Woman of the Sun: LaTonya Washington

She is at the helm in a company known as The Customer Culture. Washington spoke to Daily Sun in Lagos recently.

Josfyn Uba and Christine Onwuachumba

LaTonya Washington, an African-American, is an authority on customer culture and cultural diversity management. She is renowned for her interactive customer service training and motivation.

After 30 years in the medical field, she developed skills on how to effectively leverage language and interactive modules for engagement with customers as well as employees in a workplace to achieve harmony and success.

She is at the helm in a company known as The Customer Culture. Washington spoke to Daily Sun in Lagos recently.

What is cultural diversity and why does it matter in customer service?

Cultural diversity is a collective mixture of differences and similarities of people that make up a working environment for a thriving business community and our world.

It is the art of creating a culture where everyone can do their work, are respected and in a respectful manner. It is tied to customer service because, in defining great service, it involves great listening skills, speaking in a tone that is not defensive or threatening but willing to educate yourself on good service and training to ensure that you know how to diffuse crises and conflict when they arise. This, ultimately, allows us to open ourselves to creativity and innovation in an unbiased atmosphere. It is a customer-focused culture where we think about how others would feel, and what makes them happy.

How can this be managed in a workplace?

Cultural diversity can be better managed in a workplace by an organisation or business knowing how to leverage the differences and similarities of the people at the workplace. However, for it to be best managed, it needs to be defined by the top executive then echoed down to the entire workforce.

Cultural diversity is created within the fibre of the company, enforced and maintained, enabling all involved to contribute to their full potential of focusing on workplace objectives.

What is the key component of cultural competence?

The key component is cultural intelligence. It is your ability to work effectively with others from different cultural backgrounds and groups.

Many of us have biases towards others due to our backgrounds, experiences and what we have heard through family and friends. It is also affected by what we see on television or hear on the radio.

We tend to judge others and assume on their bad sides based on the above, which is not fair. However, it is real. To be competent, we first must acknowledge our truth and be willing to change our thought patterns. This is the first step in breaking through.

Why is understanding diversity so important in today’s corporate and business world?

It is so important in today’s corporate and business world because understanding it opens up our businesses to substantial benefits. It opens us up to new ways of thinking, creativity, innovation, and strategies for the betterment of the global community at large. Once, we recognise that we come from different environments and places around the world but have something to offer, we would not have to work so hard at achieving greatness within our business world. We were not created to be alone, we were created to create and help develop the potential within us.

What are the elements of cultural competence?

The elements of cultural competence are numerous. You must be aware of the values and beliefs of others in recognising deep-rooted prejudices and stereotypes that cause barriers.

This shows the extent to which we are open to views and opinions that are different from our own. Whether you realise it or not, Africans and African-Americans have different values about equality due to what we have been exposed to.

It is also important that we learn more about others and their cultures because that will help us to know how to maneuver within. We must also be able to manage the differences, so much so that, sometimes, bad habits are broken. All these are important for us to step outside our comfort zone and connect with others outside the pond.

What is an example of cultural competence?

I am an African-American woman in the midst of an African culture, which, though knowing that my roots and ancestry come from Africa, my experiences are from America. So, for me to be culturally competent, I had to read up on Nigeria, had discussions with African friends, asked a lot of questions, listened, attended African-oriented functions, and was open and willing to learn.

Talking about cultural competence in a multicultural world, what is your view?

As mankind, we are relational creatures by design. So, building relationships within a multi-cultural world is key to building communities that are strong enough to achieve goals. Some cultures hold education high, while others gravitate towards vocations. No matter which, all types will encounter one another in some form or fashion. To work with people from different cultural backgrounds, we need to develop relationships that are authentic, based on trust, understanding and common goals.

Could you describe four ways to effectively interact with individuals from other cultures?

First, you have to be comfortable in your own skin and your own culture with the willingness to learn more about another culture without bias. You must be nice to people, smile say hello and drum up a conversation. Learn to listen attentively when others speak. This way you will be ready to engage, and you show interest in what they have to say.

Above all, share a one-on-one meal together. Great conversations take place over meals thereby creating an informal atmosphere that is key to a successful relationship within the working environment. It can pull down walls

What do business leaders need to understand about cultural diversity to be effective?

Business leaders need to understand that, to be effective, the business practices within the workplace must evolve as the world around us evolves. To be effective, they must be willing to engage, because a disengaged workforce is not a creative or innovative one.

Innovation and creativity spring forth when the minds of the people are open and feel their voice is heard and respected. Business leaders will lose great people within the workforce if it is hostile and indifferent.

What should participants expect in your upcoming entrepreneurship conference in Lagos?

We are so excited, especially as African-Americans coming to our motherland! We understand that, for a business to thrive, there must be customers and there must be consistent cash flow coming from those customers.

We know that, to obtain those customers and to run a lucrative business, it will require strategic planning, marketing, sales and, for many, a change in behaviour.

Participants should expect a workshop where they will engage with the instructors and obtain resources so they can up-level from where they are right now. We have also opened it up to the fashion industry and are bringing in some of Hollywood’s finest to instruct participants on how to break into the international world of fashion. It promises to be grand.

We are bringing in the heat with these instructors and look forward to connecting and collaborating more with Nigerians.

We also allow attendees to pitch their ideas in front of potential investors. There is enough for everyone. This is our time, our season and our place.

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