Love of Learning: Everyone Has a Culture

Written by Anneli Janssens of Alberta Health Services, and originally in the Provincial HIM (Health Information Management) newsletter.

Love of Learning

Everyone Has a Culture

By: Anneli Janssens, Learning & Development Specialist

Communication, Learning & Development, HIM 

The last week of January was a good week. I finished some projects;  received some positive feedback; spent time with family; was home alone; and attended an amazing, online presentation by Roxanne Felix-Mah, Co-Executive Director at the Multicultural Family Resource Society called Diversity, Inclusion and Equity: Strengthening Your Work at AHS.  Roxanne facilitated her session to an audience of 73 employees from the HIM Provincial Standards and Strategies teams on January 30, 2019.  During the presentation, I took many notes in the hopes of being able to capture and share the highlights of the information presented, as it was very meaningful for me. 

In the recent months – even years -- we have seen a shift in our workplace culture to raise awareness of diversity and inclusion and Roxanne brought a fresh outlook to add to our experiences.  My perspective of diversity has always landed on our differences and the thought that it’s very personal or that it has many dimensions didn’t really cross my mind. At the onset, we were invited to follow simple guiding principles and to keep learning through those perspectives:

  • Everyone has wisdom

  • Assume best intent

  • Stay curious

Diversity was defined as “the broad range of human differences,” inclusion as “valuing our differences, seeing these differences as strengths.”  In other words, diversity is not to be tolerated, but valued.  Inclusion requires action – it asks you to accept, understand, include, and belong to. These are all action verbs and in order to be inclusive you must act so.  Inclusivity leads to equity, which by definition is “recognizing and removing barriers to ensure equal opportunities and equal outcomes for all people.”   I’m sure you’ve all seen this picture before? The premise being:

Equality = Sameness: Giving everyone the same thing only works if everyone starts from the same place. This creates an assumption that everyone benefits from the same supports.

Equity = Fairness: By providing everyone the supports they need, we make it possible for them to have access to the same opportunities.

In the last image, supports or accommodations are unnecessary as the barrier itself has been removed.  

Equality Versus Equity.png


This brought us to talk about culture. We often think of culture on the basis of ethnicity or “ethno culture,” but it is much broader than that and is present in many different places. Milton Bennett defined culture as “the way we do things around here.”  We have cultural interactions with every person we encounter in a combination of different ways. It’s more than gender; age; race; or sexual orientation; all of which are considered “internal dimensions” or things we cannot change.  Our external dimensions include things like marital status; parental status; work experience; educational background; religion and recreational habits. These can change over time and affect our personal or individual culture.  Then there are the organizational dimensions – things like management status, union affiliation; work location; and field of work.  Each of these has a culture of its own and these combinations create our personal culture. 

Our culture is the “lens” through which we view life. All these combinations affect how we look through our life. For example: Our siblings – we were raised by the same parents, went to the same schools, ate the same food, participated in the same familial traditions and yet, we can be very different based on our educational or organizational culture. Our “lens” changes with our experiences and how we process and look at things.

Very few people will have the same combination of lenses as you will. You can experience a cultural event simply by walking into a room with other people. Don’t assume that behaviours or attitudes are a result of one thing – they are so much more than that.

Diversity and culture is not just about other people. It’s about ourselves. It’s about self-awareness and knowing ourselves; and what our sources of culture and diversity are in our lives. We all have a lens through which we view life. What are yours?