We interviewed our Intern Judith McLernon this week as part of our Living Culture at Fortis series, to discuss her time with Fortis, the projects she has been involved in and the benefits of cultural diversity programs.
During my research, I noticed that Fortis’ values, ethics and mission aligned with Notre Dame’s Behavioural Science degree core values – to empower, give voice and work towards wellbeing and liberation of all; and my own personal-centred approach to Organisational Development. I could see that at the core of Fortis’s work, they valued the people within the organisation and looked at other reasons why there might be issues in the workplace, valuing knowledge and skills building as the best tool to improve businesses. I also found the internship process clear, transparent and easy to follow.
I was looking to gain practice in support of Behavioural Science and Organisational Development. As a mature aged student, I already have the skills and knowledge necessary to work in a professional environment, but have never worked in the Organisational Development space before. I was very keen to put my university gained knowledge and skills into practice.
From the very first meeting it was clear that the Fortis team was keen to find a intersect between what I wanted and needed to achieve and the work currently being undertaken at Fortis. The team works tirelessly to meet the needs of the non-for-profit sector and is not afraid to ask their interns to put their skills into practice by supporting their work, providing feedback and guidance where necessary. I now feel comfortable applying the skills and knowledge learnt in a professional environment.
The work load can be quiet challenging as if you are not across the sector or industry. There is a fast learning curve to develop the knowledge required through means of research and consulting with experts in the field. Also transitioning from large organisations to a boutique consultancy means there is more opportunity to be innovative and provide alternate solutions.
I have worked on two projects, but my primary focus has been working on the Culture, Communication and Relationships at Work (CCRW) course. The Fortis team have developed an extensive face-to-face development program, in partnership with Brightwater, Juniper and Baptistcare, that seeks to build self-reflection skills and knowledge of all staff around everyday interactions that have the potential to cause conflict. As aged care has a culturally and linguistically diverse workforce this can present additional challenges in communication. By building resilience that acknowledges your own and other’s cultural needs, workplaces will see increased communication and collaboration, improving overall workplace wellbeing and building a positive culture that will benefit the organisation. My project has been to review the training course and make it available online so that anyone who may be distance or resource challenged can complete the course. This has been further broken down into a version that can be completed for professional development purposes, incorporating assessments so that the student can obtain a VET unit qualification. Both courses involve a workplace component.
This course uncovers and makes you consider invisible behaviours and expectations that have been normalised through cultural practices and societal norms. The best aspect of the course is that it starts with self. What are your behaviours, expectations and practices that you consider normal? It then builds on the newly acquired self-reflective skills to consider the behaviours, expectations and practices that other ethnicities might consider normal. This is done through a number of self-exploratory exercises, group chats and targeted activities.
My biggest take away from the course is the simple aspects of culture and communication that are not considered that may cause conflict, such as making eye contact as a mark of respect in one culture vs. not making eye contact as a mark of respect in another. By identifying the aspects of my culture that I consider normal and correct, it opens the doorway to a better understanding of others and our interactions. This benefits not only the workplace greater understanding and appreciation but also brings greater retention as staff feel as they feel valued, improved workplace morale and attraction as the organisation gains a positive reputation, but extends into my personal life where everyday interactions are improved.
This course differs from any other training that I have had in this space as it is personalised, engaging and interactive. Typically, cultural competence training courses tend to include information about unconscious bias, harassment and behaviour from a litigation perspective. The Keys to Diversity program starts at the ground up, teaching participants to reflect upon and understand themselves first before attempting to understand others. Critical self-reflection skills are necessary in order to actively engage with the subject and connect with the content in a relevant way.
Cultural competence increases awareness, respect, mutual understanding, participation, involvement, trust, cooperation, inclusion and equality. It introduces creativity and new perspectives and decreases conflict, fear, competition and inappropriate labelling such as “lazy” or “slow”.
By having this awareness, workplaces become healthy spaces that ensure that all staff members are respected, valued and heard, increasing the wellbeing of every staff member. Places of work become a positive environment where power, influence, prejudice and bias are understood and eliminated. Staff will be more engaged with the business, experience less stress, have a positive attitude, have better health outcomes, are more likely to stay with the organisation, be more productive and provide a better service to the clients.
Fortis is a wonderful place to intern. The team here are very friendly, provide multiple opportunities for professional development and work in a way that values and respects people. My understanding of professional practise has improved and I am now confident to enter a workplace and apply my university gained skills and knowledge in any professional organisation.
Be ready to be engaged in Organisational and Staff development from the moment you enter the organisation as you will be part of the team, working on required activities and tasks, from the day you start.