EDI Strategies: The Role of Cultural Literacy in Antiracism

EDI Strategies: The Role of Cultural Literacy in Antiracism

25 May 2023

This informal CPD article, ‘EDI Strategies: The Role of Cultural Literacy in Antiracism’, was provided by RARA Education Project. RARA is a Black and Female-led organisation that is committed to facilitating safe learning and working environments where Black and Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) can advance, connect, and thrive in UK society.

The Role of Cultural Literacy in Antiracism

Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) strategies have gained significant importance among UK-based organisations striving to create more equitable workplaces. However, to achieve meaningful change, it is crucial to understand the role of cultural literacy in antiracism. Recent research, such as that by Lloyd, Shannon, and Hartel (2010), highlights the importance of intercultural competencies in culturally diverse work teams. Cultural literacy is the ability to understand and navigate diverse cultural norms, values, and perspectives, and this article will explore its significance in EDI strategies and how it can aid UK-based organisations in tackling systemic racism, as supported by research.

What is Cultural Literacy (CL)?

CL plays a critical role in antiracism efforts by enabling individuals to recognise and challenge their biases and assumptions. Black scholars have offered multiple definitions of cultural literacy that highlight its importance in fostering inclusivity. For example, Geneva Smitherman, a renowned scholar of African American language and culture, has defined cultural literacy as "the knowledge and skills required to understand, interpret, and analyse the symbolic meaning of language, social practices, and artefacts of different cultural groups" (Smitherman, 2013, p. 21).

Similarly, according to Paul L. Thomas, a professor of education, cultural literacy involves "acknowledging the diverse cultures within a given society and understanding the social, political, and historical contexts that have created those cultures" (Thomas, 2021, para. 2). By cultivating CL, individuals can create more inclusive environments and develop effective EDI strategies that address systemic racism. 

Understanding Racism and its Impact

To develop effective EDI strategies, it is important to understand the impact of racism on individuals and communities. Research has shown that racism is a systemic issue that has persisted for centuries, affecting society, institutions, and workplaces. According to a study by the Runnymede Trust, a British think tank, racism refers to "the differential treatment of individuals, based on their ethnic or racial background, which may be intended or unintended and may occur at individual, institutional or societal levels." (Ahmed & Ansari, 2019, p. 4)

This systemic inequality has resulted in disparities in access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities for people of colour (Bhui et al., 2020). For instance, a report by the Trades Union Congress found that Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers in the UK are more likely to experience discrimination in the workplace, with 30% reporting being bullied or harassed compared to 18% of White workers (Trades Union Congress, 2018). Therefore, it is essential for organisations to acknowledge and address the impact of racism to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

The Role of Cultural Literacy in EDI Strategies

CL can help individuals and organisations to recognise and address systemic racism. By understanding the cultural norms and values that underpin different communities, individuals can create more inclusive environments. For example, a manager who understands the cultural significance of religious holidays can create more accommodating policies that respect the needs of their employees. Similarly, an HR professional who understands the cultural barriers to employment for marginalised communities can develop more effective recruitment strategies.

According to Dr. Anneliese Singh, a leading expert on multiculturalism and social justice, "cultural humility can enhance cultural competence and help individuals become more self-reflective about their biases and assumptions" (Singh, 2014). Cultural humility involves acknowledging one's own limitations and biases and actively seeking to learn from and respect different cultures. By prioritising cultural humility in EDI strategies, organisations can create more meaningful change.

Challenges to Achieving Cultural Literacy in EDI Strategies

Implementing CL into EDI strategies may face several challenges. For example, organisations may struggle to find appropriate training resources or may encounter resistance from employees who are uncomfortable discussing issues of race and ethnicity. However, by prioritising cultural literacy as a core competency, organisations can overcome these challenges.

Research has found that employees who lack CL can perpetuate stereotypes and biases, which can lead to discrimination and exclusion (Lloyd, Shannon & Hartel, 2010). Additionally, a lack of CL can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications, which can hinder productivity and collaboration in diverse teams (Chua, Roth & Lemoine, 2015).

To achieve cultural literacy, organisations must create a culture of continuous learning and development. This can involve providing employees with ongoing training (Chan, 2020), promoting diverse representation in leadership roles (Okahana & Zhou, 2021), and creating opportunities for employees to share their experiences and perspectives (Kobayashi & Miller, 2021). Additionally, organisations can prioritise diverse recruitment practices to ensure that their workforce reflects the communities they serve (Williams & O'Reilly, 1998).

In conclusion, organisations must prioritise the development of cultural literacy in their staff through training, education, and diverse recruitment practices to create inclusive environments and address systemic racism. It's time for organisations to take action towards creating a culture of continuous learning and development.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from RARA Education Project, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.


Ahmed, S., & Ansari, S. (2019). A conversation on racism. Runnymede Perspectives.

Bhui, K., Aslam, R. W., Palinski, A., McCabe, R., Johnson, M. R. D., & Weich, S. (2020). Interventions to improve therapeutic communications between Black and minority ethnic patients and professionals in psychiatric services: Systematic review. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 217(1), 1-8.

Chan, J. (2020). The importance of cultural literacy in diversity, equity, and inclusion training. Forbes.

Chua, R. Y. J., Roth, Y., & Lemoine, J. F. (2015). The impact of culture on creativity: How cultural tightness and cultural distance affect global innovation crowdsourcing work. Administrative Science Quarterly, 60(2), 189-227.

Kobayashi, M. A., & Miller, M. J. (2021). A case for centering the experiences of trans and non-binary people of color in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Sex Education, 1-15.

Lloyd, S., Shannon, H. D., & Hartel, C. E. J. (2010). Cultural diversity in organizations: Enhancing identification, trust, and teamwork. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 25(8), 790-803.

Okahana, H., & Zhou, E. (2021). The diversity of faculty at four-year colleges and universities in the United States. American Council on Education.

Singh, A. A. (2014). Racial healing: Practicing intersectionality in counseling. The Counseling Psychologist, 42(7), 970-982.

Smitherman, G. (2013). Black English and the educational achievement of African American children: A linguistic introduction. Routledge.

Trades Union Congress. (2018). Racism at work: TUC equality audit.

Williams, K. Y., & O'Reilly, C. A. (1998). Demography and diversity in organizations: A review of 40 years of research. Research in Organizational Behavior, 20, 77-140.

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