Cultural Competency and Professionalism

By: David

After a fabulous training within the office a few weeks ago, I have been deeply inspired by this idea of cultural competency and professionalism. A huge shout out to our guest presenter, Helen Mongan-Rallis from the Education Department here at UMD. What struck as most eye-opening to me was how easily these two concepts coexist as one. It definitely may seem like common sense for many, but it is common sense that we do not typically think of when it comes down to it. If you want to be culturally competent, you need to be professional. If you want to be professional, you need to be culturally competent. Though the two are not exclusive to one another. Throughout today’s post, I will elaborate on what I learned about culture and power and how it all ties into professionalism.

Culture and Prof

Culture & Power

To better understand culture we must first understand power. It is important to understand that cultural norms are defined by those who are in power. For instance, a key moment from the training was, “how do we define professionalism in a workplace and who gets to control that? Would it be Julie, your director?” You see, when a society or community is newly established or transitions from one to another we have to understand that the ones in power will be the ones determining the cultural norms in these societies and communities and should we break these norms we could be shunned, outcasted, and even despised. This idea that culture stems from power is one that holds much truth to it. Through various lens and perspectives, it is safe to say that EVERYONE has their own sort of culture. For instance, the UMD culture is governed by those in power which can arguably be the students altogether. But what about the culture within certain offices and organizations across campus such as Greek Life, Kirby, MC Organizations, music groups, religious groups, and so forth? Would it be the student leaders of the organization, the adviser, or the members? A quick personal example is one that occurs frequently when I have guests over. As a student of Asian descent, I get annoyed extremely quick when I have people walking around my apartment with their shoes on. As the person in power, the cultural norm under my apartment unit is NO SHOES!  In a nutshell, when having a conversation about culture or enhancing one’s own cultural competency it is important to observe and analyze how these norms come to be based on power.


So how does all of this relate back to professionalism? Well, for starters, I find it important that we understand that professionalism might not look the same for everyone. When greeting, a bow may be accepted in Eastern countries whereas a handshake is the norm in Western countries. Even in the same society, men and women may greet one another differently whether it be a handshake or friendly wave. Secondly, the significance of perceiving professionalism and cultural competency co-existing as one is extremely important. When we want to be professional in the workplace, it is important we are culturally sensitive and aware of such topics and issues that may affect other individuals whether it be race, gender, sexuality, or disability topics. On the flipside, when we want to be culturally competent we need to maintain our professionalism in order to continuously engage and involve ourselves into learning about new ideas, concepts, and topics that are outside our realm of normality. Lastly, it is important to know that professionalism and cultural competency all comes with time and no one will ever perfect these two concepts. I have many friends who are constantly immersed in what should happen in professional environments (they are in the business school), yet they are still anxious about making professional mistakes whether it be dining, dress code, speech and diction, or other acts that fall under professionalism. In comparison, I have many advisers from the Office of Diversity & Inclusion who admit that they are still continuing their path of cultural competency and just because they are people of color does not give them any more credibility to be more culturally competent than others.

In finale, the path to perfecting professionalism and cultivating cultural competency will be a never-ending journey for all of us. These two skills and concepts are critical in today’s workforce as we, as a generation, have become culturally aware and sensitive to diverse populations and communities. In virtue of the two notions, it creates a positive and harmonious work environment for all which increases productivity of the organization. At the end of the day, we have a choice to either ignore these concepts and let it belittle us or constantly invest our time and effort to improve ourselves and those around us collectively.  The choice is yours.

Of Possible Interest: 

Read David’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Benjamin Child

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