How can healthcare leaders, many of them white, work more effectively and inclusively with staff of color and the multicultural communities they serve? Surabhi Kukke, Health Program Consultant for the organization Futures Without Violence (FWV), reports the success of a World Trust cultural diversity workshop Shakti Butler led for participants in one of FWV's programs.
World Trust seminars and workshops are an excellent way for institutions to engage leaders and employees in diversity and equity challenges. More than that, they are an educational tool that can improve communication and build relationships so that conversations about race can occur without the defensiveness and guilt that people often experience when they confront the role they play in systemic inequity.
Learning How to Forge Authentic Connections
Kukke is working with Project Connect, a grant-funded initiative that gives public health agencies training to help them care for women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence. The goal, Kukke explains, is to make health care workers understand that "violence is a health issue" and that appropriate care can reduce outcomes like poor health, unplanned pregnancy, and further abuse.
Thus far, Project Connect has trained over 7,000 health care workers nationwide in over 80 clinical settings to treat women in communities where they are at a statistically greater risk of domestic abuse and sexual violence. When Dr. Butler offered a one day workshop for the state officials and leaders of domestic violence programs involved in the program, Kukke jumped at this opportunity for participants to become more culturally competent and more aware of how to work with staff of color.
"Since this program is taking place in some of the most underserved places in the nation, participants needed to learn how to connect with the people in those communities," she says. "It's easy to do what's familiar, and we didn't want to see power localized in the same old suspects as we moved forward with the project. We wanted our participants to learn to engage in a meaningful way and build new partnerships."
Disarming Defenses and Accepting Vulnerabilites
One of the challenges was getting the mostly white participants in the workshop to be open to dialogue about race in an authentic way. Kukke reiterates what a challenge it can be to break through defensiveness and get people to speak from a position of genuine vulnerability.
Kukke was particularly impressed by Dr. Butler's ability to make difficult and complex issues about race and white privilege accessible. "Cracking the Codes is the best diversity training video I've seen," Kukke says, "because it takes these complicated abstract concepts and grounds them in concrete ways, using different voices. The film finds people who can tell stories that drill down to the core structures."
Personal narratives can lead to transformative learning because they invite others to step forward and show themselves in similar ways. Thus, we become people who are willing to be humble and transparent, and we can make the human connections necessary to build communities.
Using Strategic Questions to Achieve Diversity Goals
As moving as Cracking the Codes was for the participants, the single most powerful diversity activity in Dr. Butler's workshop, Kukke believes, was the Strategic Questioning module. Learning how to engage in strategic questioning "is such a powerful inquiry tool that can be used across the board in any intractible situation," Kukke says.
This technique, developed by Ronald T. Hyman and later refined by Fran Peavey, allows the questioner and questionee to engage in active dialogue that leads to solutions rather prompting a series of limited or dead-end responses. The purpose of the questions is two-fold: It allows the questionee to consider options and make decisions without feeling pressured, and it lets both questioner and questionee take an active role in finding solutions.
Kukke says that workshop participants have continued to use strategic questioning both in their personal and professional interactions. Thus, the Strategic Question module had even broader impact than was originally intended; not just a communication tool that furthers the diversity objective of an institution, strategic questioning is also a means by which individuals can learn to improve their interpersonal dynamics.
Building community and authentic dialogue are both hallmarks of World Trust's cultural diversity workshops. "Strategic Questioning helps our clients collaborate on solutions long after the workshop is over," says Shakti Butler, founder of World Trust, "I'm excited about incorporating this skill-building component in our work."
To Learn More
Futures Without Violence believes that violence against girls and women is a public health epidemic but that it is not inevitable. Through a combination of innovative programs, policy development, and public action campaigns, they have been working for more than 30 years to eliminate violence and domestic abuse both in the United States and around the world.
Cracking the Codes and other World Trust diversity videos are available on DVD or for individual live streaming; institutions can also arrange to have the film shown as part of a World Trust workshop. To learn more about World Trust's approach to cultural diversity training, download the paper below.