Making Cultural Diversity an Opportunity

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Making Cultural Diversity an Opportunity

Posted on May 18, 2010

Senior living communities often face an interesting challenge based on the core of the US nation: diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. This involves deep benefits and challenges at all levels of management that need to be addressed by strategies and day to day practices.

In addition to the operational point of view, many States require a community to make sure that its workforce is able to communicate with residents. This implies that the recruiting process includes a screening step that takes into account languages of the applicant and the needs of residents. When dealing with communities where English, Spanish, German, Filipino and Russian are spoken, this quickly becomes a challenge.
On one hand, diversity is a huge asset where it creates a richness of experiences and viewpoints. On the other, especially when it comes to community-level employees, language challenges can be a barrier to performance. And if not carefully monitored, a cultural disconnect could undermine teamwork.

The best approach to these multicultural issues is to tackle them head on: Open, honest discussion will always be the best and easiest way to solve a problem. In practical terms, this means supervisors should be trained to help associates resolve cultural conflicts through skills taught in supervisory training programs. In addition to other facets of leadership, training should include facilitated team-inclusion sessions, where associates work to understand the differences and commonalities of the members of the team. These sessions can focus on work styles as well as preferences on how people may like to communicate.

Ideally, these core values will reinforce the importance of respect and caring across cultural distinctions, thereby enhancing quality of life to its residents.
From an activity & wellness perspective, having diverse cultural background from residents and staff members are benefits that are easily utilizable. Cultural events offer a natural opportunity to do this, with celebrations of Chinese New Year, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, Kwanzaa, and Jewish holidays. Such celebrations help foster a sense of belonging among all employees. There is nothing more fun than seeing the entire staff dressed in Asian clothing for Chinese New Year, or seeing an executive director dressed like a leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day.
Such activities do more than just foster understanding between employees of diverse cultures. These celebrations make employees feel at home, so that they in turn are better prepared to help residents feel at home.