ASSESSING THE LEVEL OF CULTURAL COMPETENCIES IN PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS.

Author:Weimer, Nicholas
Position:Report

INTRODUCTION

As the United States transitions from a primarily White population to a country that is composed of diverse racial and ethnic minorities, the entire cultural landscape is consequently transforming from homogeneous population to a collection of heterogeneous communities with varied values and beliefs. The categories of diversity within these communities is broader than the simple census classifications of race and ethnicity suggest; with wide variations in language, religion, gender orientation, sexual orientation, and even disabilities. These cultural distinctions among the people in a community create a diversity of needs, which the public service sector has an obligation to address. In other words, in order to be effective, public service providers must be culturally competent.

In the context of this article, cultural competency is the knowledge and ability to effectively understand, communicate with, and value people across different cultures, and negotiate the controversy that their multiple perspectives will inevitably create (Rivera, et al., 2010). By providing culturally appropriate and accessible services, the significance and positive perception of a government office is likely to increase. Therefore, if public service providers are to effectively serve the culturally diverse population of the modern era, their levels of cultural competence baseline must be determined and organizational change instituted to increase the cultural competency of the service providers. This article demonstrates how the program evaluation process can be used to conduct workforce evaluation and reorganization for moving a public agency toward cultural competence.

THE NEED FOR CULTURAL COMPETENCY IN GOVERNMENT

As previously stated, the United States is rapidly transitioning from a primarily White population to a country that is composed of diverse racial and ethnic minorities. For example, the U.S. non-White population was approximately 10% in 1960, but is currently the minority population is just over 34% (Bureau of the Census, 1964; U.S. Census, 2010a). From mid-2007 to July 1, 2008, the minority population of the U.S. increased by 2.3% in just one year (Martha & Paul, 2009). The shift in demographics in the U.S. is projected to continue at this pace, as indicated by the more recent Census data, which show that over half of the children under age two are minorities (Associated Press, 2011). Not surprisingly, most Census data predict that the future population of the U.S. will be majority-minority. According to the Census Bureau (2008), minorities are expected to become the majority in 2042, with the nation projected to have a 54% minority population in 2050.

While the country has not yet reached a majority-minority status, several regions within the country have over 50% minority composition. In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 5 states: Texas, Hawaii, New Mexico, California, and the District of Columbia, hold the status of majority-minority states. An additional five states: Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York, and Arizona, are nearing this status with current minority populations of roughly 40 percent (U.S. Census, 2005). Many counties within the U.S. are already minority-majority. According to Gentile (2007: 8), the U.S. Census Bureau reported, "more than 50 percent of the population of nearly one in ten counties across the country is minorities" (sic). According to a more recent Pew Research Center study the shift to majority- minority in counties accelerated between 2000 and 2103. At the time of the Pew Report's publication, 266 counties are majority-minority (Krogstad, 2015). The data indicate that both state and local government are rapidly shifting to a majority of minority citizens. Thus, it is incumbent on all government structures, including local, state, and federal, to ensure that the delivery of public services is culturally inclusive to effectively meet the needs of the entire population.

The rapid increase of minorities in the U.S. has also been accompanied by a dramatic shift in the racial and ethnic composition of the population. In 1950, African Americans comprised roughly 75 percent of all minorities in the U.S. Currently however, Hispanics are the largest minority base within the U.S., and also the fastest growing minority with a projected growth of 15 to 30 percent by the year 2050 (U.S. Census, 2008). Additionally, by the year 2050, the Asian population is expected to rise from 15.5 million to 40.6 million, American Indians and Alaska Natives are projected to rise from 4.9 million to 8.6 million, and the Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander populations are expected to more than double. Moreover, by the year 2050, the number of people who identify themselves as being of two or more races is projected to more than triple, from 5.2 million to 16.2 million (U.S. Census, 2008). This growth of pluralism has rendered the term "minority" inadequate to represent the vast diversity of people within these groups. While Census statistics focus on these larger classifications of minority groups for convenience, these statistics fail to note the hundreds of variations of race, ethnicity, language, and religion that comprise a rich mixture of subcultures within these minority groups.

Ramirez notes (1995: 964), "The emergence and increasing visibility of multiracial Americans is transforming the face of America and forcing lawmakers to reevaluate remedies and programs which rely on simplistic racial classifications." In order for individuals of all racial classifications to flourish in a multicultural environment, government must ensure that the entire populous receives fair and equitable treatment. Onyoni and Ives state (2006: 1), "Cultural competency allows organizations to demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively in all aspects of policymaking, administration, practice, and service delivery." Ultimately, building a government workforce with cultural understanding and sensitivity becomes the construct of an ethical society. According to the Oregon Department of Education (2004), cultural competence is based on the core democratic principles of commitment to social justice and equity. We cannot expect minority groups, within the U.S., will receive equal social benefits and treatments from society without a clear understanding of their individual customs, beliefs, and values.

Currently however, there is growing evidence that government programs lack the level of cultural understanding needed to provide the necessary services to everyone in a diverse society. For example, research shows that at the State level of government, child welfare services systems have a lower level of accuracy for Blacks than for other groups in their ability to diagnose or detect instances of child maltreatment (Mumpower, 2010). Among the root causes of this disproportionality in child welfare services are organizational and systemic factors, including biases in decision-making, cultural insensitivity, and structural racism (Mumpower, 2010). This inability of government programs to provide equal services to all groups of people demonstrates the necessity for preparing a culturally competent workforce of public service providers. Thus, cultural competency is essential for building a workforce that advocates social justice and ensures the fair and equitable treatment of all citizens in a democratic society.

In order to create government programs that are culturally competent, government programs must first reform their own organizational culture. Performance of organizations results in the ability to integrate internal processes in order to survive and adapt to the external environment (Schien, 1992). In other words, government programs must first demonstrate diversity within their internal environments before they can expect to be prepared to work with diverse populations. Selden and Selden (2001) refer to this diversity as representative bureaucracy, i.e. "the extent to which a bureaucracy employs people of diverse social backgrounds, leads to active representation, or the pursuit of policies reflecting the interests and desires of those people" (308). Yet, government is currently lacking adequate diversity in their organizations. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that the representation of minority groups employed by the United States federal government is not representative of the minority groups in the civilian labor force (U.S. EEOC, 2008). Hispanic participation in particular is lacking in the major (mission-critical or dominant) job series at most agencies (U.S. EEOC, 2008). The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has clearly indicated their desire to increase diversity in the workforce, stating their resolve to promote greater efficiency and fairness in the federal hiring process (Hayes, 2009).

While government programs are expressing their intent to increase diversity within their organization, they must also prepare their workforce with cultural competency training to ensure the successful reform of their organizational culture. Cox (1991: 36) notes "workforce profile data has typically been monitored under traditional equal opportunity and affirmative action guidelines... however, even within levels of an organization, individual groups may be highly segregated". Without effective communication and cooperation of the employees within an organization, an organization will not function effectively or efficiently. Public servants who represent a diverse society should have primary knowledge of diversity issues if they are to be successful (White, 2004). Cultural competency education becomes a necessary tool for the effective transition of workforce demographics within the organizational structure of government.

As an indicator of their recognition of the need for cultural competency, the...

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