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The cultural diversity challenge

August 28, 2012
by Susan Misiorski
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Today’s nursing homes are highly diverse institutions. Often our residents are from different ethnic and class backgrounds than the direct-care staff who provide most of their care. Particularly in urban areas, staff hail from countries spanning the entire globe. There are differences in education, age, primary language and spiritual beliefs, to name a few. All of these differences impact daily interactions among staff and residents.

To address these differences, many organizations make an effort to learn about the cultural practices of the different groups represented in the community. But what we’ve learned from research in this area is that sharing our cultural norms isn’t enough. What is most important to addressing the challenges of difference is to create a culture of respect, where each person feels valued and accepted.

PHI organizational change consultants have been working with organizations to build respectful workplaces for over two decades. One of PHI’s change consultants, Maria Elena del Valle notes that diverse workplaces are successful when they value communication.  “Communication is the heartbeat of an organization,” del Valle says. 

Del Valle likes to begin workshops on diversity by asking everyone in the room to talk about what makes a respectful workplace. No matter what culture individuals come from, she says, they discover that they share values. We all want to be treated with kindness, respect and honesty.

In a recent interview that appeared in LeadingAge Magazine (May/June 2012), del Valle emphasized that diverse organizations require sustained dialogue among staff:

"We need to explore together what’s happening, to ask, “What am I doing to create a respectful environment, and what do people need from leadership?” The clients I have seen, in the past 25 years, are beginning to understand the need for a culture of responsibility and dialogue, and the importance of being able to respond to any situation with curiosity. It’s a beautiful thing, curiosity, it stops you and you just look, you gain emotional control in the middle of differences."

Leaders can work with their staff to create welcoming environments in a multitude of ways. Probably most important is showing staff that, regardless of their nationalities, they are valued members of the team. Ensuring that staff have input into decisions that affect them—for example, scheduling or a redesign of dining practices—times set aside for professional review and respectful feedback, and opportunities for education and career advancement are all crucial to a respectful workplace.

As del Valle likes to point out, these days, a LTC organization may be a place where individuals speak 15 different languages. When we look around to assess what is happening in our organization, we can be assured diversity is here to stay. Learning about each other is a fascinating journey, and it begins with a real commitment to creating a respectful environment for all.

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Susan Misiorski

@PHInational

phinational.org/training

Susan Misiorski is director of training and organizational development services for...