The topic of cultural competency has been on my mind the past few days. I was talking with a student the other day who happens to be African American. We were discussing, in general, how to create a more inclusive environment for students of color in our program, our career center (for those who work there specifically as grad assistants, but also diverse staff), and how that also might extend to career service delivery. We talked about how the core value of being both culturally aware and inclusive is evident in our values, but not always in our actions. We decided that through talking with current students, that we could identifying what we are doing well, along with some practical ideas of how we could do better. That’s our plan for this semester – will report back later on what we discover.
Fast forward two days, when I am leading supervision for our master’s interns. We were discussing a client from a diverse background, and the topic of whether a career counselor should bring up the topic of culture or wait for the client to do it. We acknowledged the recent events in NC as a potential entry point into that discussion, and discussed our comfort/discomfort with the topic of racial tension and cultural differences in session. I shared how the student I had spoken to earlier had told me how odd it was that not one person (instructor, supervisor, classmate) had brought up recent riots or their potential impact, and how the lack of discussion sent a confusing message: Was it due to insensitivity? lack of awareness? discomfort? This led us, as a group, to decide that a) we needed to examine ourselves and determine which of these were true for us individually; b) determine to take appropriate actions relative to our answer(s) to those questions – for example, perhaps purposely learning more about all sides of an issue; and c) acknowledge that we, as counselors are trained to introduce and facilitate difficult discussions – and to put this into practice by asking ourselves, our classmates, our instructors, our supervisors, and our clients, about how culture and current events are impacting them personally and professionally. Finally, we discussed some practical questions and ideas for infusing sensitivity (cultural, ability/disability, orientation, etc.) into our career counseling sessions. Some of these include:
- What identities are important to you? (Give a personal example: For example, my family is very important to me, so the “daughter identity” would be one identity that is important to me.).
- Help me learn more about you. How has your background, your family, your culture, contributed to where you are now?
- Where do you think these negative thoughts are coming from (after completing the Career Thoughts Inventory – to see if there is an identifiable core from which messages are coming).
- What obstacles do you foresee in achieving your goal? What obstacles have you experienced before? What obstacles have you overcome (and how)? What obstacles do you still struggle with?
- Tell me about the important people in your life, and how they have helped shape your vision for yourself.
- Who else have you spoken with about your career concern? Who have you talked with in the past?
- How do you think your immediate and extended family will feel about your career goals?
- What haven’t I asked you about that’s important to you as you think about this decision?
In addition, some tools such as the Decision Space Worksheet that ask clients to identify all the factors impacting a career decision are likely to encourage discussion of topics of special interest and impact to a client. What specific questions have you found useful for discussing cultural differences?