Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

What Does It Mean to Be a Culturally Competent I/O Psychologist in New Zealand?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

What Does It Mean to Be a Culturally Competent I/O Psychologist in New Zealand?

Article excerpt

Cultural competence represents an important, but neglected, area of research and practice in I/O psychology. This article establishes the relevance of our concern with cultural competence for I/0 psychologists, then analyses its' meaning at the level of the individual practitioner and at the level of the business and organisational systems in which practitioners operate. The influence on cultural competence of the New Zealand context is examined including: the legislative environment; professional ethics, the Treaty of Waitangi and psychology. It concludes with a discussion of the implications of cultural competence for I/0 psychologists in New Zealand.


This article explores the concept and practice of cultural competence for I/O psychologists in New Zealand. There is a professional requirement for all psychologists to be culturally competent (New Zealand Psychological Society, 2002a). However, although cultural competence is a relatively well-explored area for clinical psychologists, it is a largely neglected area of discussion by I/O psychologists (Chrobot-Mason & Ferdman, 2001; Love & Whittaker, 2000; Thomas, 1993). Given New Zealand's increasingly culturally diverse workforce it is timely to initiate a closer examination of this issue.

The relevance of cultural competence for I/0 psychologists

Few would deny the relevance of cultural competence to one-on-one therapeutic relationships, assessments and interventions. But I/O psychologists practice in a very different environment to that of their clinical colleagues; indeed different enough to be recognised academically as different bodies of literature, and professionally as separate areas of practice. Clinical psychologists (and similarly other health and social service related professionals) may be employed by an organisation but the client relationship and therapeutic relationship is most usually one-to-one. Although they may advocate for social change as a result of issues they see with individual clients, the professional role and relationship is a clear one. For the I/O psychologist, although many interactions will be one-to-one and professional judgements will be made about individuals, most often the client is an organisation or employer. Alternatively, if the I/O psychologist is an employee then their role is usually as an agent of that organisation or employer. Whether consultant to, or agent of, the organisation the I/O psychologist is working not only at the level of the individual, but also at the level of the work group, and the organisation, and always in the broader context of the demands of the business system as well as the public policy environment. These demands may include employer pressure to act in ways that are not compatible with culturally competent behaviour. This makes the issue of cultural competence more complex for I/O psychologists but no less relevant.

There are a range of both business and professional drivers which mean that I/O psychologists should be serious about cultural competence in their practice. These include for example, increasing cultural diversity and its impact on business and the public policy agenda, and professional obligations particularly with respect to the Treaty of Waitangi.

New Zealand is a culturally and ethnically diverse nation. In 2001, 23.5% of New Zealand's potential workforce were Maori, Pacific people, or Asian (Department of Labour, 2003). Hence from a business perspective cultural competence is important in order to access the total labour market and maintain a full, productive workforce. A number of private sector business workforces are now made up of primarily non-European New Zealanders and new immigrants. Thus businesses are interested in reducing labour turnover, improving productivity, improving health & safety, and reducing absenteeism, across a diverse workforce (Department of Labour, 2004). A culturally competent advisor on how best to work with those from different cultures and assimilate them into the organisation through work design, workplace practices, workforce recruitment, is essential to the ongoing prosperity of many businesses. …

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