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The Group Excluded from Diversity Programs

davidlivermore | November 11th, 2020 No Comments

Whatever you think about the outcome of the US election, it’s clear. The US is a divided nation. The Left believes bigotry and racism are tearing the country apart. The Right believes identity politics and political correctness are tearing us apart. I think both are right. And I’m increasingly concerned that many diversity programs may actually be contributing to the problem. Instead of promoting inclusion and belonging for everyone, some groups seem to be excluded, with people from the so-called working class at the top of the list.

To be honest, I’m not even sure what politically correct term to use to describe this cultural group. “Poor” sounds too derogatory, as does “blue-collar” or “rust belt.” And as with any cultural grouping, the working class of the US isn’t a monolith. Socioeconomics is only one dimension of our identities. But the point is, working-class families have had the lowest upward mobility rates in the US for the last several decades. And for whatever reason, to many white working-class individuals, it felt like the only person listening to them was Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, he somehow tapped into a group that felt like they’ve been left behind by the American Dream run by cosmopolitan elites flaunting their liberal ideas. Many working-class people have had enough, and they made that known in the last two presidential elections.

Diversity leaders have done an excellent job of broadening the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversation beyond race and gender. Most DEI initiatives include other marginalized groups like those who are differently-abled, religious minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community. But what might it mean for DEI programs to reach further to include class diversity more consciously?

FACTS

First, we need to familiarize ourselves with some of the data. Despite the global scope of our work at the Cultural Intelligence Center, I’m focusing for the moment entirely on the US context, some of which may apply elsewhere. Over the last two decades, there has been some improvement in closing the gap on US racial and gender inequity, albeit Covid-19 has demonstrated that those inequities continue to be monumental. But the disparities associated with class have gotten progressively worse over the last twenty years.

Towns all across the US have been gutted from the loss of manufacturing jobs. For many years, manufacturing provided a decent living so that people without college degrees could easily live a stable, middle-class life. But that’s not the case anymore. For average workers in the US, wages haven’t increased beyond inflation for 30 years, while incomes for high-wage positions have soared. 

If you’re born into a family that is struggling financially, it’s harder than ever to break out of it. A person born in the bottom 20 percent of family income only has a 4 percent chance of making it into the top 20 percent. So much for the American Dream! 

Robert Putnam, a sociologist whose work has deeply shaped my thinking, provides powerful insights on life in many of these hallowed manufacturing towns across the country. He describes his hometown in Port Clinton, Ohio, as a “place of stark class divisions where wealthy kids park BMW convertibles in the high school parking lot next to decrepit junkers that homeless classmates drive away each night to live in.” Rich kids have significantly more access to extracurricular activities, particularly as more schools have “pay to play” sports programs. And consider this: Wealthy kids with the lowest standardized test scores have a better chance of finishing college than poor kids with the highest test scores do.

Of course, being poor and Black is a double strike against the chances of upward mobility. There’s an uneasy correlation between economics and racial disparities. 58 percent of America’s poor are racial or ethnic minorities. And unfortunately, working-class whites are too often pitted against working-class people of color, rather than seeing their many shared needs. 

PERSPECTIVE-TAKING

One of the only research-based strategies for developing cultural intelligence (CQ) and mitigating bias is perspective-taking, the ability to perceive a situation from another group’s point of view. Those of us leading DEI work and cultural intelligence efforts should be leading the way in promoting perspective-taking, but when it comes to understanding the working class, and especially the white working class, I’m not sure we’re rising to the challenge. 

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang describes the negative reaction he received when he talked with truck drivers, retail workers, and servers in diners across the US and told them he was a Democrat. For Yang, Democrats are the party of the working class. But he says, “In their minds, the Democratic party has taken on this role of the coastal, urban elites who are more concerned about policing various cultural issues than improving their way of life that has been declining for years.”

The CQ community is diverse politically. I’ve sat in many lively discussions with colleagues and friends debating issues like wealth creation versus wealth distribution, the government’s role in legislating lifestyle, and affirmative action. But let’s be honest. Much of the diversity conversation in the US leans left, and with that comes some blind spots.

What does it mean for DEI leaders to engage in perspective-taking with individuals who voted for Trump? One Trump voter said, “Maybe I’m just so sick of being called a bigot that my anger has pushed me to support this seriously flawed man.” (Chua, 189). To what degree can we talk about the Trump voter in non-evaluative terms? I’m not suggesting we should shy away from calling racism what it is. Nor am I suggesting that polite conversations that treat all viewpoints as equally valid are the answer. But we have to stop and consider why so many working-class individuals feel like diversity programs teach people to tolerate and include everyone except them. 

Let’s take the topic of white privilege, for example. I teach and write about the realities of white privilege in places all over the world, acknowledging that I myself am a picture of privilege. But what’s the culturally intelligent way to teach about privilege to a white person who is barely hanging on financially? I’m not sure. But something doesn’t sit right with me when I hear a DEI leader tell a person who just filed bankruptcy that they need to “Check their privilege.” Do white, poor people have privileges than black, poor people lack? For sure, because of all the systemic reasons that go with racial discrimination. It’s also true that someone with Stage 2 cancer is better off than someone with Stage 4 cancer. But it’s not very compassionate to tell them that. Many working-class individuals believe progressives and diversity advocates have compassion for everyone but them. Might they be right?

ENSURING DIVERSITY INCLUDES EVERYONE

Kimberlé Crenshaw, the originator of the enormously useful concept of Intersectionality, worries that her work has been misinterpreted and used to divide people into more and more sub-groups while missing the point of what she was after. She says her work has been taken too far to become “identity politics on steroids.” We’re right to caution against group blindness (e.g., “I don’t see color”), but at some point, we seem to have lost the value of calling people to see our shared humanity.

One group of researchers found that diversity practitioners are remarkably dogmatic. Most DEI leaders identify as global citizens who celebrate humanity everywhere, but when it comes to flag-waving patriots in rural regions, many workshop facilitators allow things to be said that would be immediately called out as inappropriate if it was said about another group. For workshops that are supposed to engage in openness to different points of view, participants quickly sense that there are many “right” and “wrong” perspectives when it comes to diversity agendas. This kind of approach does little to foster understanding, acceptance, and belonging.

For starters, let’s cancel the “cancel culture” movement where only certain views are celebrated and, instead, create safe places where we can have honest dialogue about many diverse perspectives. There are, of course, times when we need to exert leadership and protect marginalized groups from being further traumatized by hearing bigoted perspectives but hopefully, that will be the exception rather than the norm. I’m calling us to facilitate creative discussions where we can be for Black Lives Matter and support the police. We can dismantle systemic racism and care about the individual realities many people face. We can have compassion for working-class white people and establish policies that address racial inequities. 

This is a far more US-centric article than I usually write. But CQ is lived locally. While I’m not originally from Midwest America, it’s where I live today. I feel my own impulse to rush to judgment when I drive through certain communities or overhear conversations from people who probably perceive me as the coastal elite. But in my quest to build a more culturally intelligent world, I want to do more to hear them, understand them, and ensure that our work includes the working class as well as the many other identities we seek to include.

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Is CQ Enough?

davidlivermore | October 19th, 2020 No Comments

“We’re dealing with really serious issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I’m not convinced cultural intelligence is enough.” 

We’ve heard this more than once from DEI and HR leaders. And it’s a fair concern. Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the capability to function effectively in any multicultural situation. The definition is broad, and our research-based philosophy and approach are straightforward. We help businesses, institutions, schools, and governmental agencies worldwide develop the cultural intelligence of their teams, employees, students, etc. But how does this support DEI work? In more ways than you might assume. In fact, CQ is the strategic link to creating diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environments

Here’s a brief breakdown of how CQ can be used as a strategy to support your DEI work:  

CQ AND DIVERSITY

When most organizations say they want diversity, they are talking about representation — attracting and hiring people from different cultural backgrounds and identities. This is good. But whether you are trying to recruit diverse talent or ensure the hiring process is unbiased, it requires cultural intelligence to do it effectively. Some organizations have made more progress increasing diversity than others have. But even those who have done well may not be fully reaping the benefits. Research consistently demonstrates that diverse teams with low CQ are outperformed by homogenous teams. You can have employees from a wide range of diverse cultures and backgrounds, including different gender-identities, races, nationalities, generations, differently-abled people, etc. and still not understand how to leverage those differences. Why? Because working with people who are different creates misaligned expectations and conflict, and apart from CQ, increased diversity creates gridlock and reduced productivity. However, the research demonstrates that when diverse teams have high CQ, they outperform homogeneous teams in every area, including innovation, decision-making, building trust, and leadership effectiveness. 

PRO TIP: Are you new to Cultural Intelligence? If so, watch this short video explaining how Cultural Intelligence and Diversity work together to create better solutions.

So what’s the bottom line? Diversity is important, but by itself, it has limited benefits. CQ is the multiplying factor. Facilitate CQ and unconscious bias trainings with your teams. Challenge them to demonstrate how they will leverage the diversity of their colleagues and peers to come up with innovative solutions to challenging problems. In classrooms, have students map out the cultural values of their classmates and require them to show how they will use the differences to work on team projects. In workplaces, facilitate perspective-taking to enhance dialogue and collaboration. Equip people to move beyond political correctness while using language that is respectful for everyone. These cultural intelligence strategies position you to make diversity so much more than just a beautiful mosaic of people from different backgrounds. CQ ensures everyone has the skills to work together effectively. 

CQ AND INCLUSION

While Diversity is about representation, Inclusion is the process of welcoming diversity and creating an environment where everyone thrives. We recently participated in a webinar with Above Difference, our strategic partner in London. It was a fascinating discussion with businesses and health care leaders across the UK, and it shed light on some of the challenges around creating inclusive organizations, particularly in the era of Covid-19. One of the things discussed was how the global pandemic and economic recession is highlighting how quickly many organizations abandon their DEI commitments. In times of crisis, there’s a tendency to retreat to what’s safe, which often means retaining and promoting the people you know you can trust and excluding those you aren’t sure “get it,” which is often code language for people who are different. Virtual meetings begin to occur that inadvertently resort back to the safety of homogeneous groups. It doesn’t take long to lose whatever strides have been made in recruiting and including diverse people. Inclusion is not only welcoming everyone, but it’s having a culture and a set of organizational routines that are explicitly inclusive. What does that look like? 

Last year, the Academy of Management reported the top three factors that influence whether diverse staff feel included: participation in decision-making, information sharing, and informal networking. It’s easier and more efficient to make decisions with a group of like-minded people, but you lack the diversity of insights that come from involving diverse perspectives. CQ allows you to develop a decision-making process that manages bias, enables a variety of ways for a diversity of individuals to share their point of view, and ultimately reach a decision. The same is true for information sharing. Cultural intelligence ensures that knowledge sharing is inclusive and multi-directional. And while not everyone is looking to be best friends with their colleagues, we all want to feel like we belong. There are important links between CQ and diverse groups building collaborative, trusting relationships that go beyond simply accomplishing work tasks. “Inclusion” has been the buzzword in DEI for more than a decade, and in recent years, “belonging” has been added to the mix. In addition to helping people feel they can be authentic at work, CQ provides a proven, research-based strategy for including people in the areas where they most want to be included so that they’re set up to succeed.

CQ AND EQUITY

Last week, Starbucks announced they are tying diversity targets to executive pay. Whether you agree with their approach or not, it highlights their commitment to measuring what they espouse to value. While the primary objective is to increase representation (diversity), a secondary benefit is how this decision influences equity. When reviewing employee demographics, they determined more was needed to help employees from culturally diverse backgrounds develop and advance into leadership roles. This culturally intelligent decision moved them one step closer to creating an organization committed to creating equitable experiences and opportunities for all employees.

For the last two years, we’ve partnered with Dallas Independent School District, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the US. With over 150,000 students and 22,000 employees, the entire focus on our work has been to use CQ as a strategy to address racial equity. Part of the strategy includes requiring all staff, teachers, and administrators to participate in CQ and unconscious bias trainings. Each employee is accountable for creating and implement individual development plans. To measure progress, everyone will complete a post CQ Assessment. We are also reviewing systems, policies, and practices that may be contributing to inequities among students, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

This is what it looks like to measure what you espouse to value. Both Starbuck and Dallas ISD are identifying inequities and implementing culturally intelligent action steps to mitigate them.

In sum, DEI without CQ has limited effectiveness. When we build in CQ solutions, the outcomes are significant and sustainable.

We agree that CQ is not the only strategy for supporting DEI work. There are several critical components. However, cultural intelligence is foundational, and it’s a critical part of any process designed to create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment.

We hope you find these ideas useful. But don’t just take our word for it. Join us on Thursday, October 29, at 11:00 AM EDT / 3:00 PM GMT and hear firsthand how our partners and clients from around the globe are integrating CQ into their DEI efforts. You can register for this free webinar below. Seats are limited, so sign up today!

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Why I Answer Most Questions with “It Depends”

davidlivermore | April 12th, 2019 No Comments

I’ve gained a reputation for being the “It depends” guy. When fielding questions during a presentation on cultural intelligence, my default response is “It depends!”

What’s the best way to manage deadlines when working across borders? It depends!

Do Millennials prefer working remotely? It depends!

Who should adapt to whom? It depends. It depends. It depends.

It’s not that I have no opinion about the right course of action. And it’s fair for individuals to expect me to elaborate on “It depends.” But human interactions are far too complex to issue dogmatic answers without understanding more of the situation. More importantly, the most challenging situations that require cultural intelligence often happen with little warning and there isn’t time to reference an over-simplified list of “do’s and don’ts.”

Cultural intelligence, or CQ, is not just whether you can spout off the norms of different groups. In fact, as I shared recently, our research confirms that knowing a lot about cultural differences can actually be more dangerous than being culturally ignorant. Cultural intelligence is having the ability to accurately assess a situation and predict the best outcome you can. It provides a mental model for understanding and responding to complex, multicultural situations.

But how do we prepare for the situational complexity of life in the unpredictable, constantly changing world of life and work? Here are a few ways to move from “It depends” to a culturally intelligent course of action:

1. Know Yourself

It starts with self-awareness. You need to be clear about your core values and convictions and determine ahead of time, what lines you will and won’t cross. This might be whether you’re willing to flex your dietary preferences or whether you will pay a bribe or have back channel conversations to grease the wheels of the procurement process. CQ begins with a strong understanding of your core sense of self.

2. What behaviors will best express your values in this situation?

People often say to me, Isn’t CQ basically about respect? I think “respect” is a noble value and a really important foundation for cultural intelligence. But the way you express respect is culturally conditioned. I don’t need people to address me with formal titles to feel respected. But I can’t assume that’s true for others. I feel more “respected” if you give me feedback directly. But I can’t assume you feel the same way. Flex your behavior, not your values.

3. What’s the objective?

One of the things I’ve learned from working with military leaders is their relentless insistence on mission clarity. When we talk about the relevance of cultural differences with special operations commanders, it’s all about strategically using CQ in light of the mission. Cultural intelligence isn’t the end all. It’s a tool for accomplishing an objective in light of the cultural complexities. The life and death nature of many military operations has a way of forcing clarity about the objective. But it’s easy to get cloudy on the mission when dealing with the kinds of situations most of us face. Keep the objective in view and determine what kind of action will best support the objective.

4. What adaptations will strengthen what you do? What adaptations will weaken what you do?

Most people criticized Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for dressing like a traditional Indian wedding groom to meet with Bollywood executives. Yet New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was praised for wearing a hijab in the wake of the Christ Church mosque tragedy. When does adapting enhance effectiveness and when does doing so undermine the objective? Companies struggle with this quandary too. When Starbucks first opened stores in China, they designed them to resemble a traditional, Chinese tea house with tea as the main offering on the menu. The Chinese were incensed. They wanted the unique Starbucks experience, not an Americanized version of a tea house. Some adaptation is almost always needed. But remember that the goal is to get to the point where you can leverage the differences involved rather than everyone over-adapting to a boring vanilla middle.

The more you anticipate the kinds of scenarios you’re likely to encounter in culturally diverse contexts, the better you will respond during real-life situations. In the stress of the moment, you’re unlikely to explicitly recall what you’ve read or learned about cultural do’s and don’ts. And they might not be accurate for your specific situation. Instead, exercise your discernment muscle during low stress times so that when the real scenarios come along, you’ll have a subconscious inner compass to assess a situation, predict the outcome, and adapt in a culturally intelligent way.

And what’s the worst thing that can happen if you get it wrong? It depends!

Why You Need to Stop Teaching Cultural Differences

davidlivermore | December 13th, 2018 No Comments

If you’ve paid any attention to our work in cultural intelligence, you know that we’ve been saying for a while that cultural knowledge isn’t enough. You need more than a seminar on how to do business in India or how to work with Millennials to work successfully with those cultures. But now, a mounting body of research suggests it would actually be better to not teach cultural differences at all if that’s the only thing you’re going to do. Dozens of studies find that cultural knowledge leads to stereotyping and perpetuating bias rather than building cultural intelligence (CQ).

Why?

Knowledge without curiosity leads to stereotypes.
Once you learn characteristics about Indians or Millennials, there’s a tendency to start putting any Indian or Millennial in a box. Then, when you encounter an inexplicable behavior, you fill in the blank with a crass stereotype rather than suspending judgment and seeking to understand more.

Knowledge without cultural humility leads to arrogance.
Once you get some insight into a culture, you may end up being over-confident about your ability to understand what’s going on. It may actually be better to remain open-minded and culturally ignorant than to go in thinking your cursory understanding about another culture means you “get them”.

Knowledge without intersectionality leads to irrelevance.
The groundbreaking work on Intersectionality, referring to an individual’s overlapping identities (race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, function, etc.) illuminates the danger of reducing someone to any one part of their identity. An Indian woman is not only an Indian, she’s also influenced by her gender, social class, professional role, and much more. How will you know which part of her identity will be most relevant when you interact with her?

Knowledge without skills leads to ineffectiveness.
If knowledge was all we needed to work successfully with diverse groups, we should have this figured out by now. But some of the individuals with the highest level of knowledge about different cultural groups can’t for the life of them figure out how to actually get along with people who are different.

I could keep going but the point is, after several decades of courses, books, and videos teaching people about cultural differences, it’s time to stop. Of course, the best choice is to teach cultural knowledge along with the other CQ capabilities that are proven to predict one’s effectiveness in relating and working with people from diverse backgrounds. But it would honestly be better to do nothing at all than only teach cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Here’s a much more strategic approach.

1. Start with CQ Drive
Over the last decade, we have surveyed nearly 100,000 professionals from over 100 countries and there’s only one consistent characteristic among every culturally intelligent individual. It’s not where you grew up, how many languages you speak, whether you’re part of an under-represented group or how far you’ve traveled. It’s your curiosity, or something we call your CQ Drive. This is your interest and openness to other ways of doing things. And it’s your confidence and ability to persevere in the midst of intercultural challenges.

Before teaching about cultural differences, address the motivation by clarifying the goal. What’s the objective behind improving intercultural interactions and how does it relate to the broader goal you wish to accomplish as an individual, team, or organization?

Also keep in mind that no amount of information about how a culture operates means much if you’re physically or emotionally exhausted. There are times when I understand what’s going on in an interaction with someone from a different background, but I just don’t have the energy to deal with it. It starts with CQ Drive.

2. Teach archetypes first, then cultural specifics
I don’t really think you should fully stop teaching about cultural differences. But my overstated title was intended to be more than just an attention-getter. We really must get the message through that if you only teach knowledge about different cultures, it can actually be far more determinantal than doing nothing at all.

However, when combined with the other capabilities of cultural intelligence, the most valuable knowledge to begin with is learning broad archetypes that help with comparing one group with another. These might include:

  • Key Historical Differences
  • Family Systems (Kinship, Extended, Nuclear)
  • Religious Context
  • Cultural Values

Then within those broad archetypes, you can talk about the tendencies of a particular cultural group. In other words, don’t teach about Millennials or Chinese as a stand-alone topic. Be sure the discussion is rooted in a broader taxonomy of cultural systems and values so that individuals are equipped for the intersectionality of individual’s identities and the diversity that exists within any culture.

Rather than working toward a mastery of cultural knowledge, emphasize the kind of information that is most helpful to know and where to find reliable sources.

3. CQ Strategy is even more important than we thought
Based upon a meta-analysis of dozens of academic studies on CQ, we’ve discovered that CQ Strategy, or Metacognitive CQ, is even more important than we originally thought. CQ Strategy strengthens the effects of the other CQ capabilities. It’s what allows you to use your drive and knowledge to make sense of culturally diverse experiences so you can plan accordingly.

With the objective in mind (CQ Drive) and a broad understanding of cultural tendencies (CQ Knowledge), what plan is going to work best? Meta-cognitive CQ, the more precise concept behind CQ Strategy, is a more sophisticated, nuanced approach to relating and working with people from different backgrounds, rather than just blindly assuming that all Boomers want to be treated the same way.

Driven by Difference is almost entirely devoted to CQ Strategy, with specific application to leveraging diversity to drive innovation.

4. Equip for Adaptive Performance (CQ on the fly!).
I’m often asked for advice about how to handle a specific intercultural dilemma (e.g. “Our partner in Brazil consistently misses agreed upon deadlines. What should we do?”). My first response to most of these questions is, “It depends!”. It sounds like a cop out and it’s fair to expect me to offer some additional guidance. But working and living in today’s multicultural, globalized world requires a much more situational, strategic approach that is informed by understanding about cultural differences without over applying them to every situation.

We’re doing a lot of work currently with the special forces community in the U.S. military. Their leaders consistently tell me they have to find ways to equip their officers with “adaptive performance”—the ability to learn on the fly and figure things out as you go.

CQ predicts adaptive performance. But no one CQ capability leads to adaptive performance, and particularly not CQ Knowledge. All four are needed, otherwise, you end up with an insufficient approach.

Information by itself rarely solves anything. We know that, yet it becomes the easy default as soon as we encounter a need to work better with a different group. Clearly there’s a place for teaching cultural differences but resist the urge to build knowledge too quickly. There are far more important components to developing cultural intelligence.

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.

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