Blog Archives

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.

Why do all the Chinese students sit together?

davidlivermore | March 14th, 2016 12 Comments

China 2

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


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.

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.

Growing Up Between Smalltown USA and Singapore

davidlivermore | June 9th, 2015 5 Comments

[Guest Post by Emily Livermore]


The feeling of a plane’s descent hits me one of four ways. One: I’ve just arrived at a new destination and can’t wait to immerse myself in the multisensory experience. Two: I’ve just returned home and I can’t wait to be in my own bed. Three: How am I going to kill several hours during this layover? Or four: Panic sets in. I might not make my next flight!

These sentiments have become extremely familiar to me because my family has spent a lot of time travelling and living overseas. Our travels have taken us all over the world, but whether we’re there for a few days or several months, we make every effort to live like the locals and bring a part of every place home with us. From learning to make Argentinian stew in Buenos Aires to creating stationery from elephant dung in Lampang, Thailand or riding public transit in Sydney, I always come home a different person than I left. But the thing that usually causes me the most culture shock is arriving back home.

The place I call home is East Grand Rapids, Michigan. This quaint little town is where my family lives between our overseas adventures, and it’s a stark contrast from most of the other places I’ve been. Consider, for example, the contrasts between life in East Grand Rapids with life in Singapore, the other city where I’ve spent the most time growing up. East Grand Rapids is a quaint little town of 11,000 people, 96.3% of whom are white. Winters are long and cold, the biggest event of the year is the high school football season, and the restaurants mostly serve comfort foods like burgers and pastas. Singapore is a massive, cosmopolitan city-state with a population of 5 million people made up of mostly Chinese, Malays, and Indians but with over a million people from other places around the world as well. The weather is tropical, the city never sleeps, and the eating options are truly endless with a side of chili sauce available for most every dish. Being in both places feels “normal” to me, but I haven’t always felt that way.

For awhile, I hated leaving Michigan to go back to Singapore. I had to say goodbye to my friends, our Michigan home, and my favorite Western foods. But in middle school that changed. Our trip to Singapore included some side excursions to China and Malaysia and it was the first time I remember really enjoying the novelty of each place we went. I tried whatever foods I could, learned to use chopsticks, and picked up some Mandarin and Malay. When we returned to the States, I made a 180-degree turn. I was suddenly thirsty for more diversity in my middle school and I didn’t want to be surrounded by all the familiar faces and language of East Grand Rapids! I moved from hating Singapore to hating East Grand Rapids and I couldn’t wait for another chance to leave home. It wasn’t until much later I began to realize both cities are rich with beauty.

East Grand Rapids has a culture of its own; it just took me a while to see it. There’s a history and way of doing things that I missed during my years of loathing life in Michigan. But I’ve come to see that understanding other cultures begins with understanding my own. This realization helped me become more open minded at home as well as overseas.

Learning to understand, appreciate and embrace the vastly different worlds of East Grand Rapids and Singapore is core to who I am. I never feel entirely at home in either place because I’m always missing the other one. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It has shaped me to seek beauty and depth in the foreign and the familiar and to bridge otherwise seemingly disparate ideas, people and places. It seems to me, that’s what cultural intelligence is all about.


Emily Livermore is starting at University of Southern California this Fall to pursue a degree in cinematic arts. She has a passion to create meaningful films that speak to diverse audiences around the world.

High CQ Prepares Youth to Compete with Robots for Jobs

davidlivermore | November 18th, 2014 No Comments


In the race for global talent, employers and universities are looking for highly motivated young people who are self-aware, smart, and have an ability to influence and communicate across a myriad of differences. Are you ready?

McKinsey Report, 2013

70% of educators say their graduates are prepared for work. Less than 50% of students and employers agree.

And 90% of executives from 68 countries report that finding effective cross-cultural personnel is a top management challenge. (Economist Intelligence Unit)

As the world of work becomes more automated and robotic, cultural intelligence becomes a crucial way to stand apart. An avatar customer service representative can’t express empathy or engage in decision-making. And negotiation and trust-building can’t be easily outsourced. Now, more than ever, cultural intelligence becomes a critical part of preparing youth for their 21st century careers.

What Improves CQ Most?
What can students, parents, and educators do to give students’ the competitive edge that comes from improved cultural intelligence or CQ? As we work with high schools, colleges, and universities around the world, these are the kinds of initiatives that consistently enhance youth’s cultural intelligence.

Phase 1: Self-Awareness
Today’s youth put a higher priority on human rights and global consciousness than many generations before them. While there are notable exceptions, today’s adolescents and young adults are incensed by racism and discrimination. But many of them still lack the personal awareness that is the foundation for building cultural intelligence. What does it mean to understand and respect my cultural background while also respecting others’ backgrounds? How does my upbringing influence the way I make decisions and view the world? How might my minimization of cultural differences limit me? High school and university are the ideal times to wrestle with the crucial questions of identity and development. Use of the CQ Assessment alongside reflective writing exercises can be useful tools for promoting the self-awareness that is essential for enhancing youth’s CQ.

Phase 2: Meaningful, Immersion Experiences
Most educational institutions prioritize giving students the chance to experience another culture first hand. Whether it’s through study abroad programs or requiring some engagement with communities in nearby neighborhoods, there’s no substitute for experiencing other cultures firsthand. But as I consistently point out, not all immersion experiences are equal. If not done well, they can perpetuate ethnocentrism and erode cultural intelligence. But when designed using the research-based interventions that are proven to enhance cultural intelligence, they offer a transformative opportunity that will go with the young person for the rest of his or her life and career.

Phase 3: Intercultural relationships
Most students don’t need a passport to encounter diversity. Different cultures are as close as the person living in the dorm room next door. Yet university campuses continue to be extremely segregated. Chinese students socialize and study with Chinese students. Christian kids hang out with other Christians. And students from underrepresented cultures (e.g. African Americans in many U.S. business schools) eat together because they don’t feel connected to the majority community. Ironically, students often travel to the other side of the world to learn about different cultures yet come back on campus and default to only spending time with people like themselves. Schools that make an intentional effort to help students utilize the diversity across campus are more likely to simultaneously help their students improve their CQ.

Phase 4: Job Skills
As students become upperclassmen, the emphasis upon cultural intelligence needs to move toward preparing them for the workplace. Many job recruiters tell me they rarely hear students who can articulate how their study abroad experience will make them better at their job. High school guidance counselors and university career service advisors play a pivotal role in helping students develop the language and skills for describing how their journey toward cultural intelligence will influence the ways they teach, lead, manage projects, etc. This phase is where the cultural intelligence model and assessments are ideally suited. As compared to other intercultural inventories that focus on personal preferences and attitudes, the CQ Assessments predict students’ performance in culturally diverse settings.

Better College and Job Prospects
As admission to top universities becomes increasingly competitive, standardized test scores and impressive resumes of community service aren’t enough to get into many schools. A growing number of universities are prioritizing admission of students with “average” test scores who demonstrate self-awareness, curiosity, and people skills—all characteristics that are connected to cultural intelligence.

Executives from Google, Lenovo, McKinsey and several other leading companies consistently ask me, “Where do we find culturally intelligent young people?” They’re on the hunt for talent who have the skills that go beyond technical functions. As the linear and numerical functions become more automated, the most attractive employers are looking for young talent who have the people skills, self-reliance, teamwork, and ability to communicate effectively across a number of contexts and situations—all things that are shaped by one’s CQ. And as companies like Google and universities like Harvard adopt CQ as part of their assessment and development process, students who can describe and demonstrate their CQ have a distinct advantage.

It’s a whole lot easier to instill the values and skills related to cultural intelligence in youth than adults. We’d be delighted to work with you in that process. And best of all, when we improve the CQ of youth, we make the world of today and the world of tomorrow a better place for all of us.

Teaching English with Cultural Intelligence

davidlivermore | November 11th, 2014 No Comments

In most Western classrooms, students are rewarded for speaking up, asking questions, and participating in classroom discussions.

In most Asian classrooms, students are taught to listen carefully, respect the teacher, and only speak when invited to do so.

In the U.S., struggle is an indicator that a student isn’t cutting it. Smart kids barely study, get A’s and they finish their work first. And the high achievers are asked to come to the front of the class to demonstrate their insights while struggling students are dealt with discreetly to ensure their self-esteem stays in tact.

In China, struggle is viewed as a predictable part of the learning process. A student is allowed to struggle because it’s a chance to show he or she has what it takes to resolve a problem by persevering through it. The student who can’t figure out a problem is asked to come to the front of the class to work it out in front of peers.

These are gross over-generalizations. But if you’re teaching away from home, you know that these kinds of educational differences are the tip of the iceberg for what you experience in the classroom. The importance of learning how to be true to your own teaching style and values while also adapting effectively to your students’ personalities, learning styles, and cultural backgrounds is essential. That’s almost self-evident. But research now demonstrates that your effectiveness teaching across cultures can be pinned upon your CQ, or your cultural intelligence quotient. Cultural intelligence is the capability to function effectively in a variety of national, ethnic, and organizational cultures.

Just as emotional intelligence helps you interact effectively with students based upon the cues they send about their emotional state, cultural intelligence allows you to have that kind of insight when you’re a cultural outsider. A great deal of what it takes to detect and respond in light of the emotions of a student presumes you know how to interpret their nonverbal behaviors and the subtext beneath their words. That’s difficult if not impossible when dealing with someone from an unfamiliar culture.

Cultural intelligence picks up where intuition and skills like emotional intelligence leave off. It allows you to have the same kind of practical sensibility when interacting with students and colleagues who come from different cultural backgrounds than you.

The question that drives our research on cultural intelligence is this: Why do some teachers easily and effectively adapt their views and behaviors cross-culturally and others don’t? What factors explain the difference?

Our CQ Assessments measure your skills in each of these four areas. And they’ve been academically validated to accurately predict your level of effectiveness teaching in a culturally diverse environment.

What does it look like to teach English as a second language with cultural intelligence? Many ESL students are most comfortable learning through rote memorization or by mastering mathematical formulas and grammatical rules. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t benefit from other methodologies that you might view as more effective. But teaching with cultural intelligence means you begin with where your students are most comfortable and then find ways to strategically prepare them for alternative strategies. For example, if you’re going to use games, a simulation, or an approach where students roleplay a conversation in front of the class, give them an opportunity first to develop their confidence by memorizing material, practicing privately, and working with a peer group. Teaching with cultural intelligence means you adapt your teaching style and content based upon your students’ cultural background but that you also must retain your personal style for what makes you authentic and effective in the classroom.

There’s a great deal of research behind the kinds of strategies that are most effective for teaching with cultural intelligence. And the good news is, anyone can teach with cultural intelligence. But it’s not automatic. It requires an intentional effort to assess and improve your skills and a developmental plan for adjusting the way you teach. But with a conscious effort, you’ll find yourself becoming more confident and comfortable in the classroom.

To learn more about cultural intelligence assessments and books or to attend an upcoming CQ Certification program, visit

5 Things Culturally Intelligent Universities Do

davidlivermore | July 8th, 2014 No Comments

Guest post by Dr. Sandra Upton  

Today more than 2.5 million students are studying outside their home countries. Estimates predict a rise to 7 million international students by 2020. Students from Asia are entering the major academic systems of North America, Western Europe, and Australia and vise versa. Countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada have adjusted visa and immigration requirements to attract foreign students. But what happens once they arrive on campus?

In my nearly 18 years of working in higher education I’ve observed the impact of these changes. Smart institutions realize that competing globally means creating culturally intelligent campus communities that embrace and leverage diversity. Those who tie diversity to academic and institutional excellence will be the ones that are most successful.

The colleges and universities making the most strides in becoming authentic, culturally intelligent institutions adopt the following practices:

1. Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is tied to strategic, measurable outcomes.  

For any D&I initiative to be effective, it must be an integral part of the institution’s mission, core values and strategic plan. There must also be a high level of synergy and alignment across the efforts of various departments and divisions. Most significant, and the weakest link at many colleges and universities, is the need to evaluate the effectiveness of D&I efforts with measurable outcomes. It’s easy to engage in a lot of useful activities like diversity fairs, multicultural awareness weeks, and workshops. But the question becomes – Do our D&I efforts support the overall goals and objectives of the university and can they be measured for effectiveness?

2. Diversity is important. Inclusion is even more important.  

I recently heard someone say, Diversity is inviting everyone to the party; inclusion is allowing everyone to dance. Colleges and university’s that diversify and do nothing else set themselves up for failure. The real test comes with creating an environment where everyone on campus thrives and is able to achieve their maximum potential. Inclusively excellent institutions consistently engage in the process of identifying and eliminating racism and other biases (conscious or unconscious) by changing systems, structures, policies, practices and attitudes so that power is redistributed and shared more equitably. This occurs by using the next three practices.

3. Cultural Intelligence is prioritized for everyone on campus – students, faculty and staff.

Recruiting a diverse group of students, faculty and staff is essential but it’s not enough. It has to be followed by a strategic plan that fully equips the entire campus community with the skills to relate and work effectively across cultural differences. Whether it’s equipping Chinese students to engage with their North American peers, supporting underrepresented staff to succeed within the institution, or helping faculty understand the different needs of Latino versus African-American students, the CQ of students, faculty, and staff make or break whether a university truly becomes a more diverse, inclusive place. The conversations, lectures, and group projects that occur behind closed doors ultimately reveal whether a campus is becoming more culturally intelligent. Creating a learning and development plan for improving CQ is essential.

4. Diversity content is strategically integrated into the curriculum.

Since colleges and universities are ultimately about education, diversity must be built into the curriculum. Each department needs to identify learning outcomes and create a rubric for assessing courses and students in light of the priorities of diversity and inclusion. Students need to see how diverse perspectives enhance their understanding of the material being taught and they need to see how hands-on experiences on campus, in the local community and through study abroad programs tie to their personal and professional goals.

5. Leadership Commitment

University leaders (President, Provost, VPs and Board of Trustees) must personally demonstrate cultural intelligence and strategically integrate it across the institution. This means intentionally including the contributions of all stakeholders within the organization by ensuring all stakeholders are represented in every conversation, decision, and new initiative. And it means building an institutional culture that views diversity as an institutional treasure and inclusion as a strategic imperative.

I am thrilled to be joining the team at Cultural Intelligence Center and am looking forward to using my years of experience as a faculty member, administrator and leader in facilitating several MBA global business experiences, to work alongside my colleagues in the higher education space around the globe. Given the global changes coming our way, it remains a critical yet exciting time for institutions of higher learning around the world.

New Study Reveals International Travelers Receive More Job Offers

davidlivermore | April 14th, 2014 1 Comment

Augustine of Hippo said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Now, a new study led by INSEAD professor William W. Maddux reveals that those who travel receive more job opportunities than those who don’t.

Maddux et. al conducted a longitudinal study and discovered that an MBA student’s intercultural experiences predicted the number of job offers received, even when controlling for variables like demographics, personality etc. Students who adapted to and learned about new cultures engaged in job interviews more creatively and demonstrated more openness and initiative. They were seen as being able to bring seemingly unrelated ideas together into meaningful wholes. As a result, these students were able to successfully navigate the interview process and received more job offers.[1]

Some of the most promising correlations found between international travel and job prospects are:

1. Stronger Sense of Self
Travel provides the opportunity to become aware of your own values and priorities. You’re forced to differentiate between your culture of origin, the cultures you encounter, and your self-identity. Organizations want to hire professionals who are self-aware.

2. Increased Trust
Another study found that how much you trust a stranger is positively correlated to the number of places you’ve traveled. The job candidates who traveled most broadly were most likely to trust someone they didn’t know.[2] Companies want team members who can develop trusting relationships across virtual and international borders.

3. Creativity and Problem-Solving
Intercultural experiences provide a laboratory for improved creativity and problem solving. In a new environment, everyday tasks have to be done differently and there’s an opportunity to observe people using alternative approaches from what’s familiar.[3] A proven ability to innovate sets you apart from other job candidates.

But…not all travel experiences are equal!
Travel does not by itself ensure improved cultural intelligence (CQ) or increased job offers. Several important variables make the difference:

The nature of the experience
If business travelers spend all their time at international hotels and offices; and if study abroad students spend most of their free time on Skype and Facebook, travel may have little positive benefit for improving CQ and career opportunities. Or if charitable volunteers overlook the positive aspects of the locals they encounter, the exposure can perpetuate ethnocentrism and narrow thinking. But those who venture out on their own to discover the food, transportation and people of the places they visit are very likely to enhance their CQ.[4]

The number of experiences
Individuals with multiple experiences in a variety of places experience more of the benefits of travel than those who have only been in one or two places. And the more countries where you’ve lived for more than a year, the more positive connection there is between your international experience, your CQ, and your career development.[5]

Childhood experiences play less role in developing CQ than adult experiences where we make our own choices about travel, work, and interactions. But exposing kids can be very influential. The key is helping youth use the opportunity to build their own sense of self and view of the world.

The Cultural Interpreter
Whatever the age of the experience, a key variable is who helps you interpret it. If parents, faculty, youth leaders, or colleagues only point out negative aspects of a culture, travel might actually erode CQ rather than improve it. The individual who interprets what’s going on makes all the difference in whether the experience provides positive benefits or not.

Reflection and De-Brief
Many study abroad programs, expat assignments, and charitable mission trips emphasize pre-trip training. But the most important insights come from reflecting in the midst of the overseas experience and upon re-entry back home.

Simply listing international travel as a part of your resume is unlikely to yield many benefits in a job-search. But using travel to expand your view of self, integrate seemingly disparate parts, and creatively solve problems allows you to stand apart from other candidates who have traveled abroad without “seeing” anything.

In the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

[1] W. Maddux, E. Bivolaur, A. Hafenbrqack, C. Tadmor, & A. Galinsky. Expanding Opportunities by Opening Your Mind:Multicultural Engagement Predicts Job Market Success Through Longitudinal Increases in Integrative Complexity, Social Psychological and Personality Science, December 2013.

[2] J. Cao, A. Galinsky, & W. Maddux, Does Travel Broaden the Mind? The Breadth of Foreign Experiences Increases Generalized Trust. Social Psychology and Personality Science, December 2013.

[3] R. Nouri,, M. Erez, M., T Rockstuhl, S. Ang, L. Leshem-Calif, & A. Rafaeli, A. (forthcoming). Taking the bite out of culture: The impact of task structure and task type on overcoming impediments to cross-cultural team performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior and R. Chua, M. Morris, & S. Mor, Collaborating across cultures: Cultural metacognition and affect-based trust in creative collaboration, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 118 (2012) 116–131.

[4] C. Tay, M Westman, & A, Chia, Antecedents and Consequences of Cultural Intelligence among short-term business travelers, 126-144; S. Ang, L. Van Dyne, C. Koh, K.Y. Ng, K.J. Templer, C. Tay, & N.A. Chandrasekar. Cultural Intelligence: Its measurement and effects on cultural judgment and decision making, cultural adaptation, and task performance. Management and Organization Review, (2007) 3, 335-371.

[5] E. Shokef & M. Erea, Cultural Intelligence and Global Identity in Multicultural Teams, in S. Ang and L. Van Dyne (Eds.), Handbook of Cultural Intelligence: Theory, Measurement, and Applications (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008), 180.

Using “What If” Questions to Prepare International Travelers

davidlivermore | May 21st, 2013 3 Comments

My 15 year-old-daughter is preparing to travel to Thailand by herself next month. Emily has often heard me say that international travel is more likely to increase adolescents’ cultural intelligence (CQ) when they travel without their parents or friends. So she decided to see if my wife and I really believe that. I’m thrilled and her mother is a little freaked out. But we all agree this will be a great learning experience for her. In a few weeks, Emily will be flying to the other side of the world without us.

  • Many companies rotate high potential leaders from one global assignment to another, as preparation for being senior leaders in the organization.
  • University and high school students study abroad as a way to get an edge on others in the college and job market.
  • And volunteers travel overseas with the hopes that they can combine service with a life changing opportunity.

But is there any evidence that international travel will increase CQ? Absolutely! But there’s also evidence that international travel can decrease CQ. What makes the difference?

Few things have greater potential to increase CQ than the hands-on experience of international travel. But it’s a correlation, not a causation. How you travel, where you spend time, the nature of your interactions, and the way you make meaning from the experiences makes all the difference in whether international experience improves your CQ or not. In fact, international experience can actually decrease CQ and perpetuate ethnocentrism if not done well. Have you ever met an expat or short-term missionary who didn’t have high CQ? Enough said.

It starts before ever leaving home. I’m actually not too worked up over whether people should spend vast amounts of time doing pre-departure training and orientation. It can certainly be helpful. But what’s most important is some thoughtful anticipation about the cross-cultural experience and how to learn from it.

Emily scores pretty high on our CQ Assessment when it comes to CQ Drive—the level of interest, drive, and confidence to adapt to intercultural situations. She grew up traveling internationally, she loves to be immersed in different cultures, and she’s been learning about Thai culture and studying the language. But our way of orienting her for her overseas experience has been a bit different. I’ve been throwing her a series of “What if” questions.

What if you arrive at the airport and our Thai friends’ who are supposed to meet you aren’t there? “That’s easy” she said. “I’ll just text them.” To which I said, “Okay. But what if your phone doesn’t work?”  “Then I’ll use a payphone,” she replied.

My next challenge: “Okay, but you don’t have any Thai money.” To which she said, “I’ll just exchange some.” But I kept pushing her: “The person at the currency exchange tells you they aren’t allowed to exchange money to minors. Then what?”

I’m trying to get her to come up with solutions for the kinds of things she could experience cross-culturally.

Emily is crazy about animals. In fact, at some point during her visit to Thailand, she’ll be joining a group to learn how to provide veterinary care to animals after a natural disaster. I asked her, “What if you’re visiting a hill tribe village and they serve you dog? What will you do?” She decided she would push the meat around for awhile and make it look like she had eaten it. But she couldn’t live with herself if she actually ate it. I’m not sure that strategy will work but it’s not a bad response. I want her to know that cultural intelligence doesn’t mean abandoning everything she values and believes.

“What if a group of your peers start making fun of a Buddhist monk walking by. What will you say?” We talked about the importance of applying cultural intelligence to both her peers and the local culture. And she practiced some responses of what she would say and how they might respond.

I’m less concerned about the precision of her answers. And I’m more interested in getting her to see that there are very real cultural dilemmas she’s likely to face and to give her some practice anticipating how to respond.

This has been a fun, engaging way for our family to interact together about Emily’s upcoming trip. And it taps into our research findings that cultural understanding is more likely to be improved and applied when it’s relevant to the individual and situation. This is why groups like McDonalds have reduced the amount of training they do before their global leaders are assigned overseas; instead, they provide them with a CQ coach after they arrive who meets with them regularly to interact about the real-life cultural dilemmas they’re encountering.

We continue to research how business travelers, study abroad students, and charitable volunteers can best use international travel to increase their CQ. If they simply stay in establishments where the staff have been trained to adapt to our every whim, it’s unlikely they’re getting a true glimpse of the local culture. And when they travel with friends, peers from school, or family, it takes extra effort to have any meaningful interaction with people outside the built-in networks brought along. And if the people they spend time with when they’re abroad offer a skewed interpretation of what’s going on, they can come home with a very inaccurate perspective.

But when international experience is combined with active engagement (e.g. jumping on public transit, walking through the market, and having dinner with locals at their favorite haunt) and thoughtful reflection (e.g. looking for what is similar/different from home; suspending judgment about what certain behaviors mean, having a cultural coach who accurately helps you process what you experience), it’s the most powerful way to improve CQ.

How do you leverage the potential of international travel?

How Smart Phones Lower CQ

davidlivermore | January 10th, 2013 10 Comments

Growing numbers of Study Abroad students spend most of their free time on Facebook and Skype, communicating with friends and family back home.

Business travelers often do the same thing. Evenings are spent catching up on email and communicating with family, co-workers, and friends rather than soaking up the local culture.

Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together (highly recommended!) notes the same phenomenon at professional conferences. Conference attendees are tethered to their digital devices, concerned about finding the time and space in the schedule to be alone with their digital networks. People at conferences used to chat with others while waiting for a presentation to begin or getting a taxi. Now they spend that time doing email, supposedly making better use of “downtime”.

I love that I can see and hear my kids’ voices on Skype, even when I’m on the other side of the world. But I have a growing concern that our technological advances work against so much of what is core to cultural intelligence—being fully present, deep-focused consciousness, and becoming more aware of one’s identity and culture. The growing discussion and research about the impact of technology upon our lives has profound relevance for how we think about our cross-cultural effectiveness.

Leverage Liminal Space
International Travel has always been a powerful way to gain self-awareness and perspective on life back home. But if we bring our homes with us, how might we be missing out?

You’re probably familiar with the idea of liminal space—the anthropological term for disorienting periods which foster new points of view. But technology is making liminal space harder to come by.

International travel, cross-cultural encounters, and to some degree, even retreats and conferences use to be ideal environments for liminal space. But if our driving concern is staying connected to life back home, it’s much harder to experience the disorientation and transformation these opportunities used to offer.

In June, my 15-year-old daughter will be going on her first international trip by herself. I’m grateful that she’ll rarely be more than a text message or Skype call away. Yet I wonder how that might limit her experience compared to my first overseas sojourn—where in 6 weeks, I had one or two ham radio calls home and a few letters from family and friends. My social network was stripped away. It was hard, but it forced me to directly encounter my fellow travelers, our hosts, and the local Peruvian culture.

As painful as it’s going to be, my wife and I want to limit how much we hover over our daughter’s experience in Thailand. We want to give her the liminal space she needs to shape her identity and further develop her CQ.

Eliminate Multitasking
Many of us (myself included!) think we’re immune to the studies that debunk the gains of multitasking. But the research is mounting that when we multitask, the quality of everything we do is downgraded. It feels good to multitask because our brain rewards us with a multitasking “high”. But our actual productivity and effectiveness goes down.

Turkle reports that her MIT students whose laptops are open in class don’t do as well as those who take notes on paper. She’s convinced this is mostly a result of the additional distractions that seduce the laptop students (e.g. Facebook updates, ESPN scores, YouTube etc.).

A crucial part of behaving with cultural intelligence is engaging in a high-level of self-consciousness. This includes things like perspective taking—How would I feel if I were this person right now? How do they perceive me? How do they view this situation—And it’s a matter of being self-aware. This requires a lot of brainpower, something that gets reduced when we multitask. In fact, some studies such as this one reported in The Chicago Tribune show that we actually lower our IQ when we multi-task.

Create Boundaries
Technology is not the enemy. And cold turkey approaches are unrealistic. Most of us can’t cease from all email contact when we travel nor can we expect all Study Abroad students will forego Facebook for a full semester (though if you’ve tried this and succeeded, by all means share the results!).

But we can reclaim control over our technology, rather than merely being seduced by its pings. A few simple ways to begin, when you travel and when you’re home.

1. No Phones at Meals
When sharing a meal with loved ones, colleagues, friends, or even a vendor soliciting your business, turn off your phone off for an hour. It does wonders for conversation and connection.

2. Turn off “Push”.
The “ping” of email releases dopamine in the brain. Most of us can’t resist the urge to check our phone when we hear it. A simple way to eliminate the distraction is put yourself in charge of when you get email rather than the device being in control of your attention.

 3. Schedule times to do email.
We’ve all heard this before but it bears repeating. 1-2 times a day focused on email communication is suffice for most of us. It’s amazing how quickly I get through it when it’s the only thing I’m doing for an hour. It’s also amazing how quickly it consumes 4-5 hours of my day when I’m just randomly responding as emails come in. Plus, if you’re known as someone who always responds almost immediately to email, it backfires when you actually want to take a break. And if you put up a vacation/auto-response, take advantage of it and don’t check in!

4. Don’t check email during breaks etc.
When you’re traveling or attending a conference, if at all possible, don’t check email during a brief break. There are so many times I’ve regretted checking my email at lunch break, frustrated that I don’t have adequate time to deal with some of the urgent things that have come in. And it tempts me to send off a quick response I might regret later.

 5. Re-think what’s urgent.
But what about when there are truly urgent issues that have to be addressed? Surely there are crises that emerge. But most of what we deem a crisis, really isn’t and can be delayed for a few hours, or even days.

6. Use Commute Time to Reflect and Breathe
When traveling, (or even commuting to work daily), resist the temptation to use the commute time to read email, Twitter, and Facebook. Observe what’s going on around you. Reflect upon the day’s events. Breathe deeply. This can make the difference of whether a 15-minute train ride is calming and life-giving or life-sucking.

 7. Limit the Ping Pong Effect
The problem with catching up on on my email is it induces nearly as many responses that fill my inbox all over again. Think about how to make the email threads as few as possible. Suggest a time and place to meet. And if you need to communicate to a colleague down the hall, walk down and talk to them.

The bigger challenge is implementing these boundaries. But I hope you’ll resolve with me to gain a little more control over technology this year, which will in turn improve your CQ, the quality of your work, and best of all, your overall quality of life!