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Cultural Competence for Equity and Inclusion: A Framework for Individual and

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Cultural Competence for Equity and Inclusion: A

Framework for Individual and Organizational Change

Diane J. Goodman


This article presents a model of Cultural Competence for Equity and

Inclusion (CCEI) defined as the ability to live and work effectively in

culturally diverse environments and enact a commitment to equity and

inclusion. Going beyond traditional approaches to cultural competence

that tend to focus solely on self-awareness, the appreciation of cultural

differences and interpersonal skills, this model integrates an

intersectional perspective and social justice concepts—issues of power,

privilege, oppression, and systemic change. The CCEI framework

identifies a range of awareness, knowledge, and skills that allow people

to develop the capacities to constructively engage with people from a

variety of socio-cultural identities and create equitable and inclusive

relationships and institutions. I describe each of the five interrelated core

competencies along with some key components of each core

competency. Examples of role and context specific competencies are

also discussed. I suggest a variety of ways this framework can be


Keywords: cultural competence, social justice, diversity, equity,

inclusion, multicultural competence



















































Diane J. Goodman, Ed D, has been an educator, trainer, and consultant

on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice issues for over three

decades. She is the author of the book Promoting Diversity and Social

Justice: Educating People from Privileged Groups, (2nd ed.; Routledge

2011) and co-editor and contributor to Teaching for Diversity and

Social Justice (3rd ed.) and other publications. Her website is

Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Goodman: Cultural Competence Framework

ISSN 2152-1875 Volume X, Issue 1, April 2020 6

As the United States becomes

increasingly diverse, organizations realize

that developing cultural competency is a

growing imperative. Many institutions have

committees or initiatives focused on some

aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion

(DEI). They acknowledge that in order to be

effective and successful, individuals at all

levels need to develop and deepen their

capacities to work across differences and

create environments that are welcoming,

equitable, and inclusive. Whether it is

working in teams, serving clients, engaging

with community members, educating

students, or leading organizations, people

need to cultivate the cultural

competencies—the awareness, knowledge,

and skills related to DEI to do their jobs

effectively. Moreover, schools and

universities recognize their role in preparing

students to develop the ability to live and

work with people from a range of

backgrounds and to be thoughtful global

citizens (McNair, 2016; Whitehead, 2015).

Since the language of cultural

competency is widely used in DEI work, the

Cultural Competence for Equity and

Inclusion (CCEI) model integrates equity,

inclusion, and social justice content into the

paradigm of cultural competence. It is an

accessible and flexible framework that can

guide efforts to help people develop the

capacities to become more culturally

competent for equity, inclusion, and social

justice across a range of contexts. In this

article, I clarify what I mean by cultural

competence for equity and inclusion, briefly

describe each component of the CCEI

model, note some of the highlights of this

framework, and identify ways it can be

utilized. Some models of cultural

competence focus on cross-cultural

understanding in a global context. This

model will focus on the United States but

may have applicability to other settings.

Clarifying Language

When organizations engage in DEI

work, often the focus is on the “D,”

diversity, sometimes on the “I,” inclusion,

and least often on the “E,” equity. Often

these terms are used interchangeably, but I

believe there are important distinctions.

Diversity efforts usually focus on increasing

the representation of under-represented

groups and understanding sociocultural

differences. The emphasis is frequently on

recruitment, hiring, promotion, and

retention. Diversity initiatives generally seek

to ensure that the organization reflects the

larger community of which it is part and that

people understand and value differences.

Inclusion speaks to a sense of belonging

and feeling valued, respected, and

empowered. People may be at an institution

but not really feel part of it or as if they are

fully valued members. Often gaining a sense

of belonging is a one-way street—

individuals from marginalized groups are

expected to assimilate into the already

existing organizational culture and norms.

Equity refers to fairness, ending systemic

discrimination, ensuring access, and creating

equivalent outcomes. It attends to

differences in power and privilege and seeks

to address those inequities. All three of these

components are necessary to create a truly

fair, multicultural environment.

I sometimes use the term social justice

to refer to the integration of these three

aspects. Social justice refers to creating a

society (or community, organization, or

campus) with an equitable distribution of

resources and opportunities where all people

are safe (psychologically and physically),

can meet their needs, and can fulfill their

potential (Bell, 2016, p. 4).

Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Goodman: Cultural Competence Framework

ISSN 2152-1875 Volume X, Issue 1, April 2020 7

The concept of cultural competence has

been discussed for many years in a range of

fields, especially in the helping professions

(Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Isaacs, 1989;

Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992). A

variety of terms have been used to capture

the importance of being able to understand,

work with, and serve people from various

backgrounds and social identities, such as

cultural competence (Why Cultural

Competence, n.d.), cross-cultural

competence (Chiu, Lonner, Matsumoto, &

Ward, 2013), multicultural competence

(Shallcross, 2013), intercultural competence

(Bennett, 2004), cultural proficiency

(Lindsey, Nuri-Robins, & Terrell, 2009),

and cultural humility (Tervalon & Murray-

Garcia, 1998). Most cultural competency

efforts have focused on developing the

necessary interpersonal skills to work across

cultural differences and particularly on race,

ethnicity, and language. Some professional

fields and organizations have shown

increasing interest in developing cultural

competency to work with other marginalized

groups and sociocultural differences, as well

as to address issues of social inequality

(National Association of Social Workers,

2015; Pope, Reynolds, & Mueller, 2019;

Ratts, Singh, Butler, Nasar-McMillan, &

McCullough, 2016; Sue, 2001). While many

descriptions of cultural competence have

identified some important qualities and

capacities, most are related to a particular

discipline (e.g., counseling, healthcare,

student affairs, social work) and do not

adequately attend to concepts related to

equity—power, privilege, and oppression.

Undergirding the Cultural Competence

for Equity and Inclusion framework is the

notion of cultural humility, which originated

in reference to medical relationships

(Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998).

Tervalon and Murray-Garcia describe the

three main dimensions of cultural humility

as (a) committing to life-long self-education

and self-critique, (b) addressing power

imbalances between provider and client, and

(c) creating mutually beneficial partnerships

with clients and communities. When we

approach developing cultural competency

with cultural humility, we do not engage

from a stance of arrogance or paternalism

but from a place of curiosity and openness.

We recognize that even if we have

experienced some form of oppression, it

does not mean we understand the oppression

others face, nor does it eliminate the areas in

which we have privilege. The willingness

and ability to suspend our assumptions and

judgments to respect how an individual

expresses their own culture and identity is

an ongoing process, not an endpoint.

Similarly, developing cultural competence

for equity, inclusion, and social justice is a

life-long endeavor.

Cultural Competence for Equity and

Inclusion Model

Cultural Competence for Equity and

Inclusion (CCEI) is the ability to live and

work effectively in culturally diverse

environments and enact a commitment to

equity and inclusion. CCEI requires

developing critical consciousness, or the

ability to perceive social, political, and

economic inequities and to take action

against the oppressive elements of society

(Freire, 1970). Developing cultural

competence for equity and inclusion helps

move toward the vision of social justice.

Cultural Competence for Equity and

Inclusion requires a range of awareness,

knowledge, and skills. The five core

competencies in this model are: (a) self-

awareness, (b) understanding and valuing

others, (c) knowledge of societal inequities,

(d) interpersonal skills to effectively engage

across differences in different contexts, and

(e) skills to foster transformation towards

Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Goodman: Cultural Competence Framework

ISSN 2152-1875 Volume X, Issue 1, April 2020 8

equity and inclusion. These five core

competencies are interconnected, and each

has key components. Additionally,

depending on the context and one’s role and

responsibilities, there will be specific

awareness, knowledge, and skills that are

necessary. See Figure 1.

The CCEI framework also incorporates

an intersectional perspective. An

intersectional approach recognizes that

different social identities and forms of

oppression simultaneously intersect and

interact (Collins & Blige, 2016; Crenshaw,

1993). While individuals may focus on one

aspect of their own or another’s identity and

the related marginalization or privilege, this

dimension is always being affected by other

aspects of identity and positions within other

systems of oppression. To truly be culturally

competent for equity and inclusion, we need

to appreciate how lived realities are shaped

by all aspects of identities and how different

forms of social inequities are interlocking.


The first core competency of Cultural

Competence for Equity and Inclusion, self-

awareness, entails the ability to understand

who we are and how it affects our

worldviews, relationships, perspectives,

experiences, and behaviors. Some of the key

components of self-awareness are:

• Awareness of our social identities
and their cultural influences and how

they intersect.

• Awareness of our prejudices,
stereotypes, and biases.

• Awareness of our internalized
superiority and internalized


• Awareness of how we may be
perceived by others and the impact

of our behavior.

Figure 1: Cultural Competence for

Equity and Inclusion Framework

Competence for

Equity and


and Valuing




Skills to Engage


Skills for
towards Equity
and Inclusion

Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Goodman: Cultural Competence Framework

ISSN 2152-1875 Volume X, Issue 1, April 2020 9

Awareness of our own various social

identities and their cultural influences and

how they intersect

How do our race, ethnicity,

religion/spirituality, socioeconomic class,

sexual orientation, gender, ability, national

origin, age, and other social identities affect

our worldview, values, beliefs, and

behavior? We are socialized and culturally

conditioned into particular roles and ways of

being. Consider the messages you received

(overtly or implied) growing up about how

to express your feelings; how to deal with

conflict; expectations about school, work,

career, and lifestyle; and appropriate gender

roles. Were you encouraged to address

conflict openly, or were you encouraged to

avoid conflict? Were you expected to

conform to rigid gender roles or supported

to express yourself in gender-

nonconforming ways? Were you raised to be

highly individually competitive or to be

more collaborative and community-

oriented? These messages are tied to our

social and cultural identities (as well as our

particular individual personalities and

histories). It is not sufficient to understand

each dimension of our identity in isolation

without appreciating how these various

aspects intersect to shape our particular

behaviors, perspectives, and realities. The

messages we receive may align or

contradict. As a middle-class girl in a New

York area Jewish family, I was taught both

to “act like a lady” (be polite and well-

mannered) as well as to speak up for what I

believed in, even if it meant challenging


Awareness of our prejudices, stereotypes,

and biases

We all are exposed to misinformation

and a lack of information about various

social identity groups. The growing research

on implicit or unconscious bias

demonstrates that everyone has biases that

affect their behavior and decisions, whether

we realize it or not (Banaji & Greenwald,

2013; Staats, Capatosto, Wright, & Jackson,

2016). These unconscious biases may not

even be consistent with our conscious

beliefs. Biases may affect whom we see as

most trustworthy or as having the most

potential, or with whom we feel most

comfortable. The more we are aware of our

stereotypes and assumptions and are vigilant

about how our unconscious biases may be

manifesting, the more we are able to act in

equitable and inclusive ways.

Awareness of the impact of our

positionality and internalized superiority

and inferiority

Not only are we all cultural beings, but

we are also positioned differently within

systems of inequality. We may be part of

dominant (or privileged) groups—male,

heterosexual, cisgender (people whose

gender identity matches the sex they were

assigned at birth), middle/upper class,

Christian, able-bodied/without disabilities,

born in the United States, as well as part of

marginalized groups—female; lesbian, gay,

bisexual, trans*, queer (LBGTQ); low-

income; born outside the United States; have

a disability; be an elder; or from a religious

minority. Most of us are part of both

privileged and marginalized groups.

When we are part of privileged groups,

that identity is aligned with norms of the

dominant culture. Therefore, we are often

less aware of that identity or of the realities

of others from marginalized groups. As a

result, we may not be as sensitive to or

empathic about the inequities others may

face. This can affect how we respond to

concerns, form opinions on issues, make

decisions, and set policy. People without

Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Goodman: Cultural Competence Framework

ISSN 2152-1875 Volume X, Issue 1, April 2020 10

disabilities may not be attuned to the range

of challenges people with disabilities face

and thus may not sufficiently attend to how

to make the organization more equitable and

accessible. Or individuals who come from

predominantly dominant groups may not

understand why other people feel so strongly

about the need to address microaggressions

(subtle insults and slights, often

unconscious, towards marginalized groups).

Moreover, in mainstream society,

dominant groups are seen as superior to

other groups and set the norms and

standards against which others are judged.

When we are part of dominant groups, we

may internalize this sense of superiority and

the normality of our group—internalized

superiority. We may see ourselves and

people like us as “just normal” (with the

implication that others are not) and as

smarter, more capable, more valuable, and

more deserving of positions of power than

people from the corresponding nondominant

group. We may not be aware of our

internalized superiority; we may not

consciously believe that we are better than

others. Yet, these attitudes and beliefs may

manifest when we negatively judge others

who are from marginalized groups who are

“different,” feel that we know what is best

for those individuals and communities, want

to make others “more like us,” or feel

entitled to take up more space, attention, and

resources. Despite good intentions, behavior

that is seen as patronizing or condescending

such as the “White savior complex” (when

White people assume they can “fix” the

problems of people of Color) or

“mansplaining” (when a man explains things

to a woman in a way that is arrogant and

condescending, assuming that he

automatically knows more than she does)

are examples of internalized superiority.

When we are part of privileged groups, we

may also find it difficult to hear challenges

to the current social, political, and economic

systems, learn about our group’s role in

perpetuating oppression, or get feedback on

our behavior (DiAngelo, 2011; Goodman,

2011; Watt, 2015). Self-awareness, in this

regard, requires being able to notice and

address our reactions, feelings, and

defensiveness so we can continue to learn

and grow.

The flip side of internalized superiority

is internalized inferiority (or internalized

oppression). In mainstream culture,

nondominant groups are seen as inferior,

deficient, and “less than.” When we are part

of marginalized groups and internalize these

negative messages we may believe,

sometimes unconsciously, that we or others

like us are not as smart, competent,

attractive, or deserving of power and

resources as people from dominant groups.

The research on stereotype threat (Inzlicht &

Schmader, 2012; Steele & Aronson, 1995)

illustrates how these negative beliefs can

adversely impact test performance. Due to

internalized oppression, we may try to

overcompensate, limit ourselves, or engage

in self-destructive behavior. We may also

distance ourselves from others from our

social identity group or view them

negatively (Bivens, 2005; David, 2014).

Expressions of internalized oppression

maybe when an administrative assistant

assumes she has nothing valuable to

contribute to a department meeting that

involves higher-level staff and

administrators, or when a gay person is

uncomfortable being around other gay

people whom he sees as “too gay.”

Internalized oppression contributes to our

collusion with oppression, which supports

its continuation.

Unless we are aware of how we have

absorbed and enacted internalized

superiority and inferiority, we are likely to

Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Goodman: Cultural Competence Framework

ISSN 2152-1875 Volume X, Issue 1, April 2020 11

continue to enact inequitable dynamics.

Becoming aware of internalized

superiority/inferiority is essential though

challenging work because these beliefs are

often unconscious. Personal awareness of

internalized superiority and inferiority is

linked to understanding societal inequities

and will be explored further in the third

component of the model.

Awareness of how we may be perceived by

others and the impact of our behavior

Another component of self-awareness is

understanding how we may be seen or

“read” by other people and how our

behaviors are interpreted and experienced.

These perceptions are influenced by our

social identities and dominant and

subordinated statuses. An African American

with a more passionate style of

communication may be incorrectly

interpreted as being angry. As a woman, my

self-deprecation may be read as a lack of

confidence or competence, whereas that is

less likely to be the case for a man. A man

who interrupts women or talks at length may

be seen as enacting his male privilege. Our

various intersecting social identities affect

how we are experienced. While White

female instructors are likely to be challenged

more than White male ones, women of

Color faculty are even more likely to have

their authority and credentials questioned

(Gutierrez y Muhs, Niemann, Gonzalez, &

Harris, 2012; Pittman, 2010). Add in other

marginalized identities, such as being

younger or being an immigrant, and this

undermining of authority will likely

increase. Being aware of how we may be

seen by people with different identities and

backgrounds allows us to not internalize

inaccurate projections, adjust as necessary,

or decide how we want to express our

authentic selves within the mainstream


Understanding and Valuing Others

The corollary to self-awareness is

knowledge of and appreciation for others’

social identities, cultures, and perspectives,

and understanding their biases and

internalized inferiority and superiority.

Some key components of this core

competency include:

• Knowledge of the social identities of
other people, their cultural

influences, and how they intersect.

• Ability to value and appreciate ways
of being, doing, and thinking other

than our own.

• Ability to recognize how other
people express internalized

superiority and internalized


Knowledge of the social identities of other

people, their cultural influences, and how

they intersect

Like self-awareness, knowledge of

others’ cultures and social identity groups

and how they intersect is also essential. We

need to explore how others’ socialization,

life experiences, and cultural backgrounds

shape who they are, their worldviews,

beliefs and values, and ways of being.

Unless we understand other individuals, we

are likely to misinterpret their behavior,

unintentionally offend, or be ineffective at

meeting their needs. Much diversity work is

focused on understanding cultural

differences and people’s experiences as part

of different social identity groups.

Furthermore, we cannot assume that just

because we share a particular social identity

with another, our perspectives and

experiences are alike or that two people will

be similar just because they come from the

same social identity group. For example,

Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Goodman: Cultural Competence Framework

ISSN 2152-1875 Volume X, Issue 1, April 2020 12

although women in an organization may

share some similarities related to being

female and dealing with sexism, a Chinese

American, middle-class manager, and a

White, working-class custodian are likely to

have different experiences as women.

Additionally, simply because two people are

Latinx immigrants, we cannot assume

similarities and would need to understand

not only personal differences but countries

of origin, conditions of immigration, status,

and experiences in their home country, years

in the United States, as well as the

significance of their other social identities.

The more we can appreciate the many

dimensions of an individual and how they

interact, the greater the understanding and

ability we will have to work with them.

There is less likelihood we will misinterpret

their behavior or rely on stereotypes.

Ability to value and appreciate ways of

being, doing, and thinking other than our


It is not enough to just seek to know and

understand different social and cultural

identities. We need the capacity to value and

appreciate other ways of being, doing, and

thinking. CCEI entails a shift from believing

that our way is the right or only way.

Different worldviews, cultural backgrounds,

socialization, and experiences influence how

people approach situations, tasks, and

relationships. Dominant U.S. society tends

to value individualism, competition,

expediency, and objectivity (Okun, n.d.).

Yet, people may have other cultural styles

and orientations. Some people may be

oriented towards more collaborative

approaches to working together, less linear

thinking, artistic ways of conceptualizing

and expressing ideas, recognizing the

wisdom of the body, the use of ritual, less

rigid time norms, and prioritizing

relationship and process over task. People

with different abilities/disabilities, religious

practices, or other needs outside the

mainstream norms may require structures

and processes that allow for their full

participation and inclusion. Cultural

competence for equity and inclusion

requires not only understanding different

social identities and cultural styles but

developing the flexibility to interact and

work in ways that value and accommodate

these differences.

Ability to recognize the impact of others’

positionality and how they express

internalized superiority and internalized


Social location and experiences of

privilege and oppression affect others’ sense

of identity, perspectives, behavior, and

experiences. This lens of positionality

provides ways to understand how

individuals may be interpreting,

understanding, and dealing with situations.

This, in turn, can enable us to make sense of

their behavior, develop ways to challenge

their biases, support their growth, and have

greater compassion.

We can consider positionality and

internalized superiority and inferiority when

we work with and mentor different

individuals. For example, in a university

context, how might internalized dominance

be at play when a straight, cisgender resident

assistant at a college is being accused by

queer students in a residence hall of being

insensitive to their needs and planning

programs that are not inclusive of people

with a variety of genders and sexualities?

How could the …

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