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Through the many sectors, industries, and communities that Language Testing International (LTI) supports across the world, we have been able to observe, experience, and be a part of many business and societal trends. One of these trends, especially within the U.S. market, has been the shift in the American business mindset into attempting to become more culturally competent, albeit with varying success. So, how do organizations navigate this journey, and what are the best practices to shift your organization to a better position to succeed?

Overwhelmingly, the workforce and the consumer market of goods and services in the U.S. has called for Corporate America to not only deliver a great product and/or service, but also to be culturally competent and fully committed to social responsibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion. There is no denying that businesses, service providers, and even government agencies have felt the societal and financial pressures to shift internally and prioritize ethical/equitable hiring processes and an inclusive work culture, as well as externally in the ways they market to their customers.

Whether in a dynamic business marketplace, where prospective employees and customers have many options, or a nonprofit service or healthcare clinic, where vulnerable members of the community may be hesitant to seek help for fear of not being heard or understood, the keyword you must remember, and which you will be evaluated on, is “authenticity.”

While taking yourself and your organization through this shift is necessary to stay relevant and competitive, there are a lot of risks involved for your reputation and your bottom line if you have a misstep or do it incorrectly. What many have found out the hard way is that making your organization linguistically and culturally competent is not a strategy that can be drawn up in a boardroom by a group of individuals who do not represent the communities or cultures they are trying to reach, nor is it a line item that can simply be added to a list of offerings.

Becoming linguistically and culturally competent with authenticity requires a wholehearted commitment to systemically overhaul every aspect of your business; from company values and ethics, and how and who you hire, to how you train and treat your employees; from what services or products you provide and how you communicate those to your audiences, to how you treat prospective and current customers.

Celia Patitucci’s work is a great example of successful and effective cultural competency practices. Celia is an HIV tester and educator who has worked since 2016 in programs focused on the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. In a recent episode of LTI’s podcast LANGUAGE IS YOUR SUPERPOWER, Celia shared key insights with us from her experience, and what steps the organizations she has worked with have taken to successfully navigate this terrain.

Approximately half of the LGBTQ+ community members Celia serves are Spanish-speaking Latinos. Celia helped her former employer grow its staff to include more than 50% Spanish speakers. Celia stresses, however, that you need to have “not only Spanish-speaking employees, but also, culturally competent” employees, because “it’s not just knowing the language, it’s knowing the culture” as well.

Celia explains that this organizational shift must be implemented “in every capacity, from medical to receptionists … having a website, bilingual and in dual language,” and “whatever marketing material is specifically for whatever community we’re targeting. [We’re] not just having blanket marketing or … just translating it to Spanish. That is not what we want to do any more.”

In her field of providing medical services to Hispanic members of the LGBTQ+ community, Celia explains that “we want people to come over, and we want people to get tested, and we want people to keep within their medications. You have to target it in a cultural way. You have to provide content not just by translating it from English but in a culturally sensitive way.” She added, “when we do events … [we’re] making sure that [whoever] we’re targeting that we’re doing it appropriately for that community.”

Celia’s work goes to show how valuable hiring multilingual employees can be for organizations and communities in making this systemic shift, but also, how language is not going to carry you through this shift alone. Hiring and/or training individuals who are linguistically and culturally competent in understanding the audiences you are trying to reach, and who are also a reflection of your audiences, is invaluable. And to ensure it’s done authentically; these individuals should be included in every step of your strategic planning and in the implementation of this shift. Pair their cultural competency with language proficiency certification, and you will be well on your way to navigating this journey successfully.

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Listen to Celia’s story in her own words in the second installment of our LANGUAGE IS YOUR SUPERPOWER podcast series here.

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