After seven years as one of our vice presidents at the Cultural Intelligence Center, Sandra Upton has decided to transition from an organizational leadership role with the CQ Center to doing consulting work directly with individuals and organizations.
Since the beginning, Sandra was pivotal in helping us grow the impact of cultural intelligence, from just a few organizations to thousands of individuals and organizations around the world. She has led our work in unconscious bias and pioneered our collaborations with dozens of universities, non-profits, and companies around the world. Sandra has also trailblazed our DEI journey which continues to be a fundamental part of our mission at the CQ Center.
While we will miss having Sandra as one of our senior leaders at the CQ Center, we look forward to the ways we will continue to work together to build a more culturally intelligent world. On behalf of all of us at the Cultural Intelligence Center, thank you to Sandra for her exemplary leadership with us.
Dave Livermore, Founding Partner & Chief Visionary Officer, Cultural Intelligence Center
Q&A with Sandra
We recently sat with Dr. Sandra Upton for a very candid interview about her work and personal life, and what is coming next for her. We hope you enjoy the read!
- What does Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean to you?
Big three words. First, I think it is important to understand what each word means in itself. Diversity means working to create representation of difference at every level of the organization. Inclusion means creating an environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging, where they feel successful and thriving. Equity means identifying gaps where certain culture groups may be experiencing better or different opportunities than other groups and creating the circumstances to level the playing field for everyone. Each of these practices require interconnected strategies that together form a broader approach to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive spaces.
To me DEI is not just a job, it is a passion. As a person of color, a woman and so many other identities, it represents my lived experiences. Despite the strides that have been made, we are not nearly as far long on that journey as we should be, both at societal and organizational levels. We have an uncomfortable part of history that we don’t like to talk about, or when we talk about it, we tend to leave it in the past without acknowledging the implications that we are still experiencing today. The only way to change that and move forward is to honor the truth of the past and then do things differently in the present and for the future, both at the individual and systems level.
- What is your fondest memory of your time with the Cultural Intelligence Center?
I have plenty of endearing memories. Perhaps my favorite is not a specific moment, but rather a timeline. I am very fond of the early days with the team being incredibly small, and Dave and I doing everything from business development to creating and delivering content, following up, and forming partnerships. While that created burnout at some points, that building phase was something special that I will never forget. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely celebrate the growth of the CQ Center and feel very proud to have played a critical role in helping the organization into what it is today.
- What is one habit that helped you succeed professionally?
I believe the ability to consistently follow through has made a great difference for me. I say it all the time; it’s important to be knowledgeable, good at communicating and building relationships but following through is half -if not more- of the job. Just do what you say you are going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, and be consistent with that. In most instances, the results are often very rewarding.
- What is your biggest achievement in life?
It is the privilege and gift of being a mother. My children are amazing. Raising two responsible, productive, and god-fearing adult children has been my greatest joy. And certainly being married and my relationship with my wonderful and very supportive husband. Watching our kids be happy, successful, and living out their purposes brings us the greatest sense of accomplishment.
How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
First and foremost, I am a woman of faith. Staying centered in my faith as a Christian woman is my foundation and incredibly empowering. Regardless of what is happening in my world; whether I am having great successes, big failures or just a challenging day in my work, my faith helps me remember that everything has its place, and it is not who I am as a person, it is just what I do.
After that comes my conviction that family is my top priority. I always tell aspiring young women that you can indeed have it all, but maybe not all at once. Throughout my career I have always filtered my professional decisions and choices through the impact it would have on my family, and that has helped me immensely in prioritizing and balancing between my two roles.
Lastly the good old self-care regimen. It is a combination of making sure that I am getting my rest, doing a good job of exercising, and doing things that make me happy.
- Can you tell us about a book that has greatly influenced you?
There are many books that have left a great impact on me, but more recently I have been profoundly touched by reading You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience, co-edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown. They both bring their experiences and research on social justice, empathy and being brave, and fill this book with stories and lived experiences that underline the importance of being resilient and brave yet give you a permission to create a space for yourself when you need it.
Reading through the lens of DEI while still seeing major problems in our country and world such as the George Floyd murder, I realized that as an expert in the space, I’m always busy helping other people on their journey, but where do I get to pause and say, ‘oh not only am I tired right now, but I am also really hurting too.’ To acknowledge not only the resilience but also the pain and the hurt that often we experience as women of color in particular. The book emphasizes the fact that we are all human and when we deal with pain and frustration, particularly in the DEI space, it’s important to create safe spaces to give our own humanity space to breathe and heal.
- What’s next for Sandra?
That’s the big question. I am absolutely going to remain in the DEI space, it is part of my purpose and calling in the next chapter. I have a few DEI initiatives in the works and I also still have a great relationship with the CQ Center. We will continue to partner in various capacities. I have many more ideas swirling in my head, in the coming weeks and months they will make their way into solid solutions that I will reveal in time.
We at the Cultural Intelligence Center are sad to see Sandra leaver her role, but we are excited to continue working with her in different settings and areas, and wish her the best of luck as she moves towards a new chapter in her professional life.
To know more about our DEI journey and the work we continue to do, please click here.
About the Cultural Intelligence Center
The Cultural Intelligence Center is an innovative, research-based consulting and training organization that draws upon empirical findings to help executives, companies, universities, and government organizations assess and improve cultural intelligence (CQ) – the ability to work effectively with people from different nationalities, ethnicities, age groups, and more. We provide you with innovative solutions that improve multicultural performance based on rigorous academic research. More information about the Cultural Intelligence Center can be found on our website located at http://www.CulturalQ.com.
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