = 124

Satisfaction ratings did not differ greatly according to the styles of training delivery. About 70% of

respondents who undertook cross-cultural training delivered as mainly classroom lecturing, mainly

interactive exercises, or a style combining the two rated their training as above average or excellent,

compared with 75% of those who experienced a training style that combined classroom lecturing

and field work. Just under 60% gave high satisfaction ratings for training styles comprising only

field or project work without classroom learning (table C5).

Looking at the recency of training completion, 63% of those who had received their cross-cultural

training one to five or more years ago rated their satisfaction as above average or excellent. By

comparison, 52% of those who had completed the training less than one year ago gave similar

ratings (table C6). This comparison appears to indicate that the passage of time may increase

positive assessments of cross-cultural training experiences, although the small sample sizes limit the

validity of this observation. Qualitative comments from cross-cultural training facilitators and

participants indicate that for many participants the value of cross-cultural training becomes more

apparent as learning is applied to and corroborated by subsequent experiences. However, other

factors such as number of contact hours, teaching mode and style, and the degrees to which

participants’ organisations recognise, support and reward culturally competent performance would

also have a significant bearing on this.

More than eight in ten respondents judged the best aspects of their training to be interaction and

discussion. Over half also identified the training content of the training and the style, knowledge

and enthusiasm of the trainer as positive aspects.

While three-quarters of respondents considered the duration of the cross-cultural training to be

appropriate, 23% considered it to be too short. When commenting on ways to improve the crosscultural

training they had attended, half suggested that it could have been improved by increasing

the duration. Just fewer than 2% suggested decreasing the time.

Asked to suggest ways of improving training delivery, about half the respondents recommended

increased interaction and content. Around a quarter also suggested taking different training

approaches, changing course structures or having better trainers.

Contribution of cross-cultural training to

workplace performance

In assessing the degree to which cross-cultural training had contributed to VET graduates’

workplace performance, the survey first investigated the level of importance that graduates placed

20 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

on cultural competence and their perceptions of the level of importance their employers placed on

cultural competence.

On a scale of 1 to 5, five being the highest rating, respondents rated the importance of being able

to work effectively with co-workers from different cultures at 4.3. Significantly, 84% of graduates

rated this ability as of above average or of great importance. They rated the importance they

thought their employers placed on this ability slightly higher, at 4.4.

Respondents rated the importance of being able to work effectively with customers and clients

from different cultural backgrounds at 4.5, giving the same rating for the importance they believed

their managers placed on this ability. Almost 93% rated this ability as of above average or of great

importance. About half the respondents said that their ability to work effectively with co-workers

and clients from different cultural backgrounds was included as a performance indicator in

performance reviews.

These findings are similar to those obtained from the survey of the graduates’ employers (see

appendix E). All respondents to the employer survey agreed that cultural competence was of

importance to their organisations. Having employees with adequate cultural competence for

working with culturally diverse clients and customers was rated as above average or of great

importance by 86% of responding employers, with 90% of the public sector employers giving this

rating, by comparison with 78% of private sector employers. The importance of cultural

competence for working with culturally diverse co-workers was rated as above average or of great

importance by 80% of employers. Again, a greater proportion of employers from the public sector

than from the private sector rated this aspect as above average or of great importance (85% vs

76%). Similar ratings were reported in the public sector study (Standing Committee on Immigration

and Multicultural Affairs 2006).

As a further indicator of perceived importance, almost three-quarters of responding employers stated

that their organisations included cultural competence in career development strategies, although less

than half included it in recruitment or performance appraisal criteria. Several respondents

commented that, while cultural competence as such was not specified in recruitment specifications

or selection interviews, the ability to work harmoniously in diverse workplaces was often considered,

particularly for professionals and candidates in customer service positions. Some organisations

‘embed’ cultural competence in specifications or see it as part of employability skills in general.

These findings indicate a generally strong awareness among these stakeholder groups of the

rationale for developing cultural competence, even when taking into account any response bias

arising from the social desirability of positive responses regarding cultural diversity.

Turning to workplace performance, responding graduates identified a range of improvements to

their work performance they believed could be attributed to their cross-cultural training (table 4).

Table 4 Contribution of cross-cultural training to workplace performance, expressed as a proportion

of respondents

Performance improvements % No.

Improved services to customers from different cultural backgrounds 76.9 90

Improved workplace communications and relationships 73.1 87

Increased cultural self-awareness 71.4 85

Improved understanding and interactions in personal life 48.7 58

Improved community relationships 42.9 51

Improved compliance with EO, discrimination and equity policies 37.0 44

Improved ability to assist overseas customers or partners 36.1 43

Improved ability to work internationally 28.6 34

Improved marketing/promotion to culturally diverse customers 26.9 32

Notes: Respondents could choose more than one option.

n = 119


Almost 60% of respondents rated the overall contribution of cross-cultural training to their job

performance as above average or excellent, with only 12% rating it below average or poor.

Just under 40% of respondents rated the extent to which they had been able to transfer what they

had learned to their co-workers as above average or excellent, with about one-quarter rating it

below average or poor. While experience shows that transferring the learning from training

programs of any kind to colleagues can be difficult, the complex and subjective nature of crosscultural

training is likely to increase this level of difficulty. Many cross-cultural training participants

commented that they wished their managers and supervisors had also attended the program, a

sentiment reflected in the recommendation by 81% of respondents that cross-cultural training

should be mandatory for everyone in their organisation, with 89% indicating that it should be

mandatory for employees who were in customer or client service positions (appendix C).

In responses to an open question about the most important things learned from cross-cultural

training, graduates who responded nominated, in rank order, increased acceptance, recognition and

understanding, increased awareness and skills, greater patience, empathy and tolerance, and

increased knowledge and information. There were only two negative comments, both referring

specifically to antipathy towards individual trainers.

Representative comments included the following:

[I realised] how set in my ways I was and how much I took things personally, when really

cultural differences were at play.

It has given me a higher tolerance and understanding of how hard it is for migrants to

integrate into Australian culture.

Even within specific cultures, people are individuals and shouldn’t be bundled together in

one group.

As a foreign person myself, I can relate and assure [sic] how helpful and important was

the study of cultural diversity. It was not only interesting but mainly helpful for me in my

adjustment to life in Australia, and also I am sure it opened my eyes for a better

understanding [of] people from other cultures.

To be aware, stay aware and understand the different cultural needs in everyone. Everyone is

unique and that’s a beautiful thing about living in Australia and having dealings with people

from all over the world.

It should be noted here that, while the measurement of return on training investment is

problematic in virtually all areas of communication and relationship training, the frequency of

such comments in cross-cultural training evaluations is a strong indicator that the immeasurable

contributions of such training experiences can be profound and durable.

Looking at the impact of cross-cultural training on work performance from an employer’s

perspective, over 90% of public and two-thirds of private sector organisations conducted crosscultural

training for their employees (appendix E), with most reporting positive feedback

regarding increased awareness and understanding of the relevance of cultural competence to

work performance.

Two-thirds of responding employers said that the VET graduates they employed demonstrated an

understanding of and ability to work with cultural diversity, leading to a range of benefits, improved

customer service being most commonly reported. A third of the respondents were unable to

comment directly on any benefits from cross-cultural training, several saying they would have no

way of knowing if a person’s cultural competence was derived from cross-cultural training or if a

qualification had included cross-cultural training or whether it was attributable to education and

training, personal experiences or individual character.

Almost two-thirds of public sector and a third of private sector employers believed that crosscultural

training should be mandatory for all employees (table E7), with over 90% of public and

22 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

two-thirds of private sector respondents indicating it should be mandatory for all employees in

customer contact positions (table E8), proportions similar to those reported from the graduate

survey. The majority of organisations planned to provide cross-cultural training to employees in the

next five years (table E5). Over 80% of organisations were also likely to develop other strategies to

develop cultural competence over the next five years, including building cultural awareness into

other training, recruiting more staff from culturally diverse backgrounds, providing mentoring or

coaching programs and developing policies and procedures for culturally inclusive work practices

(table E6).

Demand and recommendations for future

cross-cultural training

With respect to future demand, approximately 70% of responding graduates indicated that they

would like further cross-cultural training (see appendix C). The types of cross-cultural training

preferred, in rank order, were training in specific cultures within the multicultural society, working

with or managing cultural diversity, general cultural awareness and communication, Indigenous

cultures, specialised training for specific occupations and working with interpreters and translators.

Just over 70% of employers estimated that demand for workforce cultural competence would

increase in response to the increased cultural diversity of the workforce, the labour market and

the customer base, and increased internationalisation and globalisation (table E4). Other reasons

included policy and legal requirements and an increased number of agreements with traditional

land owners. Just under a third said demand would stay at current levels. None anticipated any

decrease in demand. There were no significant differences in the responses of public and private

sector organisations.

The indicators of the perceived importance of and need for cultural competence and positive

ratings of the effectiveness of cross-cultural training given above, along with the fact that so many

recipients of cross-cultural training believe it should be mandatory, suggest that the leaders and

managers of Australian organisations should consider more carefully the role of cross-cultural

training in the creation and maintenance of social capital and its contributions to performance.

Comparisons with the public sector cross-cultural training

effectiveness study

Most of the findings above are very similar to those of the national study of the effectiveness of

cross-cultural training in public sector organisations (Standing Committee on Immigration and

Multicultural Affairs 2006). The demographic profiles of the employees who responded to the

surveys were similar. The 145 public sector employees from the public sector study had received an

average of six hours cross-cultural training between six and 11 months before responding to the

survey, while the 134 VET graduates had received an average of 31 hours of cross-cultural training,

the majority of the training received between one and three years before the survey. Several of the

survey questions in this study replicated or closely matched those of the public sector study.

The six questions in table 3 are identical to questions asked in the Standing Committee on

Immigration and Multicultural Affairs study. The average rating on a 5-point Likert scale for all

questions in this study was just over 3.6, compared with an average rating in the former study of

just under 3.7.

In both studies, overall satisfaction with cross-cultural training was rated 3.7. In this study,

satisfaction ratings of above average or excellent for cross-cultural training undertaken as elective

training were given by 78.9% of respondents, compared with 65.9% of respondents who had crosscultural

training delivered as core training. In the Standing Committee on Immigration and


Multicultural Affairs study, the average was 76% for voluntary training, compared with 69.8% for

compulsory training.

In this study, the average rating of the importance of cultural competence for working with coworkers

and customers from different cultural backgrounds was 88%, which is identical to the

average rating in the public sector study. In this study, the average rating of importance to

respondents’ managers was 90%, compared with an average rating of 84% in the Standing

Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs study.

In this study, almost 60% of respondents rated the overall satisfaction with the contribution of

cross-cultural training to their job performance as above average or excellent, with only 12% rating

it below average or poor. In the public sector study over 40% rated it as above average or excellent,

with 13.9% rating it below average or poor. This may be a reflection of the lower number of hours

of cross-cultural training received by the Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural

Affairs study respondents or attributable to other factors such as organisational support for the

application of learning in the workplace.

Just under 40% rated the extent to which they had been able to transfer what they had learned to

their co-workers as above average or excellent, with 26% rating it below average or poor. In the

Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs study, 30% gave the higher ratings,

with 25% rating it below average or poor.

Almost 70% of respondents indicated that they would like further cross-cultural training, compared

with 60% in the earlier study.

Eighty per cent of respondents to this study believed cross-cultural training should be compulsory

for all employees in their organisation, compared with just over 70% in the 2006 study. Most

significantly for those making decisions about the future provision of cross-cultural training, 89.3%

of graduates who responded the current study believed that cross-cultural training should be

compulsory for all employees in their organisation who were in customer or client service positions,

compared with 87.7% in the 2006 study.

These comparisons between the survey responses of two samples totalling 279 employees lend

validity to the findings on the effectiveness and performance contributions of cross-cultural training.

24 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Cross-cultural training

practice in VET

Profile of survey respondents

Sixty-one senior managers, teachers, coordinators and project officers employed by 38 large and

small public and private sector training organisations participated in the survey. (See appendix D

for details.)

The sample is not representative of the VET system as a whole and the use of an online survey

creates a voluntary response bias in the sample.

Cross-cultural training provision

The responding organisations provided cross-cultural training at various levels in 11 of the 12

national training packages, including units of competency in diversity mainly at the certificate III

and IV levels (table 5).

Table 5 Provision of cross-cultural training in national training package qualifications


training package





te III


te IV

Diploma Advanc






Business Services 9 12 16 15 3 55

Community 0 1 1 0 9 11

Community Services 7 20 21 13 4 65

Conservation 1 1 1 1 0 4

Correctional Services 3 3 2 0 0 8

Health 4 13 7 5 1 30

Hospitality 5 7 6 5 4 27

Tourism 5 5 5 4 3 22

Public Services 0 5 6 5 2 18

Training and 1 2 17 5 0 25

International Business 0 1 1 2 3 7

Total 35 70 83 55 29 272

An average of 21.7 contact hours per unit was devoted to cross-cultural training in 14 specific

units of competency within these training packages. Respondents identified several other areas in

which elements of cross-cultural training were provided, including outdoor recreation, fashion

design, education, religious studies and arts and media. Some of the cross-cultural training was

delivered in the form of units of competency imported from other training packages and some as

specialised workshops.

Two-thirds of responding organisations reported that they had also provided accredited and nonaccredited

cross-cultural training in other training areas, including English language teaching,

Aboriginal cultural awareness, staff induction, community outreach and settlement and crosscultural

training courses for external organisations.


The average length of time training organisations had been delivering cross-cultural training in one

or more of the training packages was 10.5 years. They had delivered cross-cultural training in the

other areas on average for 9.9 years.

Over half used a combination of internal and external trainers to deliver cross-cultural training,

while one-third used only internal trainers and 10% used only external trainers. The external trainers

came mainly from private consultants, community organisations or other training organisations.

As noted earlier, several VET providers declined to participate in the survey as they did not

currently provide cross-cultural training in any programs or had not done so for years. For other

providers, the inclusion of cross-cultural training in accredited training programs is not necessarily

guaranteed even where it is recommended, as shown in the following quote from a respondent:

I have been working with [organisation] in relation to ways that cultural competence can be

addressed in training, particularly for in Certificates III and IV and the Diploma in Business-

Front Line Management, and I was frankly rather mystified by the fact that there is no

mandatory unit of competency currently in these qualifications that relates specifically to

working effectively with diversity. It seems that even offering such a unit from another

qualification as an elective is ‘not allowed under the packaging rules’. So I have assumed that

the only way to address this situation is to wait until the Business Services package is next

reviewed, which I gather may well not be for another couple of years.

Cross-cultural training practice

The responding training organisations mainly delivered cross-cultural training through classroom

teaching or specialised workshops. Around 40% also delivered cross-cultural training through

external projects or distance learning, while 30% delivered cross-cultural training through

mentoring and coaching (table D1).

Over 95% of respondents reported that the main learning objectives of cross-cultural training were

to improve customer service and workplace relations (table D2). For graduates, this was seen as the

main contribution of cross-cultural training to their workplace performance (see table 4). Around

60% listed the learning objectives of improving community relationships and compliance with

equal opportunity and discrimination laws and policies. Approximately 40% listed the objectives of

improving marketing and promotion to culturally diverse customers and improving capacity to

work internationally. Just over 10% reported other objectives, including confronting racism and

improving language and settlement skills.

The most common types of cross-cultural training were general awareness and working with

diversity (table 6). In many units of competency and in non-accredited programs there are

combinations of these types of training.

Table 6 Types of cross-cultural training included in units of competency or other training, expressed

as a percentage of respondents

Type of cross-cultural training % No.

General cultural awareness and communication 92.6 50

Working with cultural diversity 87.0 47

Managing cultural diversity 63.0 34

Culture specific: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander cultures 53.7 29

Specialised: e.g. customer service, health care, policing 44.4 24

Culture-specific: multicultural e.g. Sudanese, Chinese cultures 40.7 22

Working with interpreters and translators 29.6 16

Other: racism and privilege, adult language and literacy, settlement 7.4 14

Notes: Respondents could choose more than one option.

n = 54

26 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Evaluation and benefits of cross-cultural training

The majority of responding organisations evaluated cross-cultural training through post-training

feedback and evaluation questionnaires from students and, to a lesser extent, through informal

verbal feedback. About one-third of respondents received feedback, mainly verbal, from employers

of cross-culturally trained graduates about their ability to work with culturally diverse customers

and co-workers. The employers were reported to comment generally on the increased awareness,

sensitivity and skills of graduates and on receiving positive feedback from employees who had

completed cross-cultural training.

The training providers reported an average student satisfaction rating of 81% across all of the

above types of cross-cultural training. This average is just over six percentage points higher than the

overall satisfaction rating of 74.6% given by the graduates themselves. The types of cross-cultural

training receiving the most ratings of above average or excellent were general cultural awareness,

managing cultural diversity and working with cultural diversity. The highest reported student overall

satisfaction ratings were for culture-specific training (84.2%) and the lowest for working with

interpreters and translators (77.8%).

Eight in ten VET providers said that their students reported that cross-cultural training had helped

them to improve their workplace communication. Seven in ten said their students reported

improved customer service and cultural self-awareness. The percentages of VET providers and

graduates reporting a range of benefits from cross-cultural training is compared in table 7.

Table 7 VET graduates’ reported benefits of cross-cultural training

Reported benefit VET providers Graduates Difference

% No. % %

Improved workplace communication & relationships 80.5 33 73.1 -7.4

Improved services to customers from different cultural backgrounds 75.6 31 76.9 +1.3

Increased cultural self-awareness 70.7 29 71.4 +0.7

Improved community relationships 39.0 16 42.9 +3.9

Improved skills to work internationally 29.3 12 28.6 -0.7

Improved compliance with access and equity policies 26.8 11 37.0* +10.2

Improved compliance with EO and discrimination laws 22.0 9 37.0* +15.0

Improved marketing to culturally diverse clients/customers 14.6 6 26.9 +12.3

Notes: Respondents could choose more than one option.

* Graduates’ survey question combined the two compliance categories.

VET provider: n = 41; graduates: n = 134

While there are some differences between providers’ and graduates’ reports for improved compliance

and marketing, there are broad similarities across the other categories, indicating the general accuracy

of the training providers’ assessments of their students’ reported learning outcomes.

VET provider perceptions of workplace cultural

competence trends and practices

The VET providers rated the importance of cultural competence for working with culturally diverse

customers at 4.7 (on the Likert scale) and for working with culturally diverse co-workers at just under

4.5. These ratings were higher than the ratings given by both the graduates and responding

employers. Therefore, while there was general agreement that cultural competence is important to

workplace performance, VET providers and graduates both slightly overestimated its perceived

importance to employers.


Some respondents commented that employers did not understand cultural competence or the

nature and aim of cross-cultural training and only wanted their staff to have training on specific

cultures. Other VET respondents were concerned that the majority of cross-cultural training

programs did not address issues of privilege and power in the workplace.

About 40% of responding training providers stated that employers in the industries they served

included cultural competence in their recruitment specifications, while over half did not know. These

industries were in community services, government, health and aged care, tourism and hospitality

and those engaged in international business. In the employers’ survey, 35% of respondents indicated

that they included cultural competence in recruitment specifications (table E2).

Nine in ten VET providers believed there would be increased or greatly increased demand from

employers for employees to be able to demonstrate cultural competence, compared with 70% of

employers. Regardless of this disparity, it is clear that demand will increase, with significant

implications for VET provider capacity and trainer capabilities.

Eight in ten responding providers expected that there would be demand for training in specific

cultures, general awareness, working in culturally diverse teams and managing culturally diverse

workforces. Seven in ten expected there to be demand for Aboriginal cultural awareness training.

Over half said there would be demand for specialised cross-cultural training in occupational areas

such as health and policing and for building cultural awareness into other training programs. Onethird

expected demand for training in working with interpreters and translators.

VET providers and employers both attributed predictions of increased demand to increases in

migration, international trade, international students, cultural diversity in the labour market,

recruitment of overseas skilled workers and higher customer expectations for culturally appropriate

services. Several respondents from the training providers attributed the heightened demand to

increased recognition of the need to foster and maintain social cohesion and to address issues of

racism and white privilege in the community.

Over 90% of public sector and 40% of private sector employers surveyed believed that cross-cultural

training should be a core component of VET programs relating to their industries, particularly in

international business, export services, community services, health, government and public safety.

In general comments, some respondents from the training providers expressed agreement that

cultural competence had become an issue of strategic concern and that cross-cultural training

should be a component of workplace training and development. As one commented: ‘Changes in

the workforce have hit us by surprise’. Another identified a need for organisations to move beyond

a ‘multicultural deficit model’ and address cultural competence in terms of key performance

indicators. Another manager remarked: ‘The challenge is to keep doing it [cross-cultural training]

and revisit and assess the contribution to our performance’.

Cross-cultural training facilitators

Given the current level of cross-cultural training activity and the predicted increased demand for

cross-cultural training revealed in this study and the earlier Standing Committee on Immigration

and Multicultural Affairs study, the supply and quality of training facilitators will be a critical issue

for the VET system. The second part of the survey of VET providers elicited 31 responses from

people who were currently or had within the past five years been directly involved in the design and

delivery of cross-cultural training.

Profile of cross-cultural training facilitators

Six in ten respondents were female. The average age of respondents was 53 years, with only two

being less than 35 years old. Just over two-thirds had six or more years experience in teaching

28 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

cross-cultural training, one-fifth having over 16 years experience. Three-quarters spoke English as

their first language and just over 40% were born overseas. (See appendix D for details.)

The facilitators worked across a number of cross-cultural training subject areas, with over threequarters

providing general cross-cultural training. Two-thirds taught working with and managing

cultural diversity and half conducted culture-specific training. Approximately 40% provided

Aboriginal cultural awareness training. A third worked in the areas of specialised cross-cultural

training, international business, language training and working with interpreters and translators.

Eight in ten cross-cultural training facilitators had a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification and

the remainder had a VET certificate IV or diploma qualification. However, only a quarter had

received formal training in cross-cultural training, mainly within bachelor or masters degree courses

or through workplace professional development programs. Three-quarters had received informal

training, typically through attendance at workshops, seminars and conferences and non-award or

non-accredited courses or training programs, including in-service professional development.

Respondents identified a range of professional and life experiences that had contributed to their

ability to teach cross-cultural training. These included language learning, working with culturally

diverse clients and colleagues, cross-cultural personal relationships, migration, overseas travel and

international business experience.

There was a strong sense of engagement and commitment among facilitators. Half reported passion

and commitment as their main motivations for working in the cross-cultural training field. Over

one-quarter reported being mainly motivated by interest, enjoyment and satisfaction. Fewer than

one-quarter worked in cross-cultural training because it was part of their employment

responsibilities. These responses are reflected in the public sector study (Standing Committee on

Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 2006) and in an international study of over 200 cross-cultural

training practitioners (Berardo & Simons 2004).

Training approaches and resources

Respondents employed a range of approaches to cross-cultural training, depending on audience and

context. One-third described their main approach as a balance of lecturing and interactive exercises,

a quarter favoured interactive exercises and discussions; about 15% favoured a balance of field

work and classroom learning. Other approaches included project work, individual coaching and

informal induction.

The most commonly used training resources or tools, in rank order, were case studies, simulation

exercises, models for understanding cultures, role plays, intensive group exercises, checklists and tip

sheets, instruments that profile groups or individuals, and assessments of cultural competence.

Intensive group exercises and case studies were rated as the most effective tools for cross-cultural

training by over 80% of respondents. These rankings also compare closely with those of the public

sector and international studies (Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

2006; Berardo & Simons 2004).

Respondents expressed a range of opinions about approaches to cross-cultural training, which

reflect the complexity and diversity of the field. Some objected to the term ‘training’ being applied

to what they did, preferring a broader view of cross-cultural training as a dialogue and a lifelong

educational process.

I don’t call it training. I don’t want to deliver structured packages or accredited training

modules … not my area! I like the opportunity to speak frankly and fluidly about what I have

learned and what I am constantly challenged by … and I have had really good feedback from

the sessions I have run. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for training … I just don’t think it’s

my forte!


Others saw the need to address issues of power, privilege, racism, politics and policy in crosscultural

training and to adopt ‘strategies for recognising bias, preference, ethnocentric thinking and

speaking etc. for EVERYONE—not just Australian born’.

Across the cross-cultural training field there appears to be a widely held view that the best crosscultural

training is not in fact ‘training’ but a designed and facilitated conversation about identity,

diversity and social cohesion. The training component—the information, knowledge and skills of

cross-cultural communication—is important, but of very limited value without an underlying

educational experience that enables participants to recognise the pervasive influence of cultures on

perception and behaviour and to make meaning out of a lifetime of experiences.

Professional and resource development

Respondents undertook a range of activities to continue their professional development as crosscultural

trainers. Three-quarters reported working with culturally diverse communities and

facilitating training as their main forms of professional development. Over half listed reading and

attending conferences and seminars, networking, professional associations and travel. One-third

engaged in research in the cross-cultural training field. Only 7% reported undertaking formal study.

About two-thirds of respondents identified future professional development needs in the areas of

cross-cultural communication theory and practice, teaching and learning methodology and ethical

issues in cross-cultural training. Over half would like professional development in the areas of

learning about specific cultures and religions; socio-political issues, including multiculturalism,

diversity, racism and discrimination; and developing training resources for these areas. Most trainers

expressed a desire to interact with other cross-cultural training facilitators, to share ideas and

resources, to pursue professional development opportunities and to support each other in working in

a demanding and evolving field. Again, these responses closely reflect those of the previous studies.

Respondents identified the need to develop further tools and resources that more closely reflect

the Australian context. They recommended more interactive exercises and resources designed to

address specific issues and cultures and the development of a cross-cultural training resources

clearing house. They also recommended further research in the areas of: working in multicultural

settings; models for understanding culture in the Australian context; the organisational and personal

value of cross-cultural training; cultural diversity in the contexts of power, privilege, politics and

policy; and cultural competence in team-building and leadership.

Just over half of the respondents believed there should be an accreditation or other formal

recognition process for cross-cultural trainers, based on relevant experience and facilitation skills. A

few nominated a Certificate IV Training and Assessment as the minimum qualification. The most

commonly suggested approach was a registration process requiring demonstrated capability that was

similar to registration and membership requirements for other professions and consultancy areas.

Those who were unsure about or opposed to the idea of accreditation expressed uncertainty about

what standards or qualifications should be included. They questioned whether cross-cultural training

trainer competencies could be clearly identified and measured, and who would judge the judges.

One commented that the complexity, tensions and uncertainties of the cross-cultural training

learning experience would be impossible to define in terms of competencies. Several expressed the

fear that imposing a formal standard may exclude trainers lacking formal qualifications who were

otherwise effective facilitators. Others questioned the need for accreditation or specialist

qualifications, maintaining that qualified educators would have the professionalism to ensure that

they were adequately prepared to teach cross-cultural training effectively.

Challenges and issues facing the cross-cultural training field

Respondents identified a range of challenges for the cross-cultural training field and its future

development. Several referred to negative attitudes to cultural diversity in Australia in general,

xenophobia and stereotyping in the media and politics, and the failure of leaders and managers to

30 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

take responsibility for addressing the consequences of a society lacking cultural understanding

and competence.

A lack of consistency in approaches was identified as a challenge, as was the notion that there was

one right way to conduct cross-cultural training. There was seen to be a lack of clear policy by state

governments and the Australian Government, accompanied by a lack of resources to employ

trainers and provide cross-cultural training within relevant VET programs.

The continuing influx of people from cultural backgrounds relatively new to Australia—including

refugees, migrants, business migrants, students and overseas professionals—was also seen as a

challenge to trainers trying to keep up to date in their knowledge and understanding of diverse groups.

In their final comments, respondents expressed enthusiasm for the future of cross-cultural training,

but also concerns that the field needed to be professionalised and the hope that ‘something

authentic [would] be done with the information’ gained from this survey.

Comparisons with the public sector cross-cultural training

effectiveness study

The findings of this study regarding current practice in cross-cultural training delivery and the

public sector study (Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 2006) were

similar in a number of areas, as they were for the evaluations and benefits of cross-cultural training.

The biggest difference between the provision of cross-cultural training in VET and in public sector

workplaces is the number of contact hours, the VET average of 31 hours being more than three

times the average 6.1 hours of cross-cultural training received in the workplaces by respondents to

the public sector survey.

A comparison with the findings of the public sector study (table 8) shows similarities for most

objectives, except that of improving workplace communication and relationships, which was less

frequently identified by the exclusively public sector respondents to that survey.

Table 8 Learning objectives of cross-cultural training, expressed as a percentage of respondents and

compared with percentages of respondents in the SCIMA study

Learning objective % No. SCIMA %

To improve service to culturally diverse customers 98.2 54 91.6

To improve workplace communication and relationships 94.5 52 64.2

To improve community relationships 60.0 33 54.7

To improve compliance; equal opportunity/discrimination 58.2 32 45.3

To improve marketing to culturally diverse customers 41.8 23 33.0

To improve capacity to work internationally 32.7 18 21.0

Other: confront racism, improve language and settlement 12.7 7 N/A

Notes: Respondents could choose more than one option.

n = 55

Seven in ten respondents to the survey of employers believed there would be increased demand for

cross-cultural training, compared with 74% of public sector employers responding to the 2006

survey. These predictions are lower than those of the VET providers, 90% of whom predicted

increased demand. However, all three groups agreed that the demand would grow in response to

globalisation and increased cultural diversity in the workplace and the community.

Regarding the introduction of an accreditation process, the public sector survey responses were

almost the same as in this study. Similar concerns were expressed. However, in the 2006 study, 70%

of employers were in favour of an accreditation process.


Developing cultural competence

through VET

Implications of the research for VET

Employers and educators alike have identified a growing need to develop workforce cultural

competence in response to major drivers that include increased workforce and customer cultural

diversity, global labour market mobility and competition for skilled employees. Clearly, crosscultural

knowledge is seen to be highly valued among VET graduates. Given the positive views of

the value of cultural competence among graduates and employers, the VET sector can, and should,

expand current cross-cultural training provision in the policy, curriculum and quality frameworks

already in place. Capability and capacity can be improved using models of good practice and by

engaging experienced cross-cultural training facilitators across the sector.

The results and benefits of cross-cultural training can be largely described in competency terms;

they meet the required learning outcomes of the relevant units of competency within national

training packages. However, while the results and benefits of developing cultural competence

through cross-cultural training are demonstrable in quantitative terms, the research findings also

point to the deeper sociological and psychological dimensions of the training experience.

It is highly significant for the future provision of cross-cultural training in the VET sector that

training participants ranked increased cultural self-awareness almost as highly as improved

customer service and workplace relationships, cultural self-awareness being a critical element of

cultural competence. It is also noteworthy that a relatively few hours of cross-cultural training can

result in the gains attributed to it by participants. This highlights the potential of cross-cultural

training to crystallise participants’ previous experiences of living and working in a multicultural

society and to contribute to positive attitudes and effective behaviours vis-a-vis cultural diversity.

Developing cultural competence through VET

The process of developing cultural competence through VET has recently been described and

outlined in a guide to cultural diversity management resources (Department of Immigration and

Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs 2005). The guide identifies linkages between diversity and most

of the key competencies or employability skills, particularly those of communication and teamwork.

It also describes learning pathways that begin with diversity awareness at certificates I and II,

progressing through the development of knowledge and skills for working with and managing

diversity in teams at the certificate III and IV levels, and culminating in the development of higher

management and leadership knowledge and skills at the diploma and advanced diploma levels.

As the findings of this study illustrate, VET students in a range of industry qualifications may

complete two or three units of competency that include diversity elements during their courses of

study. An incremental approach to developing cultural competence that is articulated with the

learning pathway outlined above and closely related to the needs of their target industries would be

ideal. Cultural competence and diversity-management skills could also be further developed by

incorporating both with closely related topics such as customer service, negotiation, problemsolving,

conflict management, compliance with legislation and giving and receiving feedback.

32 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

As discussed earlier in this report, VET national strategy objectives call for VET providers to adopt

best practice in managing diversity in service delivery and to prepare learners for employment in

situations characterised by workforce and customer diversity. Achieving best practice in diversitymanagement

requires, among other things, that VET employees are trained and resourced to do so.

Given the cultural diversity of the VET student body and the workplaces for which they are being

trained, the obvious implication is that all VET workers should possess appropriate levels of

cultural competence.

Another implication of the research findings is that cross-cultural training should be part of core

curriculum in qualifications for industries in which customer and client service is a critical skill.

The design and delivery of cross-cultural training programs within VET qualifications should also

recognise that the development of cultural competence is a lifelong process. This implies dialogue

with industry to ensure that the VET curriculum is attuned to organisational needs and to the

development of strategies to ensure support for graduates and their managers to enable them to

continue their learning and to apply it in their workplaces and communities. As one senior VET

teacher commented:

Insist on application in a real world context. Link cultural awareness training to mainstream

learning areas, not for awareness for its own sake, but for the effect that changes in attitude

and flexibility in practice can mean better outcomes for all parties.


The findings of this study show that the provision of cross-cultural training in the VET system is

diverse, covers a wide range of qualifications and industries, and is well regarded by students and

appreciated by employers. The research also indicates a potentially large increase in demand from a

range of industries for VET graduates who are culturally competent, with implications for capacity

and capability in the provision of cross-cultural training. VET teachers of cross-cultural training

have also expressed the need for professional development and the capacity to develop resources

and address important social issues.

The findings of this study point to areas for improvement in policy and planning, industry

engagement, curriculum and program development, capacity- and capability-building and

professional development.

The following broad recommendations are made with acknowledgement that VET organisations

and systems and their client industries are at various stages in the delivery of cross-cultural training

and in the development of cultural competence and that the policies and strategies to guide and

legitimise the implementation of the recommendations are already in place.

VET policy, planning and program quality assurance

􀂗 Organisations responsible for VET policy development and implementation should review the

extent of cross-cultural training provision through the VET sector, in terms of its contribution

to meeting the relevant objectives of the current national strategy for VET.

􀂗 Individual VET organisations should formally review their current practices for providing crosscultural

training, in terms of the student and industry needs identified in this study.

􀂗 Individual VET organisations should ensure that their equity and diversity policies and strategies

include assessments of the levels of cultural competence required by managers and staff who are

required to comply with and implement these policies and strategies.

􀂗 Where the need has been identified, VET managers and staff should receive professional

development in cultural competence, including cross-cultural training relevant to their roles

and responsibilities.


􀂗 VET organisations should establish benchmarks for the quality of their cross-cultural training

programs based on the criteria used in this study.

􀂗 Longitudinal evaluations of the contribution of cross-cultural training to VET graduates’

workplace performance should be encouraged.

Industry engagement in cross-cultural training program planning

􀂗 VET organisations should consult with their client industries and enterprises to assess their

requirements for the cultural competence of VET graduates in order to determine whether

adjustments are needed in current programs or if new programs are required.

􀂗 Industry skills councils should be engaged in reviewing industry needs for cultural competence

and cross-cultural training in order to advise future VET policy and planning.

􀂗 VET organisations, state and territory training authorities and industry skills councils should

develop and promote information and advice for employers on cross-cultural training options

and the business case for cultural competence.

Cross-cultural training curriculum and program design

􀂗 The need for cultural competence should be considered in all planning processes related to

curriculum and program development, teaching and learning, and student services.

􀂗 Cross-cultural training program design should address the recommendations of participants

regarding the interactivity, duration, relevance, and modes and styles of teaching.

􀂗 Curricula should recognise that the development of cultural competence is a lifelong process

and include descriptions of learning pathways appropriate to VET qualification levels.

Capacity- and capability-building

􀂗 Where industry consultations confirm increased demand for culturally competent VET

graduates, VET organisations should plan to increase their capacity to provide cross-cultural

training at appropriate levels and to ensure that teaching staff are capable of conducting crosscultural


􀂗 Registers of qualified and experienced cross-cultural training facilitators should be established

and promoted by state and territory VET authorities.

Professional development and resources

􀂗 Introductory train-the-trainer programs should be developed and promoted to VET teachers

and students interested in becoming cross-cultural training facilitators.

􀂗 Professional development programs addressing the areas identified in this study should be

developed and provided for existing cross-cultural training facilitators.

􀂗 A national database or clearing house of existing professional development opportunities and

training resources should be established and maintained by an appropriate government

department or research organisation.

􀂗 Training resources reflecting the Australian context should be developed in the areas identified

in the study.

34 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance


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36 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Appendix A

Organisations participating in the survey of VET

current practice

Australian Capital Territory

Institute for the Nations, Australia

ACT Corrective Services

New South Wales

National College Australia


BCA Training Group


TAFE NSW North Coast Institute

TAFE NSW Hunter Institute

Northern Territory

Arnhemland Progress Association

Employee Assistance Service


Academy of Career Training

Mt Isa Community Development Association

NCCL Nova Community Care

Queensland Corrective Services

Training Australia Unlimited Pty Ltd


Royal Brisbane International College

Australian Institute of Management—Qld & NT

South Australia

Department for Families and Communities


Personnel Employment

Learning Potential International

Access Training

Cultural Diversity Services Pty Ltd

Equals International

Relationships Australia


Box Hill Institute of TAFE

William Angliss Institute of TAFE

Australian Vocational Learning Institute

Kangan Batman Institute of TAFE

International Design School Pty Ltd

Australasian Lawrence Aged Care College

Haley College

Western Australia

Central TAFE


Challenger TAFE

Department for Community Development



Appendix B

Organisations participating in the survey of employers

Service Industries Skills Council

Centrelink Queensland


BHP Billiton

Schefenacker Vision Systems Australia Pty Ltd

WorkCover Corporation


Insurance Australia Group

Australia Post Dandenong

Angus Clyne Australia Ltd

Schneider Electrical

Eastern Health

Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd

Southern Cross Care

Community Services & Health Industry Skills Council


Dept of Immigration and Citizenship

St John’s Ambulance

North Metro Area Health Service

Brightwater Care Group (WA)

Public Transport Authority of WA

Codan Pty Ltd

Alzheimer’s Australia (SA)

Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital

Newmont Mining

Government Skills Australia


Primary Industries and Resources (SA)

City of Charles Sturt

Innovation and Business Skills Australia

Maroochy Shire Council

Health Insurance Commission

SA Metropolitan Fire Service

Queensland Police Service

38 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Appendix C

Findings of the survey of VET graduates

a) Profile of survey respondents

Total respondents: 134

Female: 73.1% (98)

Male: 26.9% (36)

Average age: 38 years

Australian born: 65.7% (88)

Overseas born: 34.3% (46)

Born in non-English speaking country: 58.7% (27)

First language English: 84.3% (113)

First language other than English: 15.7% (21)

Employer: Private sector 34.3% (46)

Public sector: 52.2% (70)

Community organisation 10.5% (14)

Other (i.e. student, volunteer) 4.5% (6)

Position: Staff 79.8% (107)

Manager/supervisor 17.2% (23)

Volunteer 3.0% (4)

Works with customers/clients from culturally

diverse backgrounds: 94.8% (127)

Works with culturally diverse co-workers: 87.3% (117)

b) Cross-cultural training experience

Average completed units of competency

including cross-cultural training: 2.5

Average contact hours per unit of competency: 12.6

Average contact hours per survey respondent: 31.5

Recency of cross-cultural training:

Less than 1 year ago 39.1% (50)

1–2 years ago 35.9% (46)

3 years ago 12.5% (16)


4 years ago 2.3% (3)

5 or more years ago 14.1% (18)

Status of cross-cultural training units:

Core unit or part of a core unit 72% (85)

Elective unit or part of elective unit 16.1% (19)

Special workshops 46.6% (55)

Group projects 11.8% (14)

Work experience assignments 7.6% (9)

Through RPL .07% (1)

Training delivery styles

Combination of lecturing and interactive

discussions and exercises 52.9% (65)

Interactive discussions and exercises 39.0% (48)

Combination of field or project work

and lecturing 22.8% (28)

Table C1 Subject areas included in cross-cultural training programs

Subject area % No.

General cultural awareness and communication 89.3% 117

Working with cultural diversity 72.5% 95

Managing cultural diversity 43.5% 57

Culture-specific: Indigenous 38.2% 50

Culture-specific: multicultural 24.4% 32

Specialised cross-cultural training: e.g. health,

policing, customer service 19.9% 26

Working with interpreters and translators 16.8% 22

Other: teaching English, training diverse groups 4.6% 6

Notes: n = 131

Respondents could choose more than one option.

Table C2 Other experiences contributing to understanding of cultural differences

Experiences % No.

Working in Australia with people from different cultures 78.3% 94

Having friends from different cultures 72.55 87

Having family members from different cultures 41.7% 50

Living overseas 30.2% 47

Learning a language 30.0% 36

Working overseas 27.5% 33

Migrating 26.7% 32

Notes: n = 120

Respondents could choose more than one option.

c) Graduates’ evaluation of cross-cultural training

Respondents rated six key aspects of the cross-cultural training undertaken. A comparison with

the ratings of six identical questions from the 2006 Standing Committee on Immigration and

Multicultural Affairs study (2006) shows similar results for all questions.

40 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Table C3 Comparative evaluations of cross-cultural training programs

Survey question Average SCIMA

rating average

1 Over all, how would you rate the effectiveness of the cross-cultural training trainers? 74% 80%

2 How much did cross-cultural training improve your understanding of workplace

policies and issues regarding cultural diversity? 72% 70%

3 How much did cross-cultural training increase your awareness and knowledge

of the ways in which your own culture influences your thoughts and feelings? 74% 74%

4 How much did cross-cultural training increase your knowledge and understanding

of cross-cultural communication skills? 74% 74%

5 How much did cross-cultural training increase your knowledge and understanding

of the customs, values and beliefs of other cultures? 72% 72%

6 How much did cross-cultural training increase your confidence in dealing with

people from different cultures? 70% 72%

Note: n = 124

Table C4 Comparative satisfaction ratings by mode of training delivery

Mode of cross-cultural

training delivery

Respondents % rating 4 No. % rating 5 No. Total %

Core unit or module 55 45.4% 25 23.6% 13 69.1%

Part of core unit or module 30 40.0% 12 20% 6 60.0%

Elective unit or module 15 33.3% 5 46.6% 7 80.0%

Part of elective unit or module 4 75.0% 3 0 75.0%

Specialised workshop 55 34.5% 19 21.8% 12 56.4%

Notes: n = 124

Respondents could choose more than one option.

Table C5 Comparative satisfaction ratings by style of training delivery

Style of cross-cultural

training delivery

Respondents % rating 4 No. % rating 5 No. Total %

Classroom lecturing 24 37.5% 9 33.3% 8 70.8%

Classroom interactive exercises 48 39.6% 19 33.3% 16 72.9%

Comb. lecturing & interactive 65 38.5% 25 30.8% 20 69.2%

Field work/project work 17 29.4% 5 29.4% 5 58.8%

Comb. fieldwork & classroom 28 21.4% 6 53.55% 15 75.0%

Notes: n = 124

Respondents could choose more than one option.

Table C6 Comparative satisfaction ratings by recency of training completion

Recency of crosscultural


Respondents % rating 4 No. % rating 5 No. Total %

Less than 1 year ago 50 28.0% 14 24.0% 12 52.0%

1–2 years ago 46 47.8% 22 17.4% 8 65.2%

3 years ago 15 20.0 % 3 40.0% 6 60.0%

4 years ago 3 66.6% 2 0 66.6%

5 or more years ago 13 38.5% 5 23.1% 3 61.5%

Notes: n = 124

Respondents could choose more than one option.

Best aspects of training

Interaction and discussion 83.3% (100)

Content 65.8% (79)

Trainers’ attributes (style, knowledge and enthusiasm) 52.5% (63)

Guest speakers and panellists 15.8% (19)


Duration of the cross-cultural training

Appropriate 75% (96)

Too long 2.3% (3)

Too short 22.7% (29)

Recommended ways to improve cross-cultural training

Increase time 49.5% (54)

Decrease time 1.8% (2)

Increase interaction 48.6% (53)

Increase content 46.8% (51)

Provide different content 24.8% (27)

Different training approach/style 23.9% (26)

Different course structure 22.0% (24)

Better trainers 12.8% (14)

d) Contribution of cross-cultural training to workplace performance

The following table compares the importance placed on cultural competence by respondents to this

study and by respondents to the Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

(SCIMA 2006) study.

Table C7 Comparative ratings of the importance of cultural competence

Survey question Average rating SCIMA average

1 How important is it in your work to be able to work effectively

with co-workers from different cultures? 86% 88%

2 How important do you think it is to your manager/s that you are able to

work effectively with co-workers from different cultural backgrounds? 88% 82%

3 How important is it in your work to be able to deal effectively with

customers/clients from different cultures? 90% 88%

4 How important do you think it is to your manager/s that you are able to

work effectively with customers/ clients from different cultural backgrounds? 90% 84%

Overall rating of the contribution of cross-cultural training to job performance: 71.6% (3.58 on 5-point

Likert scale)

Percentage rating overall satisfaction as above average or excellent 57.5%

Percentage rating overall satisfaction as below average or poor 12%

Rating of extent of ability to transfer cross-cultural training learning 61% (3.05 on 5-point

to co-workers: Likert scale)

Percentage rating this as above average or excellent 36.2%

Percentage rating this as average 37.8%

Percentage rating this as above below average or poor 26.1%

e) Demand and recommendations for future cross-cultural training

Would like further cross-cultural training 68.3%

Would recommend cross-cultural training to others 85%

Would not recommend cross-cultural training to others 10%

Are not sure if would recommend cross-cultural training to others 5%

Believe cross-cultural training should be compulsory for all employees 81%

in organisation

Believe cross-cultural training should be compulsory for all employees in

organisation who are in customer or client service positions 89.3%

42 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Appendix D

Findings of survey of current practice in cross-cultural

training in vocational education and training

a) Profile of respondents

Responding VET organisations: (See appendix A) 38

Individual respondents:

Responses to Part A: Survey of current cross-cultural 61

training practice in VET organisations 57

Responses to Part B: Survey of cross-cultural trainers 31

Location: Australian Capital Territory 3.5%

New South Wales 26.3%

Northern Territory 3.5%

Queensland 17.5%

South Australia 33.3%

Tasmania 0

Victoria 8.8%

Western Australia 7.0%

Size of workforces: 25 or less employees 32.1%

26–100 8.9%

101–500 6.1%

501–1000 1.8%

1001–5000 26.8%

5001–10000 10.7%

20 000 or more 3.6%

Position of respondents: Manager 75%

Teacher, coordinator, project officer 25%

b) Cross-cultural training practice

Table D1 Modes of cross-cultural training delivery

Mode % No.

Classroom teaching 74.8% 41

Specialised training workshops 65.4% 36

External projects e.g. field work 43.6% 24

Distance or e-learning 38.2% 21

Mentoring 29.1% 16

Coaching 23.6% 13

Informal workplace learning/induction 10.9% 6

Notes: n = 55

Respondents could choose more than one option.


Table D2 Learning objectives of cross-cultural training compared with SCIMIA study

Learning objective % No. SCIMA %

To improve service to culturally diverse customers 98.2% 54 91.6%

To improve workplace communication and relationships 94.5% 52 64.2%

To improve community relationships 60.0% 33 54.7%

To improve compliance, equal opportunity/discrimination 58.2% 32 45.3%

To improve marketing to culturally diverse customers 41.8% 23 33.0%

To improve capacity to work internationally 2.7% 18 21.0%

Other: confront racism, improve language and settlement 12.7% 7 N/A

Notes: n = 55

Respondents could choose more than one option.

44 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Appendix E

Findings of survey of employers

a) Profile of respondents

Respondents: 34 (see appendix B)

Private sector: 18

Public sector: 16

ANZSIC (Australian and New Zealand Standard Industry Classification) industry classifications

represented: agriculture, mining, manufacturing, electricity and water supply, wholesale trade,

transport, communication services, finance, government and health and community services.

Head offices: South Australia 10

New South Wales 5

Victoria 5

Western Australia 5

Australian Capital Territory 4

Queensland 2

Tasmania 1

Germany 1

France 1

Size of workforce: Fewer than 500 20%

501–10 000 55%

20 000 or more 25%

Position of respondents: Senior executives 25%

Middle managers 50%

Training or HR managers 25%

b) Importance and perceived benefits of cultural competence to employers

Importance of employee cultural competence for

working with culturally diverse clients and customers: 86% (4.3 on 5-point Likert scale)

Public sector rating: 90% (4.5)

Private sector rating 78% (3.9)

Importance of employee cultural competence for

working with culturally diverse co-workers: 80% (4.0 on 5-point Likert scale)

Public sector rating: 85% (4.25)

Private sector rating: 76% (3.8)


Table E1 Comparison of ratings of importance of employee cultural competence for working with

culturally diverse customers and co-workers

Importance VET VET graduates Employers SCIMA employers SCIMA participants

Customers 4.7 4.5 4.3 4.2 4.3

Co-workers 4.4 4.3 4.0 4.1 4.3

Note: Ratings on a Likert scale of 1–5

Table E2 Inclusion of cultural competence in human resource management practices

HR practice Private sector Public sector Total

% No. % No. % No.

Cultural competence included in

recruitment specifications 44.4% 8 25% 4 35.3% 12

Cultural competence included in

career development strategies 77.8% 14 62.5% 10 70.5% 24

Cultural competence included in

performance appraisal 44.5% 8 50.0% 8 47.0% 16

Note: n = 34

Table E3 Workplace benefits attributed to graduates’ cultural competence

Workplace benefit No. %

Improved customer service 14 41.2%

Increased cultural self-awareness 10 29.4%

Improved workplace communication & relationships 9 26.4%

Improved compliance with EO & discrimination laws 9 26.4%

Improved compliance with access & equity policies 8 23.5%

Improved community relations 5 14.7%

Improved marketing to culturally diverse customers 3 8.8%

Improved skills to work internationally 3 8.8%

Note: n = 34

c) Current and planned cross-cultural training activity

Organisations conducting cross-cultural training for employees: 27 (79.4%)

Private sector: 66.6%

Public sector: 93.7%

Types of cross-cultural training provided to employees: Percentage of organisations

General cultural awareness 50%

Multicultural culture specific training 47%

Indigenous cultural awareness 32.4%

Specialised e.g. customer service training 32.4%

Working with interpreters and translators 29.4%

Managing cultural diversity 26.4%

46 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

Table E4 Organisational estimates of demand for job applicants and existing employees to be able

to demonstrate cultural competence will increase or decrease over the next five years

Private Public Total % private % public % total

Greatly decrease 0 0 0 0 0 0

Decrease 0 0 0 0 0

Stay same 5 5 10 27.8 31.3 29.4

Increase 10 9 19 55.5 56.2 55.9

Greatly increase 3 2 5 16.7 12.5 14.7

Total 34 100.0 100.0 100.0

Table E5 Organisations planning to provide cross-cultural training to employees in the next five years

Private Public Total % private % public % total

No 1 0 1 5.6 0 3.0

Don’t know 0 1 1 0 6.25 3.0

Yes 17 15 32 94.4 93.75 94.0

Total 34 100.0 100.0 100.0

Table E6 Other employer strategies for developing employee cultural competence

Strategy % of employers No. of employers

Building cultural awareness into other training 58.8% 20

Providing mentoring or coaching programs 44.1% 15

Recruiting more staff from culturally diverse backgrounds 52.9% 18

Developing policies & procedures for culturally inclusive work


38.2% 13

Other: e.g succession planning, improved use of language

services, helping clients deal with overseas customers.

20.6% 7

d) Positioning of cross-cultural training in VET and the workplace

Table E7 Comparison of percentages of employers and VET graduates who believe cross-cultural

training should be mandatory for all employees in their organisation

Private Public Total % private % public % total % VET


Av. %

No 10 4 14 55.6 25.0 41.2 9.1 25.1

Don’t know 2 2 4 11.1 12.5 11.8 9.9 10.8

Yes 6 10 16 33.3 62.5 47.0 81.0 64.0

Total 34 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 99.9


Table E8 Comparison of percentages of employers and VET graduates who believe cross-cultural

training should be mandatory for all employees in their organisation in customer contact roles

Private Public Total % private % public % total %VET


Av. %

No 3 0 3 16.7 0 8.8 5.7 7.3

Don’t know 3 1 4 16.7 6.3 11.8 5.0 8.3

Yes 12 15 27 66.6 93.7 79.4 89.3 84.3

Total 34 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 99.9

48 Cross-cultural training and workplace performance

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