n today’s job market, securing employment is so much about being the right ‘cultural fit’ for the organisation you’re working in. Understandably, employers seek staff whose values and goals are aligned with those of the company. But if you belong to the 26% of Australians who speak English as an additional language, ‘culture’ can sometimes feel like a loaded gun. Navigating new cultural norms in a professional setting can be a daunting task, and one that requires an adaptive, open mindset from everyone in the organisation.
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A diverse team offers so many advantages, from new ideas, abilities and experience, linguistic and cultural know-how, to increased creativity, productivity and marketing opportunities. Most organisations already understand the business benefits of a multicultural workforce, but with so much information available, many leaders are unsure of the best way to foster a thriving multicultural work environment. When it comes to developing training programs, getting the content right is only half the battle. It’s essential to understand how eLearning can be designed with better multicultural awareness to support the team that supports you.
What is a culturally and linguistically diverse workplace?
A culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) workplace is a multicultural environment where employees may speak a variety of languages in addition to English. Across Australia, there are thousands of workplaces where a particular language is spoken by the majority of employees, as well as those where other languages are spoken by just a few workers. In addition to linguistic diversity, a CALD workplace may also include people who have different religious and ancestral backgrounds.
Why write eLearning with multicultural audiences in mind?
According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data, over a quarter of Australians speak a language other than English at home. There were 7.6 million migrants living in Australia in 2020, with a labour force participation rate of 72%. This data is clear: employees from CALD backgrounds form an indispensable part of the Australian labour economy today.
Linguistic diversity can present a challenge when communicating information, discussing issues and ensuring safe work practices, so it has never been more important to ensure that workplace training acknowledges and positively reinforces your employees’ languages and cultures.
Employees from CALD backgrounds may have different attitudes and expectations at work because of their experiences of work in other cultures. When incorporating cultural diversity principles into eLearning courses, workplace communication and interactions need to account for barriers affecting staff from CALD backgrounds, and should explore how personal cultural values and interpretations can impact the performance of work tasks.
When organisations fail to do this, the results are significant, harmful and often leave the organisation and even the industry exposed to criticism. In the wake of COVID-19, the Australian healthcare industry has come under such scrutiny, with a Royal Commission identifying serious failings in the treatment of elderly residents at aged care facilities, finding that staff communication is often lacking or a problem. In response, one evidence-based training program, The Little Things project, aims to support personal care assistants from CALD backgrounds to better connect with aged care recipients during everyday interactions. Besides improving communication, culturally sensitive training increases awareness and supports employees to perform their role as best they can, in turn helping to foster a sense of belonging within the organisation.
What are the issues facing CALD employees?
As a result of communicative challenges, CALD employees are also more likely to be harmed in the workplace than other staff. SafeWork NSW’s CALD and Migrant Worker Plan 2019-20 established measures to help foster culturally effective communication in the workplace. The plan recognises that tailoring workplace training to the specific language needs and abilities of employees is an important step towards preventing workplace hazards. The plan highlights the following risk areas affecting employees in the workplace:
- Language barriers hinder understanding of work health and safety rights and worker obligations
- Language and literacy barriers to accessing safety information
- Reluctance to speak up and ‘make waves’ due to multiple factors
- Limited understanding of safe work practices
- Inexperience in the job and/or at the individual workplace
- Fear of authority due to cultural factors
Including CALD learners in the design process
Research from Monash University has identified a significant gap in knowledge as to how organisations are using digital strategies to enhance intercultural online engagement in their day-to-day practice. Among workplace communication designed to support CALD employees, studies found the majority of digital engagement practices focused on one-way models of providing information (such as videos, infographics and written materials) rather than two-way participatory engagement, such as interactive digital resources like eLearning programs.
Including CALD learners in the eLearning design process is a step that is often overlooked, yet may be one of the simplest and most authentic ways to develop culturally effective eLearning. A publication from the Queensland Government Department of Communities has identified the benefits of co-design, which allows staff who are developing eLearning courses to test their assumptions with the people who will ultimately be the learners of these courses. This design process happens early in the development of courses, and allows the learners to contribute to the direction that the program or course will take.
The co-design model for culturally-sensitive training promotes a unique set of advantages, such as:
- Giving employees ownership over the programs that they will be involved in, which helps increase participation rates in elective training, and engagement in mandatory training;
- The employee is viewed as a creator and storyteller, not just a receiver of the information;
- Places employees as decision makers, allowing them to shape outcomes of what they need, and how solutions can be achieved;
- If designed well, co-design can help to build closer, more unified working relationships within teams, which may be helpful for continuous collaboration and engagement on other projects.
There is no shortage of induction training that touches on diversity and inclusion, but much of this training continues to circumvent the abilities and challenges facing CALD employees. Where co-design methods have been used to promote CALD interests, government initiatives and community-based projects have seen increased participation rates of between 60-90% among CALD community members. Businesses now have the opportunity to learn from these success stories, and crucially, to learn from a sector of the workforce who have so much to offer.