Cultural safety and humility

We have covered cultural safety and humility in client work in an earlier lesson. In this topic, we will focus on the steps we can take to promote cultural safety and humility in the workforce.

Spectrum of approaches

When we talk about racism and colonisation it is common to hear people say ‘awareness is the answer!’ However, awareness is one step on a journey towards complete cultural safety and humility.

There are many different terms used. They can be arranged on a spectrum with cultural safety as the end goal:

  • Cultural awareness — being aware of cultural groups and their beliefs, values and practices
  • Cultural competence — being able to communicate and work effectively with people of other cultures
  • Cultural sensitivity/responsiveness — anticipating and responding to cultural differences in all our work
  • Cultural safety and humility — providing a safe service as defined by the people who receive it

To achieve cultural safety, ‘Health practitioners, healthcare organisations and health systems (…) must be prepared to critique the “taken for granted” power structures and be prepared to challenge their own culture and cultural systems, rather than prioritise becoming ‘competent’ in the cultures of others.’ (Curtis et al, 2019)

So the first three terms focus on how other people are different, while cultural safety requires us to focus on how our own taken-for-granted beliefs, arrangements, and practices can make care unsafe for Indigenous and culturally diverse clients to engage with.

Cultural safety in the workplace

All organisations and workplaces should seek out consultation and training in cultural safety that has been developed and delivered by Indigenous-led providers. It is also important to seek out training in working in culturally safe ways with culturally diverse clients and communities — but this training should always recognise the reality of colonisation.

Some practices can support teams, programs, and organisations to improve their cultural safety:

  • Facilitated discussions
  • Consultation and training (as mentioned above)
  • Reflective practice by practitioners and teams
  • Reconciliation Action Plans
  • Community consultation and engagement strategies
  • Audits and reviews


Write a short (1-2 paragraph) reflection on the following questions:

  • When was the last time you discussed the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients of your work?
  • Who led the discussion? How long did it last? Did it feel easy or uncomfortable?
  • When is the next one?
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