More Than Competent

By: Sarah Maddison   Sana Nakata  

The assumption underpinning cultural competency training is that when people know better, they will do better. This assumption has led organisations of all kinds to invest considerable resources in deploying cultural competency training for their staff. In Australia such training is often directed at improving staff competency in navigating the often-fraught relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff, with the goal of providing better, more culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. Disappointingly, however, research has shown that even when individuals know more about the history and social contexts of Indigenous peoples, their views of Indigenous peoples’ rights and political status, and their behavior toward them, may not necessarily shift. While organisations continue to invest time and money in cultural competency training, there is little evidence to suggest that this is producing better, more effective, or more culturally appropriate services or policy outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This paper will explore the paradigm of cultural awareness in education, employment training, and policy-making to analyse the ways in which it informs and shapes Indigenous-Settler relations at work and beyond. It will argue that assumptions about improving non-Indigenous knowledge—rather than, for example, focusing on Indigenous capacity and training—has the effect of reinscribing colonial hierarchies. As a result, we contend, knowing better doesn’t always result in doing better. Rather a decolonial paradigm shift is required for organisations and their staff to work toward being more than culturally competent.

Cultural competency Indigenous
Organizational Diversity
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Sarah Maddison

Associate Professor, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia

Sana Nakata

Lecturer, University of Melbourne, Australia