Intercultural Sensitivity in the Workplace

Intercultural Sensitivity in the Workplace

It is often said that diversity is strength. The workforce today is composed of individuals from various cultural backgrounds and walks of life. As a result of the progressive development of our labor law jurisprudence, we also have males, females, and the LBGTQ individuals in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals in the American workforce associate themselves with the following cultural affiliations; non-Hispanic white, African American, Hispanic, Asian, and there are others who do not identify racially or ethnically (Burns, 2012).  According to the statistics they provided, approximately 64% are non-Hispanic white, 16% are Hispanic, 12% are African American, 5% are Asians, and 3% do not associate themselves with the aforementioned cultural affiliations (Burns, 2012). Essentially, if a picture is to be painted of the workplace today, all the rainbow colors would be used. When diversity is well-incorporated in a work environment, numerous benefits will accrue. Some of the benefits include; increased productivity, a reduction of employee turnover, incorporation of a wide range of skills, an increase in creativity, and better profits for the company (Guillaume, 2017). Intercultural sensitivity and positive inter-cultural relations in the workplace bring about numerous benefits for an organization.

Figure 1. Inspired by the results of the statistics provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics as mentioned above.

It is important to note that no one is born culturally sensitive. We are exposed to our own culture and we formulate our own distinctive world-view, but in due time, we come to the understanding that there are other cultures and other world-views. During the initial stages, many people are typically in denial of this fact (Chen & Starosta, 2000). However, with time, we start aligning ourselves to intercultural sensitivity. From this it can be inferred that cultural sensitivity requires hard work on a personal level. Progressing from the initial stage of denial to the final stage of sensitivity takes quite some effort. It is also important to note that during the initial stage, an individual thinks that their culture is superior to others or that there is no need to consider the cultural background of an individual since the individual should only be viewed as an individual. Based on the graph as illustrated above for instance, it is apparent that in the typical workplace, non-Hispanic whites are indeed the majority. The temptation, therefore, for the majority would be to ignore the cultural affiliations of the other 36%. This has always brought about various detrimental effects. That is why there has been a movement towards cultural sensitivity. 

As the process of cultural sensitivity continues, individuals attain the ethnorelative approach (Bennet & Bennet, 2004). This is where one can look at other cultures in relation to their own, not as inferior, but just as rich and complex as their own. This is a beautiful stage of acceptance, where one feels the need to know more about their co-worker’s’ heritages, so as to understand and therefore handle them better. It is usually closely followed by adaptation to the cultures, or at least an attempt to, where one can easily change a thought or an idea to accommodate a colleague’s (Bennet & Bennet, 2004). The optimum point of this ethnorelative approach is the achievement of cultural competence, characterized by the feeling of acceptance and mutual respect between co-workers (Bennet & Bennet, 2004).

Cultural sensitivity in the work place often seems theoretical since there are so many different cultures that it may be hard to keep up, However, the constant effort to be at par with co-workers is all. It can change an experience that could have been awfully difficult into a fun way to not only co-relate with everyone, but also make new friends. It can turn out to be the best experience not only in the career path but also in life.


Bennett, J. M., & Bennett, M. J. (2004). Developing intercultural sensitivity: An integrative approach to global and domestic diversity (pp. 147-165).

Burns, C. (2012). The State of Diversity in Today’s Workforce. Centre for American Progress. Retrieved from

Chen, G. M., & Starosta, W. J. (2000). The development and validation of the intercultural sensitivity scale.Guillaume, Y. R., Dawson, J. F., Otaye‐Ebede, L., Woods, S. A., & West, M. A. (2017). Harnessing demographic differences in organizations: What moderates the effects of workplace diversity? Journal of