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When “Culture Fit” is Code Word for Affinity Bias

davidlivermore | August 17th, 2018 No Comments

Guest Post By Dr. Sandra Upton

A few months back my colleague and friend, Dave Livermore, wrote an excellent article on cultural fit, which is the likelihood that a job candidate will be able to conform and adapt to the core values and collective behaviors that make up an organization. He provided some great insights on identifying culturally intelligent ways to balance adapting to the organizational culture and being yourself. I’d like to further explore this conversation from a slightly different perspective.

So here’s the question: what if “culture fit” really is code for “if you want to join or be successful in our organization, you need to think and act just like us (the dominant cultural group)”? This what is called Affinity Bias—the tendency to give preference to people like ourselves.

Every organization has a core set of values that guide how they operate and employees should be expected to share those values. But what are the consequences when those values leave no room for the values, identities, and perspectives of those outside of the dominant culture?

Harvard Business School Professor, Francesca Gino, has done fascinating research and work on the benefits of helping employees become rebels (in a good way!) inside their organizations. In her study of more than 2,000 employees across a wide range of industries, nearly half the respondents reported working in organizations where they regularly feel the need to conform. These organizations unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, urge employees to check a good chunk of their real selves at the door. When this happens both the employee and organization pay a price—which is manifested through decreased engagement, productivity, and innovation. To the contrary, employees who said they could express their authentic selves at work were more committed to their organizations, thus demonstrating higher levels of engagement, productivity, and innovation.

How To Tell The Difference

How do we know when our judgments and decisions genuinely support organizational values that benefit everyone versus those decisions and actions (conscious or unconscious) that favor the dominant culture? In most organizations, Affinity Bias shows up in one of three places in the organization: hiring, promoting, or day-to-day interactions. The consequences can include missing out on hiring a diverse and highly qualified candidate, promoting the most qualified person into a leadership position, or missing out on difference perspectives and innovative ideas in team meeting or on key projects.

Examples of what someone might think, hear, or say…

Hiring: “That first interviewee did a fantastic job! He reminds me so much of myself when I was younger. I think he’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Promotion/Development: “I’m not sure she’s ready for a leadership position, she just doesn’t quite have the executive presence that I’m looking for and I’m not sure she’ll fit in with the other leaders.”

Day-To-Day: “We think so much alike, I want you working on this big project with me.”

If it is Affinity Bias, what can you do about it? Here are five specific ways to think about how to manage its effect in your organization. By the way, these strategies can also apply to many other forms of bias that show up in our organizations.

How Do We Manage Affinity Bias? 

  • Get out of denial. In a powerful TedTalk, Verna Meyers, a lawyer, activist, and diversity advisor, told the standing room only crowd that one of the first steps to managing our biases is admitting out loud that we have them and that they may be impacting our decisions and actions. It’s not rocket science, but it is truth—and it’s harder to do than most of us think. If our organizational culture is one where we aren’t even willing to create space for the discussion and admit that Affinity Bias may be influencing some of our decisions and actions, we just may be in denial.
  • Start at the top. If leadership isn’t committed to addressing bias in the work environment, your efforts quickly become an uphill battle. In addition, to manage unconscious bias at the organizational level there must be “demonstrated” leadership commitment. This means that leadership must not just say they are committed through verbal expressions and written diversity statements. They must take measurable steps towards the elimination of bias in the work environment. As a leader, you need to create a workplace culture that promotes employee well-being, creates opportunities for positive cross-cultural interactions, and develop policies, practices, and norms that serve as a benefit and not a barrier to embracing all cultural groups.
  • Manage Affinity Bias at all stages of the employee life cycle. This can feel like an overwhelming task and you may not even know where to start. Break down the process and consider it in the three phases highlighted in this article—hiring, promotion/development, and day-to-day. Ask yourself questions such as: Are our hiring policies and practices objective and consistent with all candidates? When promoting people is our criteria for “success” objective, or do certain cultural groups tend to benefit most from promotional opportunities? In day-to-day interactions, do we see certain cultural groups covering up parts of their identity in meetings, on projects, or just in conversations or cross-cultural engagements throughout the day.
  • Track and assess the data. The saying, “we measure what we value” is still true. Because unconscious bias can be so subtle and, well, unconscious, it can sometimes be difficult to quantify its effects. When accessing your efforts to manage bias, look at the hard facts. How diverse is your talent pool? Whose getting promoted? What cultural groups are absent? Why? If the data is revealing tendencies to hire and promote people who primarily reflect the dominant group or certain cultural groups, biases may be at play.
  • Solicit Feedback. Conduct an anonymous company-wide employee survey to understand what specific issues of hidden bias, microaggressions, and inequities might exist in your organization or institution. If you are a leader, solicit direct feedback from your team or colleagues.

Ultimately and most importantly, you must go beyond the unconscious bias conversation. Addressing it is important. In fact, understanding our biases and enhancing our cultural awareness are the critical first steps in the process of learning how to work effectively across cultures. However, awareness alone is no guarantee of success in our intercultural interactions. Not only do we need to go beyond awareness and build habits and behaviors that will help mitigate the impact of unconscious biases, we need to develop our cultural intelligence (CQ). When awareness of these biases and behaviors is coupled with CQ, new habits and behaviors predict intercultural performance.

Cultural Bloopers & Misgivings from an Experience in America

davidlivermore | April 11th, 2018 No Comments

Guest Post By Helga Evelyn Samuel

So, you speak English and you think a trip to an English-speaking country cannot be that hard, right? Surely not, because you’ve been there several years ago. On a recent work trip, I discovered, however, that such assumptions are quite careless at the least.

After a couple of days in a room full of North Americans (well, almost!), eating out with the group and socializing in the process, staying at a Canadian-Venezuelan’s place, and navigating through unfamiliar streets, here are some observations from my brief tryst with the American culture:

1. Assumptions are unwise. Never assume that everything is going to be like back home just because the people in the country presumably speak the same language as you! Expect everything to be different: right from the pedestrian crossing symbols to the way people cross roads to the food habits to mannerisms and customs, to the way people mean and interpret the same English you speak!

2. A little preparation goes a long way. Do your homework! So, you think why should you go prepared for a short work trip? What could possibly go wrong in just a few days, right? Actually, anything could go wrong depending on what the purpose of your trip is, who you are meeting, what important deals you are signing et al. When you go abroad on a work trip, you represent your company, and often times your country. You need to do some homework on what you could expect: talk to others who have been there before you, take some reading material on the country you are visiting with you on your plane ride. Also: know enough about your host country you are currently residing in if you are an expat.

3. Allow room for little surprises. How do you lock the bathroom door in your host’s old apartment? Which way do you turn the knob and why doesn’t it lock when you do it the way you do in Europe (panic attack!)? Step into the shower–now, which way does this knob turn? After fumbling a while and breaking into a cold sweat in the process, you manage to solve this great mystery! You later discover after a demo from the host on locking the bathroom door, that the last couple of times you had actually been very unsuccessful! Thankfully, nobody was home at that time! (Phew!) In the kitchen, you debate whether the water from the faucet is safe to drink, and when you reassure yourself that it cannot go wrong, you look in disgust at the very murky, gray-white liquid you’ve collected and are unsure if drinking it is going to kill you! (your gracious hosts later inform you that although water from the tap is safe, they filter it in this fascinating looking water container- and presto, that murky effect magically disappears!) Then you decide to make a sunny side up for breakfast, only to find that the mechanism of turning the knob on the stove is slightly different from what you do back home in Europe. Because within seconds you are nauseous by this overpowering smell of cooking gas. Not intending to set the host’s house on fire, you decide to safely settle for a banana for breakfast that morning! Fast forward to the day of conference. You need a coffee fix, and wander around looking for a stirrer. You find these strange, narrowly constricted white hollow tubes with bright red stripes that resemble straws. Surely these couldn’t be stirrers. They remotely bear any resemblance to the wooden, flat stirrers you are used to. Not wanting to look like an idiot, you politely ask a new friend where the stirrers are: he informs you that those narrow straw-like things are indeed the stirrers (hot flush of embarrassment!) Later you find out that the very same hotel has placed the familiar flat wooden stirrers on a shiny, jet black tray carrying your all-day coffee/tea (aka caffeine fix) supplies! Ha! You look at the familiar with a large toothy grin and run your fingers down the wooden stirrer and go ‘Sigh, just like back home!” The familiar somehow makes the heart very happy. Even something as small and silly as a mundane coffee stirrer! (tears of joy!)

4. An overdose of friendliness. The contrast is so stark that you simply cannot miss it! In The Netherlands, smiles are only reserved for people you know, people do not normally smile at strangers and very rarely exchange small talk. Those travelling by public transport always appear solemn and seldom indulge in any chitchat. A train/bus/tram ride to anywhere can be eerily silent (comfortably if you are used to it!), unless friends or family members ride together. Then you travel to the United States where everyone right from the doorman, the chauffeur, the Target store shop assistants, to even random strangers on the street are SO friendly and warm! On your first day, you are a bit suspicious since this behavior is not normal to you. By the end of the week however, you enjoy the warmth of the people so much that you suffer a temporary memory lapse at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam: you flash a big smile and offer a ‘Hey, how are you?’ to a total stranger waiting in line at the immigration. However, your polite overture is met by a shuffling of feet and a suspicious sideways glance (Ha, she probably thought you were nuts!)

5. Unfamiliar pedestrian signals. At first you are confused by the unfamiliar ‘white man walking’ and ‘red hand’ road crossing signals. In The Netherlands, these are a ‘green man walking’ and a ‘red man waiting’. And what does the countdown after the red hand mean? That this is your last chance to run for your life across the road? You look to fellow pedestrians for cues and find some sprint across quickly. You step forward to follow suit when you notice a car turns into your road during the countdown. A bit baffled and shaken, you adamantly decide to freeze in position on the sidewalk till you see the safe ‘white man walking’ signal again (shudder!). You do want to make it home in one piece after all! In The Netherlands and particularly in Germany, most people adhere to the pedestrian crossing rules. People respect the ‘red man waiting’ signal that they rarely cross–not even when there are no vehicles on the road!

6. Shocking supermarket facts. You wander around in Target trying to spot familiar groceries, let out an audible gasp at the unbelievably overpriced feta cheese, peppers, and salad ingredients. You are surprised by the numerous bread assortments–everything appears intriguing and some look rather unappetizing. You are impressed by the very friendly woman at the counter who even bags your grocery contents. In The Netherlands, the customer must hurriedly transfer her grocery contents into bags, so the next customer can be served immediately thereafter. A newcomer to the country has to learn to quickly shove grocery contents into shopping bags or be prepared to meet some impatient, disgruntled customers waiting in line. (Don’t tell anyone but you recruit your kids to bag the groceries with an ice cream bribe. It works like a charm every time!)

7. A warning to the foodies. Oh, the food! You are utterly delighted by the sinful array of culinary indulgences in the U.S. and eagerly dig into the large portion sizes. This is foodie H(E)AVEN (caps on intentionally)! Having been raised Indian, it is unconsciously ingrained in your mind to never waste any food on your plate (“Remember the many starving poor in India!”, your parents solemnly reminded you while growing up) and you gladly oblige–this is good stuff, after all! A week later though, when it is time to fly back home, you discover when your jeans tightly hug your lower body like a boa constrictor how quickly those extra pounds add up. Yikes!

8. Now, did you say English is universal? After a wonderful few days of getting to know new acquaintances and friends, you go around saying your goodbyes. Remember those familiar yet vital four and a half words that you reserve only for people you really like and want to sincerely make an effort to be in touch with? The magical “Let’s keep in touch!” You generously dish it out to a couple of people in the room with absolute genuineness. Only to find out much later that this sentence actually means “Goodbye, I DON’T like you that much!” in America! You recoil in horror at the subtle message you’d sent that week to the amazing, warm, friendly people whose company you had thoroughly enjoyed! (Oh nooo!)

9. Are colleagues friends? You learn that in America, colleagues rarely socialize or stay in touch as friends. They make acquaintances easily but rarely make ‘friends’ among colleagues. Such a stark contrast to The Netherlands where colleagues socialize every Friday night over the famed Dutch ‘borrel’: when drinks and conversations freely flow over raucous background music. Even strikingly different from your experience with former German colleagues you briefly worked with, who have been in touch since nearly twenty years when life took you places and are cherished friends. Some so close that you fondly call them ‘family’. Now, how do you define the connections with these delightful people you briefly hung out with in America? Colleagues? Acquaintances? Friends? How do you follow through on your word to ‘stay in touch’ with them? Your brain is certainly muddled dealing with this.

10. A little lesson on culture. Now, what do you do when the opportunity arises to travel back into the same country? A culturally intelligent person learns from previous mistakes, mentally readjusts to expectations, and applies past learnings to new experiences while still keeping an open mind to learn something new. It is important to remember, however, that your past experiences are not standards for others to gauge theirs against. Your experience does not necessarily have to be similar to another’s. It is also absurd to base your opinion on a country or its people from a few subjective experiences, so don’t be too hasty to translate your experiences into a “Do’s and Don’ts” list for that country. Be open to the sights, sounds and sensations that a new place brings. Dive in fearlessly, be prepared to fall on your face a couple of times, laugh about it, and learn from it. Have an open mind and a receptive heart. Savor the similarities. Respect the differences. Embrace the change.

Note: This article is purely based on personal experience and is merely written to entertain. However, some generalized content offers insight into learning how to deal with new and unfamiliar cultures.

  Helga Evelyn Samuel is the Founder & CEO of Curry & Culture Company based in The Netherlands, as well as a CQ Certified Advanced Professional.

Unconscious Bias: Not Just An Adult Problem

davidlivermore | February 20th, 2018 No Comments

Guest Post By Dr. Sandra Upton

Recently, there was an incident at a high school in my own hometown where a group of students found makeup in the back of a classroom that had been left previously in the day by another student. One student, who happened to be Caucasian, used that makeup to paint his face black. Someone took pictures and you can probably guess what happened next. They were posted on social media and instantly went viral, creating a firestorm of offense and criticism from other students and the community at large, particularly the African American community.

Some might say, “I don’t get it, what’s the big deal?” Well, if you understand a bit about U.S. race relations, wearing “blackface” was makeup that was used to portray very negative racial stereotypes towards African Americans in the 19th Century. The remnants of what it symbolizes are alive and well, making it just asif not moresensitive of an issue today as it was back then. Worse yet, these remnants can show up in the form of unconscious biases, particularly among our youth in K-12 (primary and secondary) schools. Students’ unconscious biases are not limited to race. They can include gender, socioeconomic status, weight, sexual orientation, religion, etc., all of which can significantly undermine a school’s efforts to create an inclusive environment where students thrive, regardless of their backgrounds.

What is Unconscious Bias and Where does it come From?

Unconscious bias can be described as unintended subtle and subconscious thoughts that happen to all of usand all of the time. Mahzarin Banaji, author of the book Blind Spots, describes them as ingrained habits or “mindbugs” of thought that lead to error in how we perceive, remember, reason, and make decisions.

Banaji’s research reveals unconscious bias in children as soon as they have the verbal skills to be tested for it, which is around age four. Moreover, unconscious bias turns out to be roughly the same for pre-schoolers as for a senior citizen. This is consistent for children around the globe. The source of these biases is influenced most by the socialization that occurs at home, in school, and through the media. Unless there is intentionality in managing biases, they follow children throughout their primary and secondary education resulting in negative judgments, stereotypes, and actions towards people from different backgrounds. And as a result, kids put black makeup on their faces thinking it’s innocent while in fact it stems from implicit biases they have about people who look different from them.

So how can schools address unconscious bias? And how do we do so in culturally intelligent ways? Below are a few ideas. Let’s consider them at two levelsschool focused and student focused strategies.

School Focused Strategies

  • Recruit Culturally Intelligent Teachers and Staff 

Review your hiring and onboarding practices. Be intentional about hiring a diverse team of teachers and staff. Recruiting a school staff comprised of different backgrounds creates an opportunity for your diverse student population to see people on staff and in leadership who look like them.  But diversity staffing is not enough. Make sure that you hire people who share your value for diversity and inclusion, even if they are among the dominant culture. Everyone on staff needs cultural intelligence.

  • Provide Unconscious Bias Training for Teachers and Staff

Part of the reason students are able to act on their biases is because teachers and staff lack the awareness and skills to manage such challenges. Providing research-based unconscious bias training is a powerful strategy for exposing potential biases that faculty and staff might have, as well as equipping them to effectively deal with students who may demonstrate biases towards others. Use professional development time to provide the training so teachers and staff don’t feel like it’s one more thing being added to an already full plate. Be sure teachers from every subject matter are on board. Unconscious bias shows up in math, science, and PE as much as in the social sciences.

  • Engage Parents and Families

Children are not born biased. They develop biased thoughts and assumptions through what they are taught and exposed to. Invite families to discussions or trainings on unconscious bias and cultural intelligence. Help them recognize the value of such learning and development opportunities for both them as parents, as well as their children. Provide them with tools and resources to navigate difficult discussions at home. Educate them on why having culturally intelligent children will prepare them for success in the global and multicultural world that they will eventually be working in as adults. A parent or family in the U.S. needs to help their children understand that cultural demographics have shifted. Today, students of color are now the majority in U.S. public schools. Those currently in the minority population will become the majority within the next 30 years. A parent or family in Australia might remind their children that nearly 40% of students attending Australian universities were born oversees. Many of these students are from places such as India and China. Their children will be attending college and ultimately working alongside these students.

Don’t wait to engage families after an incident has happened. Be proactive. And when a situation happens, everyone should be clear and feel confident that it will be handled in a way that supports the school’s already demonstrated commitment to creating an inclusively excellent environment for all students.

Student Focused Strategies

  • Customize Classroom Instruction

Make sure the curriculum and other classroom resources reflect a wide range of cultures and perspectives that represent your student population and beyond. Use positive images and materials that intentionally counter stereotypical assumptions about certain cultural groups. Incorporate instruction about bias. Use music, art, and other creative mediums to expose the cultural values and contributions of different cultural groups.

  • Facilitate Cross-Cultural Interactions

Facilitate cross-cultural interactions between in-groups. Dr. Beverly Tatum’s classic book “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?” in part reflects our preference for sticking with our in-group, but it also symbolizes the segregation that still happens in many U.S. schools. Underrepresented populations, which could also include other forms of diversity such as students with learning or physical disabilities, do not feel included or a valuable part of the school community. Create heterogeneous learning groups to include students from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Perspective taking has been shown to reduce unconscious bias. Challenge students to reflect on situations and conflicts from another person’s point of view. For example, how do they process negative images they see about certain cultural groups in the media? Why is the #MeToo movement from around the globe such a big deal? Eventually, move students towards developing their cultural intelligence.

  • Build in Accountability

Ignorance is not bliss. Everyone must play an active part in learning to become more culturally intelligent when interacting across cultures. As the saying goes, “when you know better, you do better.” Students, and anyone who is part of the school community, must understand that biased words and actions which negatively impact others are unacceptable and will have disciplinary consequences. These expectations should be communicated in a proactive and explicit way, not simply after an incident occurs. All students should clearly understand that before they “choose” to act on their biases and stereotypes, they will be held accountable and there will be consequences.

In summary, let’s not wait for our children to become full grown adults before we begin to tackle unconscious bias and its consequences. Instead, if we are going to honor our desire to develop global citizens and to be diverse, inclusive schools, we have a responsibility to ensure that unconscious bias and its unhealthy effects are eradicated from our educational institutions.

To learn more about our unconscious bias training programs, check out our Certification opportunities. Additionally, to learn about managing bias on the college campus, join our upcoming complimentary unconscious bias webinar.

What’s the #1 Conflict on Diverse Teams?

davidlivermore | November 16th, 2017 No Comments

Eighty percent of team conflicts can be attributed to unclear goals (Tichy). That’s true across any team but the potential for misalignment goes up exponentially on diverse teams. In fact, most intercultural challenges begin with clashing expectations. What one group views as honest and straightforward, another views as disingenuous and myopic. What an individual from one culture sees as “efficient,” another sees as “shortsighted.” The same can be said about clashing expectations around appropriate ways to express respect, sincerity, responsibility, and more.

Consider how these clashing expectations influence your diverse team:

Who’s in Charge?

Who calls the shots, and where does the responsibility ultimately lie? Clashing expectations around how a leader should lead and what leadership entails is often the first point of confusion. The operating assumption across most Western leadership models is “leaders are made, not born.” Leadership is not inherited by simply putting in your time or receiving a title—you become a leader because you’ve produced results and taken responsibility.

Take Facebook for example, arguably the poster child of Western, Millennial-led corporate culture. Facebook describes itself as anti-hierarchical and title-agnostic. Becoming a manager at Facebook is a lateral move because Zuckerberg wants leaders who are driven by the mission of the company, not power or title.

For most of the world, leadership takes a far more command and control approach. There are clear lines between leaders and followers and the most senior leader in the room should have the final say.

Dr. Becky Heino, one of our certified facilitators at Columbia University, tells the story of being asked by a group of Chinese executives why President Obama wasn’t sitting at the head of the table during a pinnacle moment of his presidency—the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

In a hierarchical culture, the leader should be at the head of the table, even if others have more expertise on the situation at hand. This isn’t necessarily an ego trip on the part of the senior leader. The respect offered a leader sends a message about the values and respect of everyone on the team.

What’s the Purpose of a Meeting?

Or, how about all the time teams spend in meetings, virtual and face-to-face. What’s the purpose of a meeting? Is it to share updates and exchange information, make a decision, develop trust? Even homogeneous teams may have clashing expectations surrounding the purpose of a meeting. But culture socializes us to have some default expectations for why and how to conduct a meeting.

Last week, an African American leader told me his black staff members recently asked him whether an upcoming meeting was a place where they were going to “go there”. He instantly knew what they were asking. Was this a meeting to directly address some underlying conflict on the team, or would it simply be a diplomatic discussion that ignored the friction and just moved forward with the task at hand?

In Japan, a meeting is usually meant to publicly confirm decisions made in smaller groups. The participants explore alternatives privately before the meeting to save face by avoiding conflict publicly.

Meetings in many Mexican organizations are as much meant to build relationships and trust as they are to cover an agenda. Once you trust someone, decision-making is relatively easy and fast.

In most U.S. contexts, a meeting is meant to gather information and input from the participants. Individuals are expected to come prepared to compare and constructively analyze the alternatives.

If you’re participating in a meeting in a Dutch organization, be prepared for the possibility of harsh critique. From the Dutch way of thinking, there’s little need to spend time talking about what’s good. A meeting is meant to identify all the weaknesses and criticisms of a particular approach or plan.

These are generalizations, but the point is—something as simple as “why meet” has a whole set of expectations attached to it, most of which are usually unspoken and quite possibly unconscious.

Who Makes the Decision?

Team conflicts often come to a height in the midst of decision-making. The cultural norms associated with many groups’ decision-making styles are often counter-intuitive.

An outsider may come into the flat, egalitarian culture at Facebook and assume that decision-making will be highly collaborative and consensual. But that’s not the case at all. Decision-making in egalitarian contexts is usually vested in the individual closest to the situation at hand to allow for quick, flexible decisions. In fact, despite an inordinate emphasis on teamwork and collaboration across organizations like Facebook, “consensus” is usually avoided at all costs, lest it lead to “paralysis by analysis”. A team leader in this kind of organization confers with the team before making the decision but then makes the final determination independently, with people knowing not everyone will get their way.

In contrast, the norm for teams in hierarchical cultures is that a lot of people are involved in the decision-making process. One might expect that hierarchical cultures would be places where the senior leader just makes the decision. But that’s not usually the case. Reaching agreement usually takes a long time and involves many individuals; even once the decision is made, it often continues to evolve as new information comes into view.

Other clashing expectations I consistently observe include different assumptions about whether small talk and informal conversation are a waste of time or an important part of building trust. Or, what about the level of details and analysis that are needed? Does presenting a highly detailed analysis demonstrate that you can’t see the big picture, or prove that you’ve done the necessary due diligence to get to the big picture?

Aligning Expectations

Culturally intelligent leadership is so much more than being cultural sensitive or knowing the do’s and don’ts of specific cultures. At the crux of culturally intelligent leadership is aligning team members’ expectations so that the diverse perspectives can be used to develop more innovative solutions.

Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Have an explicit discussion about expectations

Any team would be well served by taking time to clarify objectives upfront but this is all the more important on diverse teams. Stating an outcome like, “to reach a decision on which vendor to use” is probably adequate on a homogeneous team but much more deliberation is needed for an outcome like that on a diverse team (e.g. what critieria are being used to reach a decision, how will the decision be made, by whom, how binding is the decision, etc.)

  • Test understanding

Check in with each team member to get their understanding of the stated outcome and expectations. Many personalities and face-saving cultures are not going to say, “I don’t get it.” They may even nod that they understand or are in agreement. But you need to ask each individual to paraphrase their understanding of the intended outcome or expectation. Or, ask how they might communicate the outcome to others on their teams—not as a way to put them on the spot, but instead to learn from the different perspectives surrounding the same outcome.

  • Debate Expectations

In order to benefit from the diverse insights and expectations on your team, don’t move too quickly to a “shared” expectation. Encourage debate and deliberation about the ideal outcome and the most effective way to get there. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of Business says, “Argue as if you’re right. Listen as if you’re wrong.” I love that. Encourage each team member to confidently share their perspective with conviction. And then promote active listening to each other.

  • Practice perspective-taking

A diverse team creates a built-in opportunity for perspective-taking, one of the critical characteristics of culturally intelligent teams. I’ve written previously about how diverse teams can use Jeff Bezos’ practice of using an empty chair at meetings to visually remind the team to take on the perspective of diverse customers or constituents. Use your debate about expectations to help you see how others see this rather than just waiting to defend your position.

  • Remember that in stress, people will resort to default expectations.

Stress and time pressure are when we’re most susceptible to unconscious bias and frustration. The reason clashing expectations create so much conflict on a team is because it requires more time and effort to get something done and most teams are already stretched for time. So be particularly on guard for how you and others on a team are functioning under high-stress.

As I reflect on my own life and work, I think clashing expectations are the driving source of conflict in most any relationship—business partnerships, friendship, family, and marriage. Some deliberate conversation, reflection, and effort to address our otherwise unspoken expectations goes a long way toward gaining the benefits that come from working and living with people who see the world differently from how we do.

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.”

How to Facilitate Productive CQ Conversations

davidlivermore | February 20th, 2017 No Comments

 

The day after the U.S. election, I was having breakfast with some friends in Toronto. They looked at me white faced. “What happened last night?” They were in shock and a bit bewildered about what a Trump presidency meant for them as Canadians. Two days later, I was back in Michigan having lunch with a friend who was doing a victory dance that the days of the Obama legacy were over. Both conversations and dozens since then have pushed me to think more deeply about how to engage in productive conversations with people who have different perspectives. The vitriolic social media posts and cable news arguments do very little. But neither does playing it safe and avoiding all potential conflict.

Diversity fatigue is not going away. Particularly with political riffs dividing friends and family, many people have had enough of it all and long for the days when recipes and cat videos filled their Facebook page. While this applies to political conversations, I’m actually interested in thinking about it far more broadly than that.

Whether we’re designing a diversity workshop or engaging in conversations with friends about immigration and national security, there’s a fine line between discussion that moves the conversation forward and those that simply make things worse. Those of us committed to building bridges and removing barriers for intercultural understanding have to find the zone of productive disequilibrium. This is an idea that stems from the field of adaptive leadership and it refers to finding the optimal zone of discomfort that yields productive understanding, reflection, and change. If we’re too disoriented and uncomfortable, we’re unlikely to learn. But without any disorientation and discomfort, growth won’t happen.

Most people who facilitate diversity workshops and global leadership courses are zealous about exposing the cultural blunders and injustices that occur as people from different cultures interact together. But we sometimes forget our own journey toward discovering these things and we attempt to bring others along in a single workshop. Other times we become too timid and don’t push the envelope far enough in order to avoid too much backlash.

This is something I’m still trying to figure out myself but here are a few guidelines for designing productive CQ conversations:

1. The First Five Minutes

The first five minutes with a group sets the tone for the entire conversation or workshop. The first place we as CQ practitioners need to apply our own CQ is to understand the audience. The very “cultural understanding” we exhort in our seminars is the kind of work we need to do when preparing to teach or discuss CQ and related issues.

The first five minutes is crucial. When I talk with business leaders, I get to the “bottom line” implications of high versus low CQ as quickly as possible. With military leaders, I’m learning to move swiftly to describing the relevance of CQ for providing strategic gains and mission success. And with non-profit leaders, a little bit of discussion about CQ and productivity is okay but in most cases, I better address issues of justice and equity within the first few moments or I’ll be dismissed. I would hope every CQ session would be customized to the specific audience but the first five minutes is perhaps where that customization is most important.

Surely business leaders need to think beyond financial implications just as non-profit leaders need to eventually consider the relevance of CQ to issues of productivity and fiscal responsibility. But an understanding of the immediate needs will help ensure that we begin by assuring individuals that CQ will address some of their deeply held concerns and pain points.

2. Ground Rules vs. PC Language

I’ve often told groups that I think politically correct language is counterproductive to building cultural intelligence. If people can’t honestly discuss some of their biases and frustrations, there’s little hope we can truly build CQ.  But I’ve sometimes observed that my admonition for us to speak candidly has been misinterpreted by a few as a license to say anything, no matter how offensive it might be.

Part of finding the productive zone for CQ conversations is liberating people from feeling like they’re walking on eggshells to even enter a conversation about politics or race. On the other hand, the whole thing goes sideways fast if participants in the group start speaking pejoratively. Take the time to establish some ground rules upfront and don’t hesitate to enforce them and take charge of the room if someone says something that violates the rules. It’s a lot easier for people to experience disequilibrium if they know the boundaries.

3. No Single Stories Allowed

A number of studies are emerging that suggest if not done well, intercultural training can lower CQ rather than improve it. In responding to the requests for training about Brazilians, Millennials, or Latinos, we can end up perpetuating the danger of the single story. This idea comes from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk where she says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

I encountered this up close recently when my friend, Betsy DeVos, was nominated as Secretary of Education. Betsy and I have different views politically and I have concerns about how the privatization of education affects the disadvantaged. But I’ve also worked alongside Betsy for nearly a decade, both of us serving on the board of a non-profit organization and she’s not the ignorant, power-grabbing, homophobe she was made out to be as a part of the confirmation process. She’s a resilient woman so I’m not worried about her ability to endure SNL clips about Grizzly bears. But what saddens me is that the process never moved toward a constructive debate about the varying views on what’s best for education in the U.S. All of us are more complicated that a single story based on where we’re from, how we voted, or the color of our skin. Challenge any attempts at reducing an individual or group to a single story.

4. Monitor the Temperature

In facilitating CQ conversations, we have to keep our hand on the thermostat. If the temperature of the discussion is too cold, people won’t feel the need to ask uncomfortable questions or make difficult decisions. If it gets too hot, people are likely to dismiss it all together or simply become more calcified in what they already thought.

As much as possible, depersonalize the conflict in the room—particularly if it comes to you personally. The purpose is to disagree about the issues and perspectives rather than to defend yourself. If at all possible, find someone else in the room who can help you monitor the temperature. Someone who isn’t directly responsible for facilitating the session will often observe things you miss. One CQ facilitator recently told me she and her colleague actually have a hand symbol they use with each other to note when the temperature of the discussion and interaction seems too hot or cold.

5. Provide Some Resolution

We don’t have to end a session with a “happily ever after” story line, but we do need to provide some sort of resolution to the disequilibrium we create. I’ve been guilty of exposing groups to issues of privilege or cultural ignorance and then just leaving them with it. That’s unfair. There aren’t simple answers to many of the tensions we expose, but if we’re going to make people aware of something like implicit bias or the ways others perceive their culture, it’s unfair to do so unless we offer some direction on what to do with that understanding.

I’m still sorting this through. So I’d love to hear what others are learning about how to facilitate productive conversations that build cultural intelligence.

Diversity Fatigue

davidlivermore | September 13th, 2016 No Comments

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The other day I was working out at the gym and I overheard a guy say to his buddy, “So tomorrow I have to go to diversity training.” “Oh God!” the other guy said. “That’s right up there with getting a root canal!” to which his friend responded, “I don’t mind diverse people as long as they agree with me!”

Tech companies are investing billions of dollars in diversity programs. Universities are requiring faculty to attend workshops to prevent having the next televised protest on their campus. And political parties are scrambling to attract diverse voters.

This ought to be good news for all of us. Diversity is rich with creative opportunities for everyone—personally and at work. But that upbeat sentiment seems a world apart from the dread many employees feel when they think about attending the next workplace diversity program. And it’s not just white guys experiencing diversity fatigue. Research recently cited in the Harvard Business Review found that diversity programs did little to convince ethnic minorities that companies would treat them any more fairly than companies without the programs.

Shame on You!
To start, far too much of the diversity conversation is permeated with a “shame on you” approach. Workers voluntarily sign up for a workshop only to be accosted all day long about how racist or sexist they are. One time I listened to a presenter spend an entire session with real estate agents berating them for the mistakes they were making. He bellowed, “Some of you are still talking about walk-in-closets! How do you think that feels to someone who can’t walk?” Is that really the most worthwhile use of a half-day with people who signed up for a workshop to learn how to more effectively sell homes to people from different cultural backgrounds?

Diversity Bingo and Millennials
In addition, far too many diversity programs are irrelevant to the everyday demands of the workplace. Workshops are often facilitated by consultants who are personally fascinated by the cultural complexities of concepts like feng shui or the emic versus etic perspectives of a culture; but those theoretical notions are obtuse to nearly everyone else. And most diversity initiatives place an over-emphasis on cultural awareness and an under-emphasis on building skills for working effectively with diverse colleagues. A potluck featuring different ethnic dishes, a round of diversity bingo, and a workshop about Millennials is probably a waste of time and money if nothing more is done.

I Get it! I’m Biased. Now What?
The latest boom for promoting awareness is unconscious bias training, a critical step in the process of equipping a workforce to become more aware of their hidden biases as they interact with different generations, ethnicities, sexualities, and more. But this kind of awareness accomplishes very little by itself. A group of researchers supported by the National Science Foundation tested nine implicit bias interventions, all of which worked immediately, none of which stuck beyond a day. Billions of dollars are being spent on cultural awareness programs yet discrimination cases are on the rise and staff are exhausted by the failed attempts.

A MORE STRATEGIC WAY…
Diversity fatigue will continue to grow unless companies take a more strategic approach. Organizations need to address diversity the way they address other business opportunities and challenges—assess the situation, create a strategy, and form metrics for measuring accountability.

From Diversity Fairs to Metrics
If profits are slipping, companies don’t plan a “Profits Slipping Awareness Day” and then hope the awareness translates into better returns. It’s all hands on deck with everyone accountable. Practices and policies have to be developed to reduce discrimination in hiring and promotion, and leaders and teams need to be equipped to communicate, solve problems, and innovate effectively as part of a diverse team. Metrics need to be used that go beyond counting the number of diversity events to establishing targets and measuring the correlation between diversity initiatives and other strategic measurements (P&L, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, innovation, etc.). As workplaces take a more strategic approach to managing an increasingly diverse workforce, diversity programs will move from being a cost center to being a highly profitable investment to drive innovation while simultaneously lessening the fatigue factor and promoting inclusion.

From Awareness to Skills
Diversity training must also move toward an emphasis on building skills. Awareness is the first step, but then training and mentoring needs to quickly move to relevant workplace issues, such as: How do you facilitate a brainstorming session that effectively includes the perspectives of individuals who are reticent to speak up in a group? What’s the most effective way to incorporate an African American’s perspective on a new initiative without asking her to speak on behalf of the entire African American market? And how do you minimize the interpersonal conflict that often ensues on a multicultural team and maximize the diversity of perspectives offered? Diversity training that focuses on these kinds of practical solutions is not only better appreciated, it’s even sought out by workers who very much want to get better at doing their jobs and learn from their teammates. Then organizations need to use a valid assessment to measure whether skills were actually enhanced.

From Punitive to Potential
The whole topic of diversity needs to be approached based on the opportunities it offers, rather than primarily coming at it from a negative standpoint. Any serious attempt to discuss cultural differences has to address difficult subjects like privilege, inequity, and discrimination so I’m certainly not averse to making people uncomfortable, particularly those from the dominant culture (i.e., me!). But shame has never proven to be a very lasting form of motivation in the workplace. Even those who are easily riddled with guilt, feel bad for a while and then move on because they don’t know what they can really do about it.

In contrast, I recently observed a diversity trainer who began her workshop by saying, “I’m going to work from the assumption that you each want to be kind, respectful, and inclusive, regardless of people’s cultural backgrounds.” Was she giving the participants too much credit? Maybe, but you could visibly watch the defenses go down all across the room. Diversity initiatives need to move away from a punitive, shame on you posture to emphasizing what we all gain from more diverse and inclusive workplaces and communities. We all miss out when the Oscars only feature white nominees. And we all benefit when the organizations we work for have people from C-level suites to the most junior levels reflecting a diversity of cultural backgrounds who know how to effectively use and learn from their differences.

Working with diverse colleagues is hard work but it need not be exhausting. Just as the richest marriages and friendships are often energized by the healthy tension created from the differences involved, the same can happen in the workplace. As all of us insist on a more strategic, hope-filled approach to diversity, everybody wins. It allows each of us to broaden, enrich, and deepen our perspectives—about ourselves, a project at work, and about life together in our increasingly diverse, globalized world.

How Stress Can Lower Your Cultural Intelligence

davidlivermore | August 11th, 2016 No Comments

Working with people from highly diverse backgrounds is rewarding but tough. Even those of us who are energized by cross-cultural work have to work harder when we work with people who have a different way of thinking and behaving than we do. And the more you’re under stress, the harder the work becomes. What begins as simply an interesting consideration of how different cultures approach queuing in a line or expressing an emotion, suddenly becomes irritating.

Even the most culturally intelligent among us may see our CQ Drive plummet when stressed. CQ Drive is your level of interest and motivation for working and relating with people from diverse backgrounds.

Try these 5 steps to build your CQ Drive in the midst of stress and fatigue:


1. Be aware of your triggers

The first step lies in being honest with ourselves. Grandiose, politically correct statements about being colorblind or viewing everyone the same do little to improve cultural intelligence. Instead, we need to be aware of the behaviors that are most likely to trigger our frustration and consider which cultures we most often associate with those behaviors. For example, how do you feel when you encounter these behaviors?

  • Someone speaking too fast/slow
  • Use of profanity
  • Cutting in line
  • Multi-tasking in a meeting
  • Never speaking up on a global call
  • Introducing one’s self with a formal title (or not doing so)

Many of these behaviors may not faze you when you’re well rested and have a positive outlook. But the same behaviors can strike a raw nerve when you’re tired and under pressure. Being more self-aware of your triggers is the first step to avoid behaviors like these dictating your mood and response.


2. Recognize your limits

Working on a project with a group of diverse colleagues requires more emotional and cognitive effort than doing so as part of a homogenous team. You have to adapt the way you present your ideas and accommodate the preferences of others. And that adaptation demands a different degree of self-regulation and willpower.

The more we must adapt to the perspectives and styles of others, the more it depletes our energy. This is one of the reasons why underrepresented groups find such great relief in coming together through employee resource groups or settings that are uniquely theirs (e.g., a gay bar, an African American worship service, etc.). At last, they’re in a space where they can let down their guard and reduce the amount of filtering and code switching they have to do.

In the very same way a rigorous, physical workout uses up some of our physical energy, the same is true for the emotional and mental energy that’s used for working and relating cross-culturally.


3. Don’t eat the second donut

The good news is, the more you exercise the self-control required for intercultural situations, the more you’ll strengthen those muscles for future encounters. One of the most highly regarded researchers studying self-regulation is Roy Baumeiester, who notes that willpower is like a muscle. The willpower muscle gets tired after being used for an extended period of time. However, regular and increased use over time also increases the strength and endurance of your ability to regulate your thinking and behavior.

One of the most encouraging findings from Baumeister’s research is that exercising the willpower muscle in one area appears to carry over to other areas. So when you exercise willpower by doing your morning workout, or resisting the second donut, or staying off email all evening, that same willpower will help you persevere through cross-cultural challenges in the midst of stress.


4. Recharge

Next, be aware of what builds up your motivational reserves and what depletes them. My initial research related to cultural intelligence was focused on the experience of short-term, itinerant travelers—including study abroad students, business travelers, and short-term missionaries. I used to urge North Americans to stay away from McDonalds when traveling abroad and instead, only eat at local establishments so they could truly experience the culture. However, over the years, I’ve observed how a familiar meal can do wonders for helping a traveler reboot.

Figure out what’s most important for you in recharging your batteries physically, emotionally, and mentally—whether it’s a familiar food, planning some alone time, or ensuring you get some time with people more similar to yourself. And recognize the importance of building up your reserve for the perseverance required to relate and adapt effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.


5. Plan ahead

Finally, be proactive by anticipating the kinds of encounters and responsibilities that will be most draining for you. When I go overseas, I try to build in an extra day at the front end to get acclimated to the time zone and my surroundings before having to jump into whatever I’m there to do. One of my colleagues prefers to do the opposite. She builds in a day at the back end of work trips and by doing so, it helps her persevere through some of the hard work by knowing what she has to look forward to at the end. If you’re going to be teaching a class with a diverse group of students and know you will need to significantly adapt your typical teaching style, plan ahead for how to build in additional time to refill your emotional tank.

Sometimes, diversity and global management professionals take our CQ Assessment and they’re surprised to see they didn’t score higher on CQ Drive, the indication of their interest and motivation for relating and working cross-culturally. After all, this is a crucial part of their jobs! But after additional reflection, these individuals often recognize that while they’re deeply committed to the value and importance of intercultural relationships and work, they may have underestimated how taxing the work has been on them, particularly if they continually experience resistance from others.

Your emotional and physical health plays a critical role in your cultural intelligence. Create a plan for how to do strength training for working and relating cross-culturally. And be gentle with yourself when you find you’re more irritated than usual from seemingly minor differences. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, or curl up for a nap, all in the name of improving your CQ!

Why do all the Chinese students sit together?

davidlivermore | March 14th, 2016 12 Comments

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By David Livermore and Sandra Upton

A few years ago, Beverly Daniel Tatum published a fascinating book, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? She addressed the reality that African-American kids usually sit together in the school cafeteria and the same goes for Latinos, Asians, and other ethnicities. Tatum suggests this might not all be bad. It can be a coping strategy for students who may feel marginalized and misunderstood in the classroom and on campus as a whole.

As more schools and universities recruit and admit international students, this same phenomenon occurs. And given the record number of Chinese students studying overseas, it’s often most visible among them. Many universities are struggling with how to assimilate Chinese students with the rest of the student body. And it’s having a negative impact on their educational experience.

Nearly 40 percent of international students studying in the U.S. report having no close U.S. friends and wish for more meaningful interaction with those born in the United States. 47% of international students studying in Denmark report feel isolated from the Danish students. Similar realities exist elsewhere.

The growing number of students studying internationally presents a great opportunity for everyone. Universities tap a new population of prospective students, students gain the benefit of the diverse perspectives of classmates, and the reach of a faculty member and university goes much further. However, the rise of international students on campus presents universities with challenges like the following:

  • Many international students experience racist insults on social media and in person.
  • Events and programs targeting international students are seldom attended by domestic students.
  • Student orientation programs for international students inadvertently prevent assimilation.
  • International Students form cliques and fail to get involved.
  • Domestic students lack curiosity and empathy for their international classmates.

How to Assimilate International Students On Your Campus
No one has completely figured this out but there are a few leading practices that universities can use to improve the experience of international students while simultaneously helping other underrepresented students on campus.

  • Inclusive Teaching – The biggest influence on most students’ university experience is what occurs in the classroom. Faculty need to be equipped to create inclusive environments in how they select texts, handle non-native English speakers, encourage participation, and facilitate learning. Developing faculty’s cultural intelligence will improve their teaching and help students gain more from their diverse classmates. It can also have a lasting impact on student learning well beyond their university experience.
  • Integrate Multicultural and International Offices – Many institutions have seen the value of housing the offices of multicultural affairs and international student services in the same location. While domestic and international students have some distinct needs and expectations, both ultimately want to be integrated into campus and form friendships outside their race, ethnicity and nationalities. Working collaboratively increases opportunities for positive interactions among all students.
  • Make integration the responsibility of all students – Too often integration is seen as the disproportionate responsibility of the international student, instead of one mutually shared with the domestic student. If you’re the international student, you have a strong motivation to learn about the dominant culture. If you’re from the dominant culture, learning about underrepresented students might pique your curiosity but it’s rarely a matter of immediate survival. Students from the dominant culture need to see what they can learn from international and underepresented students living across the hall. Begin by helping all students see the benefit of building a global, diverse network that will enrich their university experience and provide them with a lasting professional network.
  • Cross-Cultural Engagements Outside the Classroom –Something powerful happens when students experience a different culture together outside the classroom—whether its volunteering in a diverse neighborhood nearby or traveling together overseas. These kinds of experiences help domestic students move beyond stereotyping all Chinese students as driving luxury cars and speaking in Mandarin and seeing them as peers who want friendship and a career.
  • Modeling the Way – Authentic and sustainable integration happens when there is active facilitation, support, and modeling by faculty, staff, and administration in both curricular and co-cur­ricular contexts. When students “see” campus leaders demonstrate their commitment to creating an inclusive culture, they are more likely to engage and even mimic their actions. Do students see faculty and staff of different cultural backgrounds engaging on a regular basis? Are they sitting together in the cafeteria? Or are they too working and relating separately?

While Chinese students represent the largest population of international students on most campuses, similar realities exist for many underrepresented students. When assimilated with a culturally intelligent strategy, the growing diversity on your campus not only expands enrollment, it provides your university with a built-in resource for providing your students with the experiences and skills to thrive in today’s global marketplace.

Oscars So White? Welcome to the Film Industry!

davidlivermore | February 28th, 2016 No Comments

Guest post by Emily Livermore

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As a first year film student, I’ve been watching the controversy surrounding the whiteness of the Oscars with great interest. Media is accessible all over the world by people from all backgrounds and cultures. When I spent time in Asia as a child, I was struck by seeing the same movie posters from the U.S., displayed on the sides of buses and billboards across cities in Asia. It was bizarre to watch thousands of Malaysians walking by life size images of Reese Witherspoon on a Legally Blonde poster. Back then however, the number of locals who actually saw the advertised movies was more limited, because it required the resources to go to a movie theatre or have a television.

Today, people from every age group, culture, and socio-economic status are watching the latest movies on their smart phones in any given environment. In doing so, they enter a world where white men are in charge, women are sexualized, and people of color are rarely seen much less heard. It is unlikely that Hollywood is consciously trying to create this kind of world any more than the Academy is intentionally trying to focus on awarding white actors. But the consequences are real and the Oscars look a whole lot like the world of Hollywood as a whole.

Consider just a few alarming statistics from this study:

  • 12% of the protagonists in the top 100 films of 2014 were women.
  • 4% of speaking roles done by women are Latinas.
  • You’re more likely to see an alien on screen than an Asian or Latina female,

It all seems somewhat unimportant when thinking about a single film or series but when you think about an entire industry built around an image where white males are in charge, women’s primary role is to be sexualized, and other ethnicities are virtually invisible, it becomes deeply problematic. Therefore, placing diverse people in key positions on and off the screen is more than just good and right…it’s literally creating the world in which we all live.

The field of social psychology sheds some light on all this. Our brains and bodies are hard wired to perceive people as friends or foes and we implicitly categorize people largely based on appearance, something researchers describe as unconscious bias. This explains the difficulty of obtaining equal representation for underrepresented groups on and off the screen. When directors are making casting decisions or when studios are looking for a director, their unconscious biases impact their decisions. Particularly if directors need to make a decision under high stress, unless they consciously manage their implicit biases, they will hire based on instinct, which will inevitably favor people like them.

Stereotype threat, another interesting idea I learned about last semester in a book by Fiske and Taylor is when the expectations of a certain group, positive or negative, determine how the group members behave in reality. For example, people often lack confidence in women’s ability to lead. Knowing this stereotype adds pressure to female directors and can negatively impact their performance. When hired, women may get caught directing dramas or romance films because these are the types of films that require less special effects and a smaller crew, resulting in fewer factors for the woman to lead.

One of favorite classes so far at USC was with Dr. Stacy Smith who is a leading researcher examining diversity in the media. Dr. Smith led an extensive study, which analyzed the characters and directors of the top 100 films from 2007-2014. Of the 779 directors of the films included, only 28 were women. In the most recent year of films examined (2014), 27% of the characters were non-white and 28% of the speaking characters were female. In the real world, half the world is female and 85% can be classified as non-white.

Smith addresses the recurring argument that there just aren’t enough diverse candidates in the film pipeline and the person most competent for the job has to be hired. When a scarcity of talent is assumed, it impacts the hiring of female directors in a couple of ways. First, when a position becomes available, the people who find out about it are usually in the same network of the people hiring. If the person who is hiring happens to be a white male, then the majority of his network and the people that interview for the job will be other white men. In addition, producers want the most competent individuals and assume they must know which women are competent for the role since they assume there are so few to even consider. In the interviews done for this portion of Smith and team’s research, 12% of the people interviewed (film executives, filmmakers, buyers, and sellers) brought up the fact that women may not be able to handle large productions, especially ones with large crews that she would then have to control. This uncertainty in women’s abilities or competence diminishes the number of females that get hired to direct. This is the same reason many women do not get to play certain roles on-screen. Women are less likely than men to be cast in action/adventure films. From a sample of the top 100 films in 2014, Smith’s research revealed that women only played 21.8% of the speaking characters in action/adventure films. This likely stems from the stereotypes people have about the appropriate role of women in general and the implicit biases of the casting directors.

As an aspiring film director, it’s a bit daunting to enter the male-dominated world of Hollywood. But I’m resolved to do whatever it takes. Someday, I hope to hire, cast, and direct a diverse set of actors who create award winning films. I want to use my time in film school to be the best filmmaker I can be. And tonight, I’ll be watching the Oscars with my classmates from around the world. Alongside our laughter and dialogue, our diversity will undoubtedly make the conversation richer. And together, we will be a generation of filmmakers that will create a film industry that more accurately displays the colorful, diverse mosaic of the world….and hopefully make the world a better place at the same time.
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Emily Livermore is a film student at University of Southern California and is inspired by the power of film to communicate globally. She grew up getting to travel the world and views herself as a global citizen. When she’s not making films and studying, she loves to make music, go rock climbing, and explore LA with her friends.

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