What is Cultural Competence?


Cultural and linguistic competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations. 

Culture refers to integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. 

Competence implies having the capacity to function effectively as an individual and an organization within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs presented by consumers and their communities.

Cross et.al (1989) Towards a Culturally Competent System of Care. 

Washington, DC: Georgetown University

Simply put, cultural competency is the individual and organizational ability to have and utilize policies, appropriately trained and skilled employees, and specialized resources to systematically anticipate, recognize, and respond to the varying expectations of clients, customers, and co-workers of diverse backgrounds. 

Ross (2011) ReInventing Diversity. Alexandria, VA: Rowen and Littlefield

Recognizing that the words have similar meanings, the writers have made a decision to use “competency” throughout the document to refer to expertise, and “competence” to refer to the ability to perform effectively based on requisite attitudes, skills, and knowledge.

The writers hold the view that cultural competence includes linguistic competence. In this document we therefore emphasize the importance of linguistic competence, because language is inclusive of culture, and culture is encoded in language.

Bureau of Health Professions

Health Resources and Services Administration

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Rockville, Maryland

March 2005

Cultural Competence: Ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Linguistic Competence: The capacity of an individual or organization to communicate effectively and convey information that is easily understood by diverse audiences including persons of limited English proficiency, those who have low literacy skills or are not literate, and individuals with disabilities Good & Jones. (2004).”

Diversity: This model vividly demonstrates that we are all similar and different on an infinite number of dimensions. By positioning diversity as something that applies to everyone, it becomes something that everyone can care about and support. Rasmussen (1996).

"I wanted to identify the differences that make a major difference," she explains, " ... to show which dimensions of diversity are important in people's lives, acknowledge their power so that people who wanted to talk about them would be supported by the model." " Loden, M, & Rosener, J. (1991) 


Rasmussen, Tina. (1996). ASTD Trainer's Sourcebook: Diversity. Alexamdria, VA: America Society for Training and Development.

Loden, M, & Rosener, J. (1991). Workforce America!: Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource. Homewood , IL: Business One Irwin.