JULY 12, 2022

What is Cultural Sensitivity Training, Anyway?

On a few occasions, I have been asked if OAIB offers cultural sensitivity training.

I usually respond by asking what they mean by that term.

And it turns out that people confuse cultural sensitivity training with DEIB work.

They also think it’s a magic bullet for solving their organization’s equity-related challenges.

Cultural Sensitivity Training refers to the process of creating awareness and helping employees appreciate and value each unique culture no matter from what background they are from. The training helps people understand that cultural differences exist and that it’s destructive to value one culture over another.

This is part of “diversity” but even if employees are culturally sensitive, it doesn’t mean they’re committed to equity – the ultimate goal of DEIB.

Being sensitive to cultural differences and being aware of inequity are not the same thing.

If you are sensitive to a thing, you’re reacting, you’re reactionary, you’re defensive, but if you are aware, then you’re proactive, you have room for misstep, but willing to stay engaged until your understanding is elevated.

Cultural sensitivity training can lead people to apologize for “being wrong” instead of spending time thinking about how to interact on the deeper level of humanity.

I have even seen it create an us-vs-them mindset.

Here’s an example. One person went through Cultural Sensitivity Training and interpreted their organization’s intent to hire more People of Color as, “Are you telling me I should just quit, so a Person of Color can have my job?”

This is not at all what DEIB is about.

I for one would not feel good about being given a job just to meet a diversity quota.

I want to know that I got the job because I’m qualified, can contribute, and earned the right to be there like anyone else.

The last thing I’ll say is that cultural sensitivity training sometimes becomes a way for an organization to simply check the box and say they value diversity, rather than intentionally working toward a shift in culture.

I’m not against Cultural Sensitivity Training, and it does have a place in our curriculum, but I do want people to be aware of how it’s not the ultimate solution or replacement for change.