Cultural Safety in Research Work Environments

How can research leaders establish welcoming and supportive workplaces that value and integrate people and perspectives from all cultural backgrounds?

Instituting cultural safety means recognizing, respecting, and valuing cultural and social differences. Cultural safety is also about understanding how cultural and social power imbalances occur in academic settings. Cultural safety helps to prevent harm and supports the needs and aspirations of all people.

The idea of cultural safety first emerged in relation to the responsibility of healthcare providers to deliver healthcare free of discrimination toward Indigenous peoples. Equitable healthcare and health outcomes are supported in settings where cultural safety is consciously practiced. Similarly, work environments, such as research labs, field sites, and academic conferences that practice cultural safety, are likely to be more inclusive and open to transformative research collaborations across diverse epistemologies.

Practicing cultural safety begins with recognizing that we are all carriers of culture. A conscious effort is required to become more aware of unfamiliar cultures. Importantly, exposure to different cultures, values, and ways of being, knowing, and doing makes us more sensitive to our biases and assumptions. Self-reflection to become more culturally sensitive, as well as sensitive to historical and present-day forms of privilege and discrimination, can be done by individuals but is more impactful if done by groups. For example, structured discussion opportunities for research groups can help to ensure that inclusion and equity are not taken for granted[1]. Careful listening and humility can open up dialogue and build trust so that difficult systemic issues can be raised and addressed.

Cultural safety builds upon but goes beyond cultural competence. Cultural competence focuses on individualized cultural learning. Cultural safety encompasses cultural competence and also entails critical self and group reflection on power, privilege, and bias. Researchers have found that this “critical consciousness” is essential for making measurable progress toward equity[2].

Creating a time and space to facilitate group reflection and discussion on power, privilege, and bias is paramount to achieving cultural safety in research work environments. As leaders in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural research settings we have the ability and the responsibility to consciously create working environments where people of non-majority backgrounds and identities feel safe from discrimination. Creating time and space to hold facilitated group discussions on power, privilege, and bias and their impact in research settings might be the next step you’ve been looking for to advance cultural safety for your team.

[1] Reflections and Actions for Creating an Inclusive Research Environment (

[2] Why cultural safety rather than cultural competency is required to achieve health equity: a literature review and recommended definition (