The Impact of Our Cultural Identity as Professional Coaches

It’s not surprising that the results of the 2016 International Coach Federation NPO-NGO Community of Practice survey found cultural competency was a high priority area of interest.

What is cultural competency?

Culture is an abstract concept that can be hard for us to define. Therefore, there is no one set definition for cultural competency. The seminal work of Georgetown University Social Scientists Cross et al in 1989 offered a definition of cultural competence that is still in use today:

Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professions to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.

Culture is a set of shared understandings, thoughts, actions, customs, values and so on. Competence is used to imply a capacity to function effectively with others who may not share the same culture. While you may not use cardamom in your family’s traditional recipes, you understand and respect that other people do.

How many spices can you name?

Why does it matter?

Our local communities are becoming more diverse and globally connected through technology and demographic changes. Organizations are “internationalizing” – employees are geographically dispersed, from different countries, and different cultures. The workplace requires individuals to be aware of different cultures, to interact with people from different cultures, and to interpret new cultures as they are encountered.

By 2050, the United States will consist of a majority minority population.  This means that today’s minority groups, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as those of any race other than non-Hispanic, single-race whites, who currently account for only a third of the U.S.’s current population, are expected to increase to 54% of the U.S. population within a generation. As the U.S.’s cultural diversity increases, so will the need for our cultural competence.

These changing workforce and societal demographics are revolutionizing the learning demands for leaders today.

What’s the impact for coaching?

As professional coaches, a critical component of success is that we acknowledge the impact of our cultural identity as well as the cultural identity of our client.

Cultural competence is essential for success. With these changing cultural and demographic trends, how do coaches need to be culturally competent to support today’s leaders? How do we understand our cultural identity as coaches and how does that influence the way we support our clients in designing actions?

Where to start?

Begin by examining your individual cultural identity. By understanding your own cultural identity through self-reflection you are more prepared for the cross-cultural learning process. For example, if your cultural identity is American then you are more likely to place a high value on time as a concept and as a commodity.  Americans do battle with time.  We talk about saving time and beating the clock. Whereas other cultures have a more relaxed view of time.

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture.  He identified six dimensions of culture and has plotted the relative comparison of 76 different countries. You can select two countries and compare the dimensions of power, individualism, long-term orientation, etc.

Want to improve your cultural competence?

Vista Global Coaching & Consulting also provides custom trainings and workshops on cultural competence. Or if you’re looking for an opportunity to explore cross-cultural leadership, check out the Vista Leadership Academy.  Currently accepting applications until June 1, 2016,  Vista Leadership Academy is the only cross-cultural, multi-generational leadership development experience that combines a virtual classroom model with a transformative leadership journey in Oaxaca, Mexico. Learn more about the Academy’s Program…