Why Cultural Competence is a Competitive Advantage in the 21st Century: An Interview with Tayo Rockson

More than ever, workplaces are challenged to manage people from all walks of life, each having their own values, motivating factors, and work style preferences. Success is dependent on organizations ensuring that their employees are able to work effectively with each other. Our guest, Tayo Rockson, elaborates on why cultural competence is vital for organizations and encourages leaders to take steps to ensure that their company will thrive in the 21st century.

Why Cultural Competence is a Competitive Advantage in the 21st Century

Tell us a bit about the work you do.

The work I do straddles two fields: Cultural Competency and Personal Branding. As a cultural translator, I help companies incorporate effective diversity and inclusion strategies into their framework and as a branding strategist, I help change-makers leverage their gifts in order to solve some of today's biggest problems

What was your childhood experience and how did it influence the work you’re doing today?

As a child, I spent the first nine years of my life living in a military dictatorship, then I went on to live and go to school in several countries. By the time I was 17, I had lived in five countries and four continents. All these moves put me in a position where I was the minority everywhere I went and so communicating across cultures effectively was a necessity. Also, having grown up initially under a military dictatorship, I became immediately aware of what it was like not to have opportunities or freedom. I believe that subconsciously made me want to be a voice for the voiceless and help as many people as I can while I'm alive.

How has working in an area where you are passionate improved your life?

For one thing, I feel more fulfilled. I have worked in jobs where I made more money but I wasn't satisfied with what I was doing with my life and that lowered my morale. Another way working on my passions has improved my life is by putting me in positions to empower others. The gift of helping others embrace their identity and make an impact

What is cultural awareness?

Cultural awareness is the foundation of communication and it involves the ability of standing back from ourselves and becoming aware of our cultural values, beliefs, and perceptions.

Cultural awareness is the ability to recognize the different beliefs, values, and customs that someone has based on that person's origins, and it allows a person to build more successful personal and professional relationships in a diverse environment. A person's state, region or country of origin and local customs heavily influence cultural background.

Tayo Rockson Quote

What’s the bottom line for organizations? Why should they invest in improving their cultural competency?

The bottom line for organizations is that being culturally competent is actually a competitive advantage in the 21st century. If we look around us today, we can see that due to the internet, migration patterns and new markets that keep popping up, we are experiencing a whole new world. The intersections of markets, customers, ideas, races, religions, and worldviews are shifting and influencing our priorities today and will continue to influence them tomorrow.

  • The United States government predicts that non-Hispanic whites will become a minority in the country by 2055.

  • The United Nations predicts that 98 percent of world population growth until 2025 will be in developing nations.

  • The population of Europe is expected to drop from what would have been 25 percent of the world total in 1900 to 7 per cent in the next 50 years.

  • Fast-forward to 2050, it’ll be the dawning of a new era. The more diverse younger generations will have grown up and had their own diverse children and grandchildren.

Essentially, leaders of tomorrow must know how to succeed with all these differences. The world is changing and that’s a reality that we all have to deal with. So instead of resisting, we must seek to understand so we can leverage our differences the right way.

Companies should invest in improving their cultural competency because it could be the key to your workplace success or failure.

In today’s marketplace, you don’t know what you’re going to face, and if you have a very singular view of the world you’re not going to be successful.

How can organizations measure their success in cultural competency?

They can do so in the following ways. First, determine what a successful culturally competent organization looks like to you, then do the following:

  • Look over existing documentation such as policies and procedures

  • Interview key individual informants

  • Conduct focus group interviews with different identity groups, and

  • Conduct an organization-wide survey

Once all these have been done, create a grade point system like you do in school. Define what it will take for your organization to score an A, B, C, D or an F, then assess your organization now and check back every three to six months.

Tayo Rockson Quote 2

For employees in organizations that aren’t ready to make a financial commitment to improving cultural competency through hiring consultants like you, what can these employees do as a D-I-Y method to improving this metric within their workplace?

I'd recommend creating a diversity and inclusion task force that includes someone from the leadership office and have them lead an effort similar to what I recommended in my previous answer.

What about organizations whose leadership do not see or downplay the value? What steps should employees take to pitch their organizational leaders on the importance of improving cultural competency?

I'd say first of all, do the research to understand what it is that drives business and revenue for your company. After this be able to discuss the benefits of more diverse workers. Discuss how it leads to more perspectives (different backgrounds lead people to think differently), a better economy (the more people who are working, the better the economy does as a whole, which is always good for business), and better productivity.

As you are presenting your plan, make sure you're providing solutions and not discussing more problems. Come up with ways to attract and retain more diverse talent by designing a comprehensive employee search campaign that includes: connecting with local organizations, such as churches, universities, and job centers, in more diverse areas of the community.

Doing all this should be solid starting grounds.

What are some roadblocks to connecting across cultures and how can people get past these?

I'd say two things. One is people aren't aware of their unconscious biases. Scientists estimate that we are exposed to as many as 11 million pieces of information at any one time, but our brains can only functionally deal with about 40. If this is the case, you can imagine how many hiring, firing and promoting decisions are being made based on our biases. So that's number one. People need to be aware of their biases.

The second thing is that too many people have a narrow definition of diversity and don't operate in the nuance. Diversity isn't a cookie cutter concept that applies to everyone the same way. Individuals and companies need to do the work to identify all the intersections that exist within the diversity of your company and find out what it is that employees need to feel like they belong.

So be aware of your biases and operate in the nuance of your diversity.

If you were president for a term, what key initiatives would you focus on most?

I'd focus on education and foreign policy. Education because I believe we need to be more intentional and inclusive with our curriculums and that starts at a young age, and foreign policy initiatives that make it easy for cross-cultural travel and volunteer work. Embedding yourself in different cultures forces one to be comfortable being uncomfortable and widens one's perspective.

How can people get in touch with you to learn more?

I am @tayorockson everywhere. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat or on www.tayorockson.com.