A White Guy’s Humble Advice to Black Professionals…

davidlivermore | May 12th, 2017 No Comments

Last week I was at Indeed to speak to a group of black IT professionals about how to use cultural intelligence when trying to find their dream jobs. It’s one of those times when I was very aware of a question I’m often asked: “Isn’t it a little awkward talking about the topics of cultural intelligence and diversity as a white guy?”

It’s a fair question. Some of the things that emerge from our research and work are primarily theoretical concepts to me. I rarely worry about how my kids will be treated when they walk out the door. I never wonder if I was invited to speak somewhere so I can add a little diversity to the lineup of speakers. But I still have something to offer the conversation and so do you.

We’re never going to address the challenges of nationalism, cultural misunderstandings, and discrimination unless we all speak up. There are things I can contribute to the conversation that stem from my research and experiences. And there are things we need to hear firsthand from those who are often misrepresented or marginalized.

These realities were foremost in my mind as I thought about what to say to my colleagues of color at this recent gathering put on by Indeed, the number one job site in the world. Particularly in the world of tech, companies are chasing diverse candidates. But how can those candidates use CQ to help them find the kind of employer who will include their diverse perspectives as a critical part of their strategy rather than using them to up their diversity counts?

Questions to Assess an Employer’s CQ

I offered the following suggestions to my colleagues of color. I organized these around the four CQ capabilities with recommended questions for the job candidates to ask themselves and questions to ask their prospective employers.

  • CQ Drive: Your interest, persistence, and confidence during multicultural interactions

Ask Yourself: How can I leverage my ability to code-switch?

Although under-represented groups don’t automatically have higher CQ, most bring a lifetime of experience code-switching—learning how to change the way they speak and act based on the culture/s involved.  Understandably, some people of color resist the admonition to develop CQ. After all—they’re expected to be the ones adapting all the time and isn’t it time someone else did so? But consider how the ability to code-switch is a tremendous advantage. If you’re from an under-represented group, you can leverage this skill you’ve been developing all your life as an advantage to your career. In a world of mounting artificial intelligence, the ability to code-switch will set you apart.

Ask Employer: What are the characteristics of team members who are most difficult for you to manage?

Don’t ask whether your prospective employer is committed to diversity. Of course they’ll say yes to that, particularly when talking with someone who looks like you! But ask what characteristics are most difficult for them to deal with. Then ask them the reverse: What are the characteristics of team members who are easiest for you to manage? Pay attention to whether they primarily describe people like themselves and you’ll gain insight into their interest in adjusting to different cultures (CQ Drive).

And be sure to stalk your prospective boss on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.

How diverse are their social networks? Do they only follow people who look like and agree with them? Or is it hard to tell their political bent based on the diversity of people they follow?

  • CQ Knowledge: Your understanding of how cultures are similar and different

Ask Yourself: What do I know about the markets served by this company?

No job candidate can be expected to know the ins and outs of every culture. But take the time to see what key markets exist among the company’s customers. Even if you have limited direct experience working with many of those cultures, the cultural values of your own background may be much more similar to the cultures of these markets than what is true for other job candidates. For example, African Americans and Latinos place much greater importance on extended families and their communities than most Caucasians do. That means many African Americans and Latinos operate from a cultural value that is shared by 70% of the world (“collectivism”).

Ask Employer: What kinds of differences exist across the markets you serve?

Likewise, no boss can be expected to understand every culture either. But look for whether they have something more than a cursory understanding of cultural similarities and differences. For example, if your interviewer tells you that they design for Latino users differently than Caucasian ones, press further. How does that design further change when programming for a Brazilian user as compared to a Mexican one?

  • CQ Strategy: Your awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions.

Ask Yourself: How can I accurately identify biases without rushing to judgment?

When people of color are told that they’re “incredibly articulate” or have an “impressive resume” that’s often a signal that an interviewer is biased, and they may well be. But before you immediately assume your interviewer is making a biased statement, seek some additional information to test this further. Beware of confirmation bias in yourself as well as others—the tendency to look for and favor information that confirms what you already thought.

Ask Employer: Tell me about a project you managed that was different as a result of the diverse skill sets and perspectives involved?

Job candidates are advised to share concrete, specific examples rather than vague ones. Expect the same from your prospective boss and colleagues. Don’t settle for empty platitudes about the value of having a diverse team. How? What specifically has been different about an innovation or project because there were diverse people involved in the project?

  • CQ Action: Your ability to adapt when relating and working interculturally.

Ask Yourself: When should I adapt? Not adapt?

This is a tough one. Should an African American woman straighten her hair just to be “perceived” as more professional? Should you change your tone so others don’t interpret your communication as angry or militant? Each individual has to wrestle with what it means to remain true to one’s self while adapting just enough to be appropriate and respectful. And here’s where being a white guy can be a limiting factor because so many places I travel—even across the globe—people are quick to accommodate to my preferences. But it’s important for all of us to consider when adapting to others is a smart, strategic way to ensure our intentions are understood and when doing so is selling out. Find mentors to guide you through this discernment process.

Ask Employer: Whom have you promoted recently?

Don’t simply ask your prospective boss how they adapt their management style for people from different cultures. You have to be more coy than that. I recommend asking something more like the above question. The individuals they have promoted tell you something about what they value. Or you can ask them the reverse: Tell me about someone you hired that didn’t work out. Why? Listen for language like “She wasn’t a good fit.” “Fit” is often code for “She didn’t act like the rest of us.”

I’m well aware of my limitations in talking about how cultural intelligence applies to people of color. But I refuse to be a silent bystander and I’m continuing to learn what it means to be an ally.

Next month, we turn the tables and my colleague and friend, Dr. Sandra Upton will share “A Black Woman’s Advice to White Professionals.”

Wait, What? What Smart Phones do to our CQ

davidlivermore | April 13th, 2017 No Comments

Wait, What? What Smart Phones do to our CQ

Part of this article came together for me in the shower. Why is it that ideas so often come to us while doing mundane tasks? It’s because moments of boredom free up our mind to think creatively. And regular bouts of boredom play a powerful role in building cultural intelligence (CQ).

Yet who has time to be bored these days? As I travel across the U.S. and around the world rarely, if ever, do I see people who are bored. Thank you smart phones!

You can fast forward through the boring commercials watching your favorite show, pass the time waiting in line by scrolling through your social media feed, or sit through a religious service or class by surfing the web and texting. I’ve even seen security personnel and traffic cops using their phones to alleviate boredom. I recently stayed at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur where a VIP was staying. Security was everywhere. Yet several of the security officers were leaning against the wall scrolling through their phones every time I walked by them.

Our smart phones are an insurance policy against ever being bored. And granted, not everyone across the world has a smart phone. I still catch glimpses of elderly people in certain communities who are simply sitting outside doing “nothing.” But the reality is, most of us reach for our phones whenever there’s a minute to spare.

Boredom is directly linked to creativity and innovation. Researchers Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman conducted a study where a group of participants were asked to come up with creative ideas for how to use a pair of plastic cups. Prior to the brainstorming session, one group of participants was asked to copy numbers from a phone book while a control group was not given the boring task. The group who slogged through the phone book assignment came up with more creative ways to use the plastic cups than the others.

What our brains want is new input—fresh, stimulating, and social. But our smart phones spare us the hard work to get that new input and thereby lessen our creative insights. Creativity and cultural intelligence are directly linked. Accomplishing the same task with a group of individuals who have a different set of cultural values requires a creative, culturally intelligent approach, something described in our most recent book Driven by Difference.

But there are a few other seminal issues we need to consider when pondering the relationship between boredom, smart phones, and CQ.

  • Sense of Self

Without boredom, we’re less likely to think about our inner lives. The very starting point of cultural intelligence is awareness of one’s own background, implicit biases, and cultural identity. Sherry Turkle, one of the foremost social scientists studying the impact of technology, describes her observation from doing extensive research on how adolescents and young adults relate to their smart phones.  Most of the students she interviewed see their phones as an extension of themselves. They describe a sense of panic when their phone is dying and they don’t have a way to charge it. In her book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle writes,

I see how happy these students are [with their phones]. They like moving in and out of talk, text, and images; they like the continual feed. And they like always having someplace else to go. They say that their greatest fear is boredom. If for a moment students don’t find enough stimulation in the room, they go to the chat. If they don’t find the images compelling, they look for new ones.” (p. 10)

But don’t be too quick to pin this all on the younger generation. The average U.S. adult checks their phone every 6.5 minutes. There’s little need to pay attention to what’s going on within you when the world is at your fingertips.

  • Perspective Taking

Allowing for boredom increases the capacity for empathy and perspective taking. Perspective taking is the capability to step outside ourselves and imagine the emotions, perceptions, and motivations of another. It goes beyond the platonic admonitions of cultural sensitivity programs that teach “respect for everyone.” Instead, perspective taking steps into the shoes of others and realizes they may not want to be treated the same way I do. Sitting on a bus in a new place and watching the people around me offers me all kinds of insights I miss when my head is buried in my phone.

There’s mounting research that reports a 40% drop in empathy among college students in the past 20 years, as measured by standard psychological tests. Social scientists suggest this drop in empathy correlates with the spike in online, mediated communication by both students and the parents who raised them. Many kids are growing up in homes where parents don’t get through dinner without stopping to read and respond to text messages.

It’s tough to enter the shoes of another person when you’re phubbing—the skill of maintaining eye contact while texting. It’s difficult to understand your colleague’s point on a global call when you’re simultaneously emailing while “listening” to them. It’s difficult to fully engage with an unfamiliar culture when you’re still fully immersed in the world of email and social media updates from home. Boredom allows you to look around and observe details and nuances you miss when multi-tasking as you engage with others. And this leads to one more critical issue.

  • Face-to-Face Conversations, “Wait, What?”

Teens and 20-somethings told Turkle that the most commonly heard phrase at dinner with friends is “Wait, What?” And this is happening as much among 30 and 40-somethings as it is among teenagers. More and more conversations are extremely fragmented because everyone is in and out of the conversation at hand. Everyone is always missing a beat because of being available to everyone else who isn’t physically together.

The beauty of smart phones is the way they allow us to retain connection and relationship with people who are far away from us. It’s what our phones do to our in-person conversations that is a problem. Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on a table (even turned off) changes how people talk. If two people are talking and there’s a phone sitting on the table, each feels less connected to the other.

Being constantly available to everyone else means I’m only partially available to the people in my presence.  And cultural intelligence is best developed face-to-face, one conversation at a time.

  • You’re in Charge, not Your Phone

Rest easy. I’m not interested in launching a campaign to ditch smart phones…as if that would have any success even in my own household. But it’s time we consider more seriously the ubiquitous ways our phones are changing our lives, relationships, and ways of engaging with one another.

The ability to text my college age daughter from across the world makes me feel closer to her. And the fact that I can easily contact my aging mother, wherever I am in the world, is a gift I treasure. But we need to get serious about taking charge of our phones and putting them down to engage in real, face-to-face conversation, force ourselves to sit on a bus with nothing to do, and know when to fully unplug.

I just read an interview with Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank’s real estate guru who said, “When I get home at night, I focus 100 percent on my family. There’s dinner, the usual homework, bedtime routines….but at night I don’t check emails or answer the phone. I plug the phone into the charger at the front door, and the next morning I grab it as I walk out the door. I realized a while back that the constant flow of emailing and texting was my personal enemy and I declared war.”

Wait, what? You can do that??

Hang on, I just got a text….

My interview with Lynnette Collins, Diversity Leader at Amway

davidlivermore | March 16th, 2017 No Comments

Long before Uber or AirBnB, Amway was creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to build their own businesses by selling nutritional and home care products. Amway Business Owners (ABOs) and the staff that support them are an incredibly diverse group scattered across the globe. We’ve had the privilege of partnering with Amway to ensure their diversity and global presence is a driver of success. I recently sat down with Lynnette Collins, Amway’s key leader on all things related to diversity, to talk about how Amway uses cultural intelligence (CQ) and unconscious bias as part of their strategy for growth.


What’s your role at Amway?

I lead the team responsible for developing practices that enable high performance teams that are diverse, inclusive and focused on ABO success. That includes things like Amway University, Inclusive Leadership programs, Inclusion Networks, Gender Partnership Series, Diversity & Inclusion Champions and much more. It’s a dream job for me.


You joined Amway 20 years ago. How has the company changed since then?

From a vision and values standpoint, we have remained the same.  We have an unrelenting belief in people and we want to help others fulfill their potential.

From a strategy standpoint, we continue to quickly evolve and change to meet the needs of our ABOs, their customers and the communities we serve.  We are also much more global in the way we work today than when I started. Back then, each affiliate did what was best for their own market. Today, each market has to consider the impact of decisions on not only its own market, but on the entire enterprise across the world. This means we have to have to think, behave and work very differently than we did 20 years ago.


How does Amway approach diversity and inclusion (D&I) and how is it tied to your strategic vision and mission?

There are two overarching reasons for D&I at Amway – one is long term, the other is shorter term.

The long-term focus is weaving diversity and inclusion into the fabric of our entire Amway culture. Every one of our values has a connection to diversity, inclusion, or both. We can’t help people fulfill their potential unless we address their diverse needs. And the more they are included in the Amway family, the more that drives the potential for all of us. So, it’s really important that we think about diversity and inclusion as a lever to help us drive the culture we aspire to at Amway.

The shorter-term focus is considering the D&I implications for any strategy we pursue. It starts with hiring, developing, and promoting a rich, diverse pipeline of talent. We especially care about having diversity in key decision making roles, because we believe diverse perspectives bring more innovative solutions to support ABO success. And the more our leadership reflects the diversity of our ABOs, the more likely we will be a fast, agile organization to meet the needs of them and their customers.


What forms of diversity are you addressing most across Amway?

All dimensions of diversity are important to us, but we are currently focused on four that are most directly relevant to ABOs and our customer base: gender; race and ethnicity, generations, and workstyle.

Over 70% of our ABO businesses are run solely by or in partnership with women.  We operate in over 80 countries and territories around the world. The millennial population will quickly become the largest population in the workforce.  And as a sales organization, we are drawn to extroverts – but know we may be missing out on talent who would describe themselves as being more introverted. This is why we prioritized these four dimensions of diversity.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that some groups can feel left out if our application of D&I doesn’t directly affect them. So we also discuss the concept of cultural identity, recognizing that we all have different elements that make up who we are. This has helped everyone become more eager to get engaged in the dialogue and actions to create a more inclusive environment for everyone.


You’re based in a small Midwest city in the U.S. yet 90% of your business is global. How does that influence the way you approach D&I?

When we first started, my global colleagues would say, “Diversity is important for you in the U.S., but it doesn’t apply to us”.  I believe this was because people were defining diversity as simply race or ethnicity.

Many of our markets don’t experience racial or ethnic differences in the way we do. The experience of under-represented ethnicities in Brazil or China is very different from here in the U.S.  As we started to define diversity more broadly, it became more apparent to my colleagues that diversity was relevant to everyone. And it really resonated globally when we began to define inclusive leadership and talk about specific ways to address the blind spots that come from unconscious bias and using CQ to work more effectively in any cultural context.

As you know, last year, we certified 29 facilitators (21 outside of the US) to implement our Foundations of Inclusive Leadership workshop, an interactive session for leaders that addresses unconscious bias and building cultural intelligence.  Our colleagues from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia embraced it. Our goal was to have every leader of people in the U.S. complete the inclusive leadership program the first year and leaders globally to do so in years two and three. Within weeks of being certified, teams across the world were holding sessions with top executive leadership teams and making plans to roll out more broadly in 2017. It’s been very exciting to be a part of the momentum and we are thankful for the partnership with the Cultural Intelligence Center.  We couldn’t have done it without you!


“Cultural Intelligence” was an optional workshop at Amway for quite a while. But then you decided it needed to become a non-negotiable, leadership program. How and why?

We’re incredibly diverse across Amway. But we believe diversity without inclusion doesn’t work.  To be an effective leader at Amway, you must be able to work across any cultural context to enable employees to perform at their highest potential. And, you don’t have to work across geographies to work across different cultural contexts!  Finance has a different culture than HR, who has a different culture than Marketing, who has a different culture than R&D or Manufacturing – yet, we all need to work together to achieve business results.  That’s where CQ comes in. It allows our leaders to work effectively, whatever the “cultural” difference. So this had to be more than an optional offering.

As a result, we knew that we had to start with our leaders. They had to understand the realities of unconscious bias, know how to interrupt and manage their biases, and develop the skills (CQ) in themselves and others to work across the never-ending differences we encounter all day long at Amway. And if we want to be innovative and move quickly to find the best solutions for our ABOs and customers, we need diverse talent that feels valued for their uniqueness as well as a sense of belonging within the team and organization. That will only happen when we ensure that all of our leaders are equipped to lead with cultural intelligence.


What’s a misperception people consistently make of you?

I can’t escape being on the receiving end of unconscious biases people may have about me.

Personal – I have two bi-racial children and when people see me alone with them they assume either they are adopted or that they have different fathers or that I wasn’t married to their father.  All untrue.

Professional – I am an introvert and someone who is very attuned to others’ feelings and emotions. Because of this, it doesn’t take much for me to cry. Because I’m very expressive, sometimes people interpret that as weakness.  Also untrue.  For people who know me, they know I’m one tough lady – not afraid to take on a challenge, not afraid to have an unpopular opinion, not afraid to take risk.


I agree Lynnette. You’re one tough leader who cares ferociously for people, no matter what their background and story. Is there anything else you would like to share before we wrap this up?

We want to take full advantage of the various perspectives that come from having such a rich network across the Amway family. Developing inclusive leadership goes beyond a workshop.  We have incorporated tools to help interrupt unconscious bias in recruiting, talent identification performance evaluation and how rewards are determined.  This is one way to ensure the conversation is continuous and practices are implemented.

In just over a year, we have seen the shift in conversation amongst our leaders where they are calling out bias with respect and confidence, and its positively impacting the decisions made around talent. Our senior executives have taken a prominent and visible role in these discussions and have been willing to be vulnerable, share where they are developing and ask other leaders to join them on this journey as we take bold action for change.  We are getting into some tough conversations around gender, race and ethnicity, and we are all better for it.

For 2017, we are continuing to build on inclusive leader capabilities, but are also bringing employees into the conversation to focus on inclusive culture.  We are excited about the progress we have made and recognize we have a way to go to fully arrive to our aspiration, but we are confident we will get there!

 

Lynnette Collins
Director, Talent Development Enablers,
Diversity & Inclusion

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