top of page

What is Cultural Competence?

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Seva Global logo

I used to travel to India every two years to visit my grandparents and extended family. Many of you who have immigrant parents might be able to relate to this. In my early years of travel to India, I observed many cultural differences and quickly learned to adapt to the norms and customs.

One big difference was in family mealtime. As I was accustomed to the American way of individual plates, my family all ate from one big “thali” (Indian style plate). I wasn’t used to sharing my food with others but watched and learned the etiquette of collaborative dining. ☺ We all sat on the floor and the thali was in the middle on a small table with all the vegetables, lentils, rice, and bread. Up to eight people could be sitting at one time and we shared all the food. It was a great bonding experience with my cousins, and definitely created life-long memories.

What is Cultural Competence?

Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate, and effectively interact with people across cultures. Some people refer to this as Cultural Intelligence, Cultural Fluency, or Cultural Quotient (CQ). Cultural competence encompasses being aware of one’s own world view, developing positive attitudes toward cultural differences, and gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views.

Cultural competence impacts your bottom-line results and increases employee engagement and customer service. It helps empower your teams to provide the best level of customer service to all, and for people of various backgrounds to feel seen, understood, and even appreciated.

The Business Impact

Cultural competence is a business imperative to understanding the dynamic, global world we live in. As a friend once told me, “Cultural Competency is not a soft skill, it is a must skill.” The best part is that cultural competence is transferable from the business world into our personal lives. Whether your company’s CEO is Japanese, or your neighbor is Japanese, your learnings and understanding about a culture are life practical skills.

My job is simple… to help you lead with a global mindset and help you grow your business by understanding cultures.

Six Business Impacts of Cultural Competence

1. Employee Engagement

Don’t you want to work at a company that recognizes your major holiday? I celebrate Diwali, the Indian New Year, and it feels so nice when my colleagues say “Happy Diwali” or the HQ café has some special Indian foods that day. People will feel more engaged when they feel the inclusivity of their workplace.

2. Talent Acquisition

Research shows that 50% of the Gen Z population are people of color. To seek the best talent, it is important that companies understand people of different backgrounds. My youngest team member (who happens to be my daughter ) says her generation is looking for more than just a good salary and benefits. They are seeking companies that have strong DE&I initiatives, sustainability efforts, community work, and a purpose beyond profits. A professor at Rutgers University, has an amazing presentation on Gen Z and how to effectively work with this generation. I hired my daughter because she is the best and keeps me in check on what her generation is thinking. I might be older, but at times she is wiser.

3. Talent Retention

Every time we lose an employee, it costs the company money and time to rehire and retrain a new person. When we keep our employees happy and engaged, our talent retention will increase. Fifty percent of Gen Z are People of Color. That is our future workforce and more reason to learn about other cultures.

4. Customer Acquisition

Cultural competency can absolutely drive sales! My own story in 2008 is what piqued my interest in a recession year. I learned firsthand how to make my sales goals by being culturally competent. I will share that story with you in a future blog. ☺

5. Strengthen Partner Relations

Look at your vendors, owners, and partners. They most likely do not look like you. Whether they are Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ, or a different generation, understanding their background will help excel the relationship. Take time to invest in learning about people – not just their business.

6. Positive Media Exposure

Aren’t you tired of all the negative news each day? I know I am. People want to hear feel-good stories, and cultural competency work resonates with everyone. I am not a communications or PR major, but I was successful in getting The Washington Post and CBS Evening News to my sessions to give limelight to our hotels because of the work we were doing to highlight different cultures.

Cultivating Your Understanding:

Think about what you can do to make that business impact at your company by being more culturally competent.


bottom of page