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How cultural literacy impacts diversity, equity and inclusion

Canada is one of the most multicultural places on the planet. In the 2021 census, there were more than 450 ethnic or cultural origins reported. As of 2023, one in four residents were born outside of the country. But while Canada’s multiculturalism is valued by the vast majority of Canadians, there is still much work to be done on the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) front.

Essentially, DEI is any policy or practice designed to make people of various backgrounds feel welcome and ensure they are supported to perform to the fullest of their abilities in the workplace. Many workplaces have begun to employ people to oversee DEI work, as it has become an important goal for organizations, especially in a multicultural country like Canada.

One of the major ways Canadians can help to improve DEI, not just in workplaces but within society, is through cultural literacy.

What is cultural literacy?

Cultural literacy is the ability to understand various cultural differences (including traditions, activities, and histories of different groups of people).

Being culturally literate is crucial – especially if you’re part of the majority. When you have a high degree of cultural literacy, you’re better able to relate to and interact with people from different backgrounds.

Why is cultural literacy important?

Having a harmonious multicultural society is dependent on having strong cultural literacy skills.

Being welcoming to how others live their lives allows one to become more culturally sensitive and aware. It places more value on diversity and difference and creates fewer cultural conflicts.

Culturally literate people can better relate to people and accept cultures different than their own. They consider alternative perspectives on people and things other than what they’re familiar with. When learning about sensitive issues, including racism, they can also identify the dangers of stereotyping.

Culture helps shape us; it forms one’s identity and influences behaviour. Being culturally literate enables people to develop a deeper understanding of others around them and the world. Since culture surrounds us, being culturally literate is helpful almost everywhere we go – from shopping at the grocery store to riding the bus to attending a concert.

At work, having effective cultural literacy skills can enhance communication, productivity, and unity among teams. Having a high degree of cultural literacy creates fewer misunderstands and greater relationships when interacting with learners from different cultures.

Being culturally literate helps create stronger connections with others, improves communication, and enhances self-reflection – all of which are essential to becoming a global citizen.

Examples of cultural literacy at work

As an employer, there are many ways to bring cultural literacy to the workplace, including:

  • Developing an understanding of your colleagues’ unique backgrounds and integrating aspects of their cultures into your organization’s culture
  • Recognizing limitations that others may have in the English language are not reflective of their level of intellectual functioning
  • Intervening if you observe others engaging in inappropriate manners that display cultural insensitivity, bias or prejudice
  • Welcoming ideas and opinions that are different than your own

How to improve your cultural literacy skills

Learning about different cultures is one of the best ways to enhance cultural literacy skills.

Start by exploring your own historical roots, beliefs and values to realize culture’s widespread role in your life. Become aware of your own cultural worldview and attitude toward cultural differences.

Then, research various histories of different groups of people and their traditions. Do this either online or at your local library, by listening to podcasts, talking to people of different cultures, or by enrolling in a course in your community.

You can also improve your cultural literacy skills by participating in local cultural activities, such as attending multicultural festivals and visiting museums. Whenever dealing with different cultures, bridge the gap with good communication skills: use clear language, avoid humour and colloquialism, ask for clarification, and practise good manners.

Volunteering at a local community centre, religious institution or food bank can also help change your views in a positive way of those around you. Spend time after your volunteer activity to reflect on what you’ve experienced to enhance your cultural competence.


Creating a more compassionate and harmonious society begins with cultural literacy. Our Learning at the Museum program aims to increase learner confidence in cultural activities by making cultural spaces more accessible through workbook-based, supportive workshops. Download our resources for free today!