Lesson 3: On Cultural Empathy

Welcome to Lesson 3 where we will add to our cross-cultural skills toolkit by focusing on cultural empathy! How is class for you thus far? Are you spending the necessary time to self-reflect? Can you find movement in your own thinking and perspective? Keep working at it either way…

 Cultural empathy can be defined as a general skill or attitude that bridges the cultural gap between people. People must integrate an attitude of openness with the necessary knowledge and skill to work successfully across cultures by creating a sense of mutuality and understanding across differences in value and expectation that cross-cultural interactions often involve (Ridley & Lingle, 1996).

Gender are the identities that we will use to explore cultural empathy in this lesson. Let’s begin with our friends from Crash Course. View the 9:01 video below and I will catch you on the other side.


I find the argument in the video completely compelling: “If gender arose only from biological differences between men and women then we would expect to see all cultures defining masculinity and femininity in same ways – but we don’t.”

Now… the lack of a rationale counterargument about socialization and gender difference does not mean this aspect of identity and culture is simple. In fact, it is quite complex particularly in the field of career development. The article below paints a very brief picture of the current literature on sex and gender differences, providing links to much of the recent research. Read the following post and we will discuss on the other side.  

 Let’s take 10 minutes and write an entry to your journal about the following cultural empathy experiment:

  1. Choose a gender that is different than yours (male, female, transgender, genderneutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none or a combination of these). To familiarize yourself with any of these identities, please visit here.
  2. Imagine going to your workplace (or that of one of your clients) tomorrow as a person with the gender identity you have chosen. Beginning with opening the door, narrate the day at work focusing on experiences that would likely be distinctly different from yours because of the gender difference.

Let’s now listen to an expert on transgender identity in the workplace as they describe their experience, and that of others, at work in the United States. Aligning positive intentions with inclusive impacts is a key takeaway from Lily’s presentation. View the 10:53 video below:


Let’s check-in with our intentions first. As you listened to these stories, did you find your mind’s eye working to understand more and more or were there defensive barriers in your mind? It is okay, and important, to be honest about this. The reality is that we are all somewhat captured by our cultural expectations at first and must choose to do our own work where our unfair and inaccurate biases might lie. Next steps in this care might be watching more videos about gender identities, reading Lily’s book, finding opportunities in your local community to learn.

It is common for people to believe that empathy is a trait that one is born with; scientifically this would mean that most if not much of the reason for empathy would be genetic. This is a commonly held assumption yet more research suggests that our genes account for 10% or less of the variance, or reason for empathy. This suggests it can be seen as a skill and thus learned (for more information on the science, please see Lesson 3 of G.H.E.C.K. I in the Reframe Your Career Game curriculum).

Relational-Culturally Theory is an excellent basis for digging deeper into this kind of cross-cultural work. Basically, this course is a type of action oriented primer on RCT but I will rely on our colleagues from NCDA to introduce the theory and its application to career work. Read the article found here.   

Let’s use the dialogue video to dig a little deeper into how we might apply cultural empathy skills into our career services practice so that your impacts can become more inclusive. View the dialogue, length 11 minutes, below.


I hope you are looking to learning about Effective Cultural Care in Lesson 4. Now that you have finished with Lesson 3, answer questions 7-9 on your worksheet. Mark this lesson complete and go to Lesson 4.