How’s Your Cultural Competence?

 

Cultural competence helps in herding cats.

We’re all in this together.

My friend Milly jokes, “You’re the last white person I’m educating.” She’s referring to her role in developing my cultural competence. While this is funny, consider the serious issues that underlie her statement. Many people like me, who grow up white and privileged, make assumptions based on our own experience, or the lack thereof.

By “privileged” I don’t mean wealthy. I mean being able to walk into an expensive shop without worrying that the clerk will think you’re shoplifting. Or being able to assume your teenage son can come and go without being shot by police. People of color, on the other hand, don’t have this kind of privilege. Many grow up navigating two different worlds, the world of white privilege and the world of their less privileged, direct experience. They understand our world better than we understand theirs. This is a major handicap if we are unconscious of our privilege.

People of privilege sometimes make assumptions, attribute motivations, or come to conclusions that are inaccurate and possibly detrimental to our teams, projects, and organizations. I was lucky. I worked with people like Milly, who took the time to talk openly with me about issues of race, class, and privilege.

What’s more, we both worked in an organization–the Girl Scouts–whose leaders had the courage to offer safe, structured spaces for this kind of talk to take place. It was the early 1980s, when few workplaces made cultural competence a priority. We didn’t always get it right, and not everyone was on board, but many of us made an honest effort. It paid off for me, not just professionally, but in all aspects of my life.

Make it a point to educate yourself about how best to operate in today’s multicultural workforce. Whatever your racial, ethnic or cultural background, cultivate colleagues who can help you become a more effective teammate and manager by creating a work environment that values diversity. Cultural competence is no longer a skill that is nice to have. It is an attribute that is essential for success in a global economy, even if you never travel beyond the place you were born.

Kim McDonald: Fish Over Gold

KimMcDonald

Kim McDonald is an environmental activist with a law degree, a PhD, and a fighting spirit. Her current project is leading Fish Not Gold, a nonprofit dedicated to saving Washington State’s salmon streams from hobby miners who use machines to dredge for gold.

 

How do you describe the work that you do?

As the founding director of Fish Not Gold I coordinate our legislative, scientific, and legal strategies.  Specifically I work with our partners, such as Trout Unlimited, to direct our legislative work at the Washington State capital, coordinate our science work out in the field and collect evidence of Clean Water Act and Endangered Species violations by suction dredge miners.

Why does it matter?

Suction dredge mining is a form of recreational or hobby mining that destroys riparian areas critical to aquatic species.  Washington State is the epicenter of endangered species listings for salmon, the iconic steelhead, and bull trout.  This type of mining has been banned in Oregon, and California, and severely restricted in Idaho.  But in Washington the state allows miners to suction dredge in streams that are critical habitat for these endangered species.  Meanwhile, taxpayers spend hundreds of millions in salmon/steelhead restoration projects, which suction dredge mining can instantly destroy.  Just stopping this horrible form of mining will help salmon and steelhead recovery enormously.

What do you see as your most significant, recent accomplishment?

Starting this campaign.  No one else wanted to start it, so I decided to become a one woman band!  Finally, we got a number of other organizations with a lot more heft to join us.  We are getting significant media coverage–notably a story on PBS Newshour–key policy makers are paying attention to us, and we continue to grow in numbers of people active on this issue.

When you first began environmental work, what was the best advice you received?

When you work to protect the environment it is a long, long, long struggle. Celebrate the little wins or else you will never celebrate at all.

Now that you are an accomplished advocate, what advice would you give to a younger person eager to make a mark in your field?

Choose your issues wisely, but listen to your heart.  Passion makes advocacy work much easier, so work on issues or causes that you feel in your heart.  Take very good care of yourself because this kind of work can take a toll on health and your relationships.  Last, don’t be above doing all types of work…it gives you empathy and empathy helps solve the issues you work on.

Resolutions for 2016 on Things That Really Matter

‘To Do’ in 2016: New Year’s Resolutions

2016 calendar from the Nature Conservancy

This year’s calendar from the Nature Conservancy

Walk more. Even though the general consensus is that we should walk 10,000 steps per day, the folks at Live Science point out that doing anything beyond what you usually do is an improvement. So if 10k steps seems daunting, try for 5,000. Then work up to a higher goal. Pick up an inexpensive pedometer or spring for a Garmin or FitBit wrist band to keep track of your steps and motivate you to keep moving.

Read something hopeful. Try Bill McKibben’s great memoir, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, the story of his experiences as a leader in the *successful* protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. Together, we CAN make a difference. Focus on success as much as on the work that remains.

Read it in paper. Research shows that sleep and concentration are negatively affected when we read on a digital, electronic device. Kindles and iPads have their place, but like Elvis, paper books will never die. Check out more medical benefits of paper.

Voting Rights demonstration in front of the Supreme Court

Demonstration in front of Supreme Court in 2013. Photo: David Sachs/SEIU

Support voting rights. This is the first big voting year since the Supreme Court removed key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Now it’s very, very important for all of us to speak out if we see someone who is blocked or discouraged from voting.  Get informed about the sneaky ways that voting rights of certain groups are abridged. Read more on this important topic from Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, writing in the New Pittsburgh Courier.

Live more sustainably. Use public transportation. Ride a bike or a scooter. Walk to work (See #1). Buy local foods and eat what’s in season. Don’t let the faucet run or leave the frig door open. Turn down the heat and put on a sweater (See Jimmy Carter, 1977, a president ahead of his time). Or be really ambitious and build an earthship.

And another thing — Don’t make your resolutions list too long or too complicated. A few things done consistently beat a huge list that just gathers dust.