How to be culturally aware as a team leader

Last updated on 24 May 2023

In a culturally diverse industry like aged care, it’s essential to provide culturally aware leadership and guidance for your staff. [Source: Shutterstock]

Aged care is one of the most diverse industries in Australia. Therefore, it’s critical that team leaders and managers understand and acknowledge cultural differences between staff. 

But why does cultural awareness matter in the workplace? More than one-third of the workforce identified as coming from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background in the 2020 Aged Care Workforce Census. That figure was almost 60% in residential aged care homes with higher percentages of CALD residents.

Being culturally aware means your team not only appears inclusive but it is inclusive. Aged care workers want to be somewhere they are welcomed, and if you understand their cultural identity, personal values and beliefs, you can better support them.

If you’re unsure where to begin, these five steps will help you become a culturally aware team leader.

Acknowledge any personal bias

You cannot be culturally aware and inclusive if you do not address any personal bias. How do you feel about individuals from cultures and backgrounds different to yours? Do you hold any negative reactions? If there are none, fantastic! You likely have already created an inclusive culture for your team.

But if you hold any assumptions or beliefs about others due to race, religion or gender – and these could be influenced by your own cultural or religious upbringing – you need to identify them. You do not want personal bias to get in the way of your leadership and professional relationships with staff.

Support cultural awareness in the workplace

When conflict occurs due to personal bias, cultural awareness and sensitivity training can help break down barriers between diverse teams. Attending or participating in training courses that promote cultural diversity and sensitivity will help everyone actively learn about their colleagues and the importance of cultural and language diversity. A group experience could be the perfect way to strengthen relationships within your team.

Understand what culturally aware actions include

It’s one thing to say you’re culturally aware, it’s another to act that way. These are some of the actions which will help you foster a positive workplace culture:

  • Think before making assumptions about an individual in a culturally diverse workplace
  • Accommodating religious and cultural needs during important religious holidays like Eid
  • Seeking input and advice when workplace events are being held, e.g. asking about dietary restrictions
  • Supporting and educating all team members when conflict occurs
  • Adhering to workplace diversity and inclusion policies
  • Listening and seeking support when staff raise concerns about workplace bullying

Build diverse relationships

Each and every professional relationship will be unique. You truly cannot paint individuals with the same brush just because they are of the same CALD background. 

For example, you can have intersecting cultural and religious beliefs, where two colleagues might be from the same country but follow two completely different religions. Take the time to build diverse relationships focusing on each one’s hobby and interests, this will help you learn more about your staff. 

Be receptive to everyday learning

No one should be expected to know everything about other cultures, so treat every interaction as a chance to learn. If you have a team member that is Hindu and you know that Diwali (Festival of Lights) is coming up, ask them about the festival to learn more. 

By asking – and actively listening – about how they celebrate, who they celebrate with, the types of food on offer and even the traditional outfits that are worn, you can learn so much more about the individuals you’re working with. Use the opportunity to develop cultural recognition throughout the wider workplace so other staff can engage with meaningful cross-cultural traditions.

As a team leader, there’s always time to learn. Just remember the key to cultural awareness is inclusion. Include team members when planning or preparing to achieve common goals! It’s a simple way to promote engagement and teamwork.

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