“We’re dealing with really serious issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). I’m not convinced cultural intelligence is enough.”
We’ve heard this more than once from DEI and HR leaders. And it’s a fair concern. Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the capability to function effectively in any multicultural situation. The definition is broad, and our research-based philosophy and approach are straightforward. We help businesses, institutions, schools, and governmental agencies worldwide develop the cultural intelligence of their teams, employees, students, etc. But how does this support DEI work? In more ways than you might assume. In fact, CQ is the strategic link to creating diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environments.
Here’s a brief breakdown of how CQ can be used as a strategy to support your DEI work:
CQ and Diversity
When most organizations say they want diversity, they are talking about representation — attracting and hiring people from different cultural backgrounds and identities. This is good. But whether you are trying to recruit diverse talent or ensure the hiring process is unbiased, it requires cultural intelligence to do it effectively. Some organizations have made more progress increasing diversity than others have. But even those who have done well may not be fully reaping the benefits. Research consistently demonstrates that diverse teams with low CQ are outperformed by homogenous teams. You can have employees from a wide range of diverse cultures and backgrounds, including different gender-identities, races, nationalities, generations, differently-abled people, etc. and still not understand how to leverage those differences. Why? Because working with people who are different creates misaligned expectations and conflict, and apart from CQ, increased diversity creates gridlock and reduced productivity. However, the research demonstrates that when diverse teams have high CQ, they outperform homogeneous teams in every area, including innovation, decision-making, building trust, and leadership effectiveness.
PRO TIP: Are you new to Cultural Intelligence? If so, watch this short video explaining how Cultural Intelligence and Diversity work together to create better solutions.
So what’s the bottom line? Diversity is important, but by itself, it has limited benefits. CQ is the multiplying factor. Facilitate CQ and unconscious bias trainings with your teams. Challenge them to demonstrate how they will leverage the diversity of their colleagues and peers to come up with innovative solutions to challenging problems. In classrooms, have students map out the cultural values of their classmates and require them to show how they will use the differences to work on team projects. In workplaces, facilitate perspective-taking to enhance dialogue and collaboration. Equip people to move beyond political correctness while using language that is respectful for everyone. These cultural intelligence strategies position you to make diversity so much more than just a beautiful mosaic of people from different backgrounds. CQ ensures everyone has the skills to work together effectively.
CQ and Inclusion
While Diversity is about representation, Inclusion is the process of welcoming diversity and creating an environment where everyone thrives. We recently participated in a webinar with Above Difference, our strategic partner in London. It was a fascinating discussion with businesses and health care leaders across the UK, and it shed light on some of the challenges around creating inclusive organizations, particularly in the era of Covid-19. One of the things discussed was how the global pandemic and economic recession is highlighting how quickly many organizations abandon their DEI commitments. In times of crisis, there’s a tendency to retreat to what’s safe, which often means retaining and promoting the people you know you can trust and excluding those you aren’t sure “get it,” which is often code language for people who are different. Virtual meetings begin to occur that inadvertently resort back to the safety of homogeneous groups. It doesn’t take long to lose whatever strides have been made in recruiting and including diverse people. Inclusion is not only welcoming everyone, but it’s having a culture and a set of organizational routines that are explicitly inclusive. What does that look like?
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Last year, the Academy of Management reported the top three factors that influence whether diverse staff feel included: participation in decision-making, information sharing, and informal networking. It’s easier and more efficient to make decisions with a group of like-minded people, but you lack the diversity of insights that come from involving diverse perspectives. CQ allows you to develop a decision-making process that manages bias, enables a variety of ways for a diversity of individuals to share their point of view, and ultimately reach a decision. The same is true for information sharing. Cultural intelligence ensures that knowledge sharing is inclusive and multi-directional. And while not everyone is looking to be best friends with their colleagues, we all want to feel like we belong. There are important links between CQ and diverse groups building collaborative, trusting relationships that go beyond simply accomplishing work tasks. “Inclusion” has been the buzzword in DEI for more than a decade, and in recent years, “belonging” has been added to the mix. In addition to helping people feel they can be authentic at work, CQ provides a proven, research-based strategy for including people in the areas where they most want to be included so that they’re set up to succeed.
CQ and Equity
Last week, Starbucks announced they are tying diversity targets to executive pay. Whether you agree with their approach or not, it highlights their commitment to measuring what they espouse to value. While the primary objective is to increase representation (diversity), a secondary benefit is how this decision influences equity. When reviewing employee demographics, they determined more was needed to help employees from culturally diverse backgrounds develop and advance into leadership roles. This culturally intelligent decision moved them one step closer to creating an organization committed to creating equitable experiences and opportunities for all employees.
For the last two years, we’ve partnered with Dallas Independent School District, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the US. With over 150,000 students and 22,000 employees, the entire focus on our work has been to use CQ as a strategy to address racial equity. Part of the strategy includes requiring all staff, teachers, and administrators to participate in CQ and unconscious bias trainings. Each employee is accountable for creating and implement individual development plans. To measure progress, everyone will complete a post CQ Assessment. We are also reviewing systems, policies, and practices that may be contributing to inequities among students, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
This is what it looks like to measure what you espouse to value. Both Starbuck and Dallas ISD are identifying inequities and implementing culturally intelligent action steps to mitigate them.
In sum, DEI without CQ has limited effectiveness. When we build in CQ solutions, the outcomes are significant and sustainable.
We agree that CQ is not the only strategy for supporting DEI work. There are several critical components. However, cultural intelligence is foundational, and it’s a critical part of any process designed to create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment.
We hope you find these ideas useful. But don’t just take our word for it. Join us on Thursday, October 29, at 11:00 AM EDT / 3:00 PM GMT and hear firsthand how our partners and clients from around the globe are integrating CQ into their DEI efforts. You can register for this free webinar below. Seats are limited, so sign up today!
Sandra Upton, DSL serves as VP, Global Diversity Practice, and provides strategic direction for applying Cultural Intelligence (CQ) to DEI work across all segments and industries. She previously worked with schools and universities through her role as Vice President of Educational Initiatives. In addition, she’s a regular speaker, trainer, and consultant on cultural intelligence with companies and non-profit organizations. As a former business school dean and organizational consultant, Sandra understands how to effectively integrate CQ with organizations’ D&I initiatives and global leadership programs. She has also facilitated study abroad experiences in places such as China, Europe, Israel, and South Africa. Sandra finds her greatest pleasure in spending time with her husband and two children. She also enjoys travel, reading, watching a good film, and long walks.
David Livermore, Ph.D., is a social scientist devoted to the topics of cultural intelligence (CQ) and global leadership and the author of ten award-winning books. His best-selling book Leading with Cultural Intelligence is being used widely across the world and his book, Driven by Difference, was featured in the Economist as a fresh, much-needed approach to DEI. He leads the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan, and he’s a visiting research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Before leading the Cultural Intelligence Center, Dave spent 20 years in leadership positions with various non-profit organizations around the world and taught in universities. He’s a frequent speaker and adviser to leaders in Fortune 500’s, non-profits, and governments and has worked in more than 100 countries across the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
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