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Reflect cultural awareness in work practice

Reflect cultural awareness in work practice


Demonstrate awareness of culture as a factor in all human behaviour by using culturally appropriate work practices
Use work practices that create a culturally and psychologically safe environment for all persons
Review and modify work practices in consultation with people from diverse backgrounds


People who identify with a particular culture have a lot of things in common, eg food, traditional costumes, music and so on. However, there are also lots of ways in which people within one culture differ.

Their differences may occur due to when they (or their ancestors) arrived in Australia, how long they have been living in Australia, their socio-economic background, their level of education, whether they live in a rural or urban area, the religion they identify with, and their different life experiences, which includes the experience of migration.

If we are to develop our cultural awareness, where do we begin? An understanding of the migration process itself is a good beginning. This is because migration is a key influence on a person’s life.

Some migrants undergo a relatively easy transition. However, there are many who experience at least some (if not many) challenges in adjusting to life in a new country.

Demonstrate awareness of culture as a factor in all human behaviour by using culturally appropriate work practices


First we look at migration and at some potential reasons behind both the decision to migrate and factors leading to a forced migration.

The term ‘migration’ comes from the verb ‘to migrate’, meaning to move from one country to another. People may migrate for many reasons, with each reason affecting each individual in a unique way.

In this resource, we will look at two broad categories of migrants:

Voluntary migration

Reasons for choosing to migrate voluntarily may include:

Those who are forced to leave their country and seek refuge elsewhere are generally fleeing persecution, war and conflict.

Activity 1

Read the scenario and answer the questions that follow.

You are visiting a friend or relative in a foreign country, a country where you do not speak the local language. During the visit, you fall seriously ill and find yourself restricted to a health care facility where the culture and language are foreign.

The food provided to you is unfamiliar and unappealing to your tastes. There are strange smells everywhere, and all around you people are speaking a foreign language. You do not understand the treatment you are being given, or what your diagnosis is. There is no information available to you in your first language. The only time you can communicate is when your friend or a relative comes to visit you.



Activity 2

In this activity you will check your understanding of the definition and concept of migration.

Click here for Activity 2.

Effects of migration on Australia

Part of the process of understanding the effects of migration on you, your clients and co-workers involves recognising how our own lives and the very society we live in have been affected by migration.

The benefits of cultural diversity to the majority of Australians become obvious when we look at the way our country has been shaped by migration. Once we recognise these benefits, it is easy to value the unique input that different cultures have in our lives—the diversity of experience offered at our doorsteps.

Australia is a nation of migrants. Indigenous Australians comprise 2.4%, that is, 5501,236 of the population (June 2006 census).

While migration to Australia has had many positive effects on Australian society generally, it has led to the dispossession of Aboriginal people of their land and, in many parts of Australia, to the loss of language, traditional social structure, law, culture and religion.

For more information about traditional Aboriginal culture go to the Aboriginal Benchbook website: www.aija.org.au/online/ICABenchbook/BenchbookChapter2.pdf

Aboriginal culture: www.aboriginalculture.com.au/index.shtml

Australian Museum: www.dreamtime.net.au/indigenous/index.cfm

Voluntary migration: Effects on the individual

It is important to recognise and understand some of the common effects of migration on the individual who has migrated because such experiences can have a lasting impact on the person.

Understanding yourself and the people around you (such as your colleagues) can help with the forming of satisfying interpersonal relationships and thus make your time at work more fulfilling and enjoyable.

Migrating to another country, while often exciting and offering the promise of a new and different life, can be an enormously stressful and difficult process. Some of the difficulties associated with the migration experience are listed below:

Activity 3

In this activity you will revise some common effects of migration on the individual.

Click here for Activity 3

Forced migration: Effects on the individual (refugee)

While it is common to hear about ‘migrants and refugees’, it is important to recognise that the two terms refer to very different groups of people. While both groups have effectively moved from one country to another, the circumstances leading up to that move are markedly different for each group.

Under existing Australian and international law, a refugee is defined as a person who has been forced to leave their country of origin due to the experience, or valid fear of, persecution on the grounds. These grounds may be:

The person must also feel unable to return to their country of origin due to the experienced or anticipated persecution.

What do you think are the major differences between migrants and refugees in terms of their migration experiences?

Reflect on the following statements about refugees. Consider where the statements apply to migrants as well.

A refugee:

In addition to the difficulties commonly faced by any person after moving to a new country, refugees may also experience a number of other concerns as a result of the circumstances leading to their flight.

Some of the specific difficulties faced by adult refugees include:

Seeking refuge places great demands on coping skills, especially when a person has experienced trauma.

Personal healing after highly traumatic experiences generally increases over time. However the ability to recover may depend on the number of traumatic events a person has experienced. The greater number of traumatic events experienced, the harder it is for a person to recover. Note that the specific difficulties facing adult refugees reflect the difficulties still faced by many Aboriginal Australians as a result of dispossession and loss of cultural identity.

For refugees who arrive in Australia as elderly people, it is important to note that they have not had any opportunity to become familiar with Australian society and may have no social support network here. It is important to note that increased reminiscence with age can lead to distressing recall of traumatic events and that this group of people may experience depression and other mental health difficulties related to imprisonment and torture.

For recently arrived refugees, traumatic experiences are likely to still be a vivid part of daily life.

Case study: Juana

Drawing of a woman in her 50s


Before Juana sought refuge in Australia, her parents and two of her brothers had been imprisoned for years by the state militia. They died in prison. Maria believes that their political associations and activism had brought the attention of the state militia on them. Juana’s father had been a newspaper journalist. One of Juana’s brothers was a university lecturer and another was a doctor in a rural community when they were arrested. Juana’s only sister simply disappeared. She was in her early 20s and had been a student leader and working as a volunteer in a women’s refuge. One day, she did not return home from work. Juana says she was arrested by the secret police and there had been witnesses. A number of relatives and friends had also been detained without trial or had simply ‘disappeared’.

Juana was 19 and was about to begin a nursing degree when she was imprisoned for three months and tortured to extract information about the whereabouts of various family members. After her imprisonment, she and her husband, Santos decided to flee the country. They arrived in Australia in the mid 80s, leaving family behind.

In Australia, Santos and Juana worked as a cleaner in hospitals. Later, the couple had a child and Juana had to stay home to look after him. She resumed working when their son was in primary school. Juana still does not have the time to study English. Santos died a few years ago. Juana has continued to work as a cleaner in hospitals. Her son is in high school. At home, Juana prefers speaking in Spanish to her son and sometimes she takes him to cultural events organised by the Spanish and South American communities.

Refer to the STARTTS website: www.startts.org.au/

Activity 4



Rituals, celebrations and spirituality

We all have rituals in our life. A ritual is an established or prescribed way of doing certain things that are important to us. Rituals are predictable; they have a pattern. They are usually performed on a regular basis.

Collage of drawings showing champagne, menorah, gift, candle, cross, cup of tea

Symbols of rituals and celebrations

We all develop our own personal little rituals, such as the way we get ready for the day every morning.

Familiar rituals can give great comfort. Social and religious rituals are particularly important because they are shared by a group of people and provide a sense of belonging and continuity.

Religious rituals can be very powerful because they involve the person at different levels: sensually, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

Rituals have an essential role to play in the quality of life of older people. They are particularly important for older people because they have bearing on all the senses. For example, a ritual may involve listening, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Thus, rituals will still be enjoyed by people with cognitive or sensory impairments.

In addition to rituals, many people have spiritual needs that may be in the form of:

When caring for older people it is important to take account of the spiritual needs of each individual.

It is essential that we respect other people’s rituals, even when we do not understand them; they are no less important or less normal than our own.

All rituals are the product of a place, environment, and historical events and circumstances, just as our own are.

There are differences between rituals and routines:

Activity 5

In this activity you will check your understanding of the meaning and impact of rituals, celebrations and spirituality for individuals.

Click here for Activity 5

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Use work practices that create a culturally and psychologically safe environment for all persons

Cultural safety

Cultural safety acknowledges and embraces the unique cultural and linguistic background of individuals.

It means providing opportunities for people to express their culture, have their cultural needs met and share their cultural heritage. Cultural safety means that a person is confident that their culture is accepted and respected and that service provision will embrace cultural considerations.

When people feel culturally safe, they feel freedom from fear, anxiety and feelings of discomfort. They feel comfortable, accepted and included.

Activity 6

In this activity you will revise the concept of cultural safety.

Click here to begin

Cultural competence at work

What is cultural competence?

Cultural competence relates to the way we interact with people, at work or outside of work.


way of life and worldview of a particular group of people at a particular point in time.


capacity to function effectively—of being capable.

So, most simply, cultural competence refers to the ability to function effectively in cross-cultural situations. This will most commonly involve the ability to effectively interact, or communicate with people from a different cultural background to our own.

An important thing to remember here is that cultural competence does not just refer to Anglo-Australians working and interacting with people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

The concept refers to all people working and interacting with anyone from a cultural or linguistic background different to their own. It also includes people who are different from you in any other way, eg economic class, gender, sexuality, age, religion, ability and so on. Whatever the background of our clients, we need to interact in a respectful, sensitive and appropriate way.

The underlying principle is recognition and acceptance of differences between people and seeing such differences from a positive perspective.

Cultural competence is a developmental process—no matter how culturally adept we may be, there will always be room for improvement.

To be culturally competent at work, we must have the ability and the will to respond to the unique needs of each individual that arise from that person’s culture.

Culturally competent practices and principles demonstrate an acknowledgement of and respect for people of all racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural background.

Cultural competency consists of:

Activity 7

In this activity you will revise the concept of cultural competence. As you work through this activity, think of what each statement means in your workplace.

Click here for Activity 7

Staff roles

No matter what our position in an organisation, each of us has a role to play in achieving cultural competence. As a team we can achieve a lot more than as individuals!

Think about your own workplace. What do the staff demonstrate cultural competence? Consider not just how they deal with people with cultural and linguistic differences but also other kinds of differences, eg people with a disability, people from a different socio-economic group, gay people.

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Review and modify work practices in consultation with people from diverse backgrounds

Many of our work practices can be modified so that it is inclusive of everyone, regardless of their linguistic or cultural background. Reflect on how this might apply in your workplace.

Here is an example which can be easily modified.

A group of co-workers are sitting around during their morning tea break. Two of them are talking at length about something that no one else in the group has any idea about. They sit quietly and politely listen.

It is quite natural to talk about what we know and love. There is nothing wrong with doing this. However, when we are with co-workers who do not the same cultural experiences, it is important to draw the others into the conversation by explaining what we are talking about—you will probably find that they will be very interested! We can also ask them to tell us their experiences. Also, include topics that everyone is familiar with.

Further, it is quite natural for people sharing the same linguistic background to speak to each other in their native language—however, in a situation where we are surrounded by friends and co-workers that do not share our language, we need to try and be as inclusive as we can. We can tell the others what we are talking about or make sure everyone understands what we are saying.

In these examples, we can see that we can easily modify communication so that everyone feels included. When we make the effort to modify how we communicate and do things, we demonstrate respect for cultural diversity at all times and mutual trust and confidence is developed among co-workers.

Strategies for modifying work practices

Here are some ways in which you can modify work practices:

In summary, work practices need to demonstrate the following:

Activity 8

Now, it is your turn to identify work practices in your workplace that can be modified so that they are more culturally-inclusive.

Click here for Activity 8. (.doc 101 kB)

Feedback 8

Additional resources

There are many resources on cross-cultural communication and you might be able to find some in your TAFE library and on the internet. Below we have listed a few of the resources that you might be able to locate.


Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission: www.hreoc.gov.au

NSW Anti-Discrimination Board: www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/adb

Australian Health Directory: www.healthdirectory.com.au/Special_care/Culture_specific/search

Queensland Government website. Includes Aboriginal history and cultural information as well as a guide to protocols for community visits: www.atsip.qld.gov.au/resources/cultures.cfm

Aboriginal Benchbook: www.aija.org.au/online/ICABenchbook/BenchbookChapter2.pdf

Aboriginal culture: www.aboriginalculture.com.au/index.shtml

Indigenous Australia, Australian Museum: www.dreamtime.net.au/indigenous/index.cfm

Northern Territory Public Health Bush Book. For those who work in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory: www.nt.gov.au/health/healthdev/health_promotion/bushbook/bushbook_toc.shtml

Department of Immigration and Citizenship: www.immi.gov.au/index.htm

NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS): www.startts.org.au/Default.aspx

Communication with the Deaf community. National Relay Service, including call options and TTY phones: www.relayservice.com.au www.aceinfo.net.au/Services/NRS/index.html

Multicultural, Cross-cultural & Intercultural Games and Activities: http://wilderdom.com/games/MulticulturalExperientialActivities.html


Gudykunst WB (2003) Cross-cultural and Intercultural Communication Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, California

Hamston J and Murdoch K (2004) Australia Kaleidoscope, Curriculum Corporation

Hemming P (1990) Cultural Awareness: Cross-cultural communications, Regency College of TAFE, Hotel School, Regency Park, SA

Pauwels A (1991) Cross-cultural Communication in Medical Encounters, Monash University, Community Languages in the Professions Unit, Language and Society Centre, National Languages Institute of Australia, Melbourne

Pauwels A (1995) Cross-cultural Communication in the Health Sciences: Communicating with migrant patients, Macmillan, South Melbourne

Pride JB (1985) Cross-cultural Encounters: Communication and mis-communication, River Seine Publications, Melbourne

Reynolds S (2004) Guide to Cross-cultural Communication, Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ

Wajnryb R (1991) Other Voices: A cross-cultural communication workbook, Thomas Nelson, South Melbourne

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