Using Global and Intercultural Fluency to Address Implicit Bias

By Garrett Secor posted 07-10-2018 07:51


As a result of recent events regarding what happened at the Starbucks in Philadelphia, the graduation ceremony at the University of Florida, as well as situations similar to these, conversations about implicit bias and other related topics are on the rise. 

Now, I am in no way saying that implicit bias is new because companies have been conducting implicit bias training for years. The majority of companies have been implementing/holding/hosting sexual harassment trainings as well, but despite their efforts to prevent the issue, sexual harassment is still prevalent in the workplace. As a result, it is time that we assess how we go about addressing topics like these to find a more effective and efficient way to create a positive difference in our personal and professional lives. 

Both incidences, mentioned above, are great examples showing how the implicit bias of a single employee can have an effect on a company/organization. It would have been easy for Starbucks to place the blame on the individual instead of tackling the larger challenge as a whole. Instead, their response to what happened in Philadelphia included conducting a four-hour training on implicit bias for all 175,000 of its employees as a “foundational step in renewing Starbucks as a place where ALL people feel welcome.” 

By doing this, Starbucks will be one of the first major corporations to implement an in-depth plan that tackles this challenge as a whole. In order to address issues that are so deeply rooted in our society, like implicit biases, a four-hour training that uses external professionals along with providing time for conversation is a good start, but as history has shown this alone is not going to be enough. To address implicit bias in a way that will attempt to prevent it from affecting the work that we do in our personal and professional lives needs to be intertwined into a company’s culture. I believe that we as career services professionals can support this task by using and focusing on the global/intercultural fluency competency developed by NACE in order to have conversations with our students and our employers about this topic. 

The competencies that NACE created have provided us the ability to review data on what employers desire, how our students are performing, what our students think about their abilities, and much more. While looking over the research and materials that NACE provides regarding these competencies a trend begins to emerge. The competencies that employers believe to be the most essential to success get the most attention by career services, which leave the ones ranked at the bottom receiving very little attention. 

For example, the oral/written communication competency is always near the top when it comes to what employers rate as the most essential. This results in the oral/written communication competency having the most sample materials, at 31, on the NACE website. However, for the competency at the bottom of the list, global/intercultural fluency competency, there are only 16 sample materials provided. Now this makes sense because we want to focus on what employers want so that we can provide them with students that meet their needs and prepare our students in a way where they will have the best opportunity to succeed. However, what if we are paying too much attention to what employer’s desire and not enough on what our students’ wants and needs are? 

For those of you who are not familiar with the global/intercultural fluency competency, it is defined on the NACE website as “Value, respect, and learn from diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, sexual orientations, and religions. The individual demonstrates openness, inclusiveness, sensitivity, and the ability to interact respectfully with all people and understand individual’s differences.” 

I believe that this competency is pivotal in a society that provides no shortage of professionals in their field and personal lives sharing their experiences regarding harassment or discrimination. We live in a time where emotions are high. Polarizing topics are being discussed that have not yet been discussed in the workplace to this magnitude before and as a result there is an increase for individuals to be more “politically correct.” I do not think that an increase in being politically correct is what people need. I believe what people need are higher proficiency levels in the global/intercultural fluency competency. Although it appears that employers think differently. 

The NACE Job Outlook Survey report reveals that over the last two years, employers have rated this competency by far the least essential, rating it at 2.93 in 2017 and 3.01 in 2018. The second closest competency is career management at 3.82 in 2017 and 3.46 in 2018, with the top competency being critical thinking/problem solving receiving a score of 4.58 in 2017 and 4.62 in 2018. (If you are not familiar with the scoring system it looks like this “1=not essential; 2= not very essential; 3= somewhat essential; 4= essential; 5= absolutely essential.”) 

This leads us to answering an important question: Are we preparing our students in a way that meets the needs of employers, or are we preparing our students in a way that meets the needs required to ensure students' abilities to succeed and overcome the challenges they will face post-graduation? I would say we are preparing students in a way that meets the needs of employers, which I believe is something that we need to do. I also believe there is more that can be done to better prepare our students in a way that best meets their needs, ensuring their ability to succeed and overcome the challenges they will face post-graduation. In order to do this we should focus more on the global/intercultural fluency competency. This can be done by educating our employers on the significance behind this competency, the impact that it has, and why we should be focusing on it with our students. As a result we will be creating opportunities for our students to become more career ready by helping them to develop their global/intercultural fluency skills, which employers rank at the bottom when it comes to how proficient students are among the other competencies (3.01 out 5)

All in all, tackling issues like implicit bias is not something that employers, students, or career services can or should tackle alone. However, by talking to our students and employer partners about implicit bias (along with similar topics), and how using the global/intercultural fluency competency can make a difference, allows us to play a part in being a catalyst for positive change. There are several things that career services professionals can do in order to accomplish this task. 

One way to jump-start this change is to focus on creating resources, programs, and identifying experiences on campus in and out of the classroom that provides opportunities for students to develop the global/intercultural fluency competency. Other initiatives include having conversations with your team in order to identify and overcome some of our own implicit bias. 

Starbucks has added their training to their website so it can be viewed by anyone and there are plenty of other training programs and activities that can be used to facilitate implicit bias type trainings.  Something that we are doing on our campus (at Florida Southern College) is increasing the number of conversations we have about topics that relate to the global/intercultural fluency competency such as implicit bias, harassment, and discrimination by talking and asking questions of our employers and students about these topics during events and creating specific events that target this competency. 

This fall we are rolling out a new program called “Advocacy in the Workplace: Gender Discrimination.” It is going to consist of several roundtables where employers, faculty, staff, students, and members of the career services team will have conversations about different aspects of gender discrimination in the work place and what can be done to address them (sexual harassment, sexism, gender wage gap). We plan to address racial, LGBTQ, disability, and other forms of discrimination in the future. 

As we continue to adapt to meet the needs of our student populations, so will our roles. This provides us the opportunity to tackle issues while preparing our students professionally and personally in a way that has not been done in the past. By playing our part and using the roles that we have to find creative and innovative ways to prepare students will greatly increase their ability to succeed and make a consequential impact on society.