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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.

New Book on Culturally Intelligent Innovation

davidlivermore | January 18th, 2016 1 Comment

DRIVEN BY DIFFERENCE: Releases February 17
Pre order now.

driven by

The following is an excerpt from an interview about the book:

Q: What prompted you to write this book?

A: I’m insatiably curious. That’s what drives any research or writing project I pursue. And the same is true for this book. I was reviewing some of our research that revealed a troubling finding—homogenous teams often perform better than diverse teams do. Homogenous teams get things done more quickly and as a result, they consistently come up with more innovative solutions than diverse teams do when left to themselves. That’s not a very popular message in an age when everybody is talking about the importance of diversity.

However, diversity unquestionably offers a rich resource for innovative solutions. It’s just that it’s not automatic. It requires a culturally intelligent strategy for effectively using a team’s diversity to come up with more innovative solutions. Our research findings revealed some recurring practices that are essential for tapping the potential of diversity. I wasn’t content to simply see those findings reported in the tables of an academic journal. I wanted to see these insights help teams and organizations in the real world.

Q: You argue that hiring a diverse workforce is not sufficient. Why not?

A: If you’ve ever had a roommate, not to mention a spouse, you probably know the answer to this. “Different” ways of doing things is a novelty at first but under stress, differences can become the source of conflict and annoyance. It’s easier to work with people who think, act, and behave the same as us. So simply hiring a more diverse workforce is not sufficient. And it can actually make productivity and innovation worse.

Our research reveals that cultural intelligence is the moderating factor in whether diversity is an asset or liability for innovation. Cultural intelligence (CQ) is a research-based measurement that predicts how an individual will work and relate with people from different cultural backgrounds. Diverse teams comprised of members with low CQ, significantly underperform homogeneous teams. But diverse teams comprised of members with moderate or high CQ, significantly outperform homogenous teams on pretty much every measurement—not the least of which is innovation.

Q: In the book, you mention a vital area of concern – diversity fatigue. What is diversity fatigue and how should it be addressed in the workplace?

A: Many individuals, particularly in workplaces across North America and Western Europe, can’t bear the thought of one more diversity workshop. Shame and an emphasis upon punitive measures for not embracing diversity are prevalent in many approaches to this topic and that rarely brings about lasting change. Other times, diversity measures are viewed as solely being about compliance or as having little to do with bottom line results.

On a brighter note, many organizations have moved toward an emphasis on teaching about unconscious bias—the automatic impulse an individual associates with certain cultural groups. I’m a big supporter of this effort and we’ve collaborated with some of the leading researchers at Harvard in this space.

Awareness is the first step. But it’s not enough. The question I often hear is, I know my biases. So now what? This is where cultural intelligence (skills) comes in. And then teams need to develop a strategy for using a fusion of their cultural differences to drive innovative results. Together, these solutions offer a fresh, sophisticated way of approaching diversity.

Q: How did you discover the 5D Process for Culturally Intelligent Innovation?

A: As both a researcher and business leader, I’ve been helped immensely by the work of people like Clay Christiansen on disruptive innovation and the innovation models that come from Stanford’s d school. These models together with our research on cultural intelligence are what led to the discovery of the 5D process for culturally intelligent innovation.

The process includes the kinds of things included in most books and models on innovation, such as identifying a pain point, coming up with a solution to relieve that pain, and designing with the end-user in mind. What we wanted to discover however, was how those consistent innovation practices need to be adapted for a culturally diverse team of innovators or users.

For example, Jeff Bezos insists that high level meetings at Amazon include an empty chair, which represents the customer. Apart from cultural intelligence, you might assume a customer wants what you want. But by using the 5D process, a team can design for a diversity of customers. And if the room already includes a diverse team, that’s all the better because it provides built-in insights around what the customers represented by the empty chair want.

Q: What is the number one issue that derails diverse teams and how can it be overcome?

A: I think it’s the absence of a strategy for how to effectively address and use the diversity on the team. By nature, we’re attracted and drawn to people who think and act like we do so without an intentional strategy to lean into and use the differences on a team, they inevitably create conflict and gridlock.

An effective strategy begins with looking at the two forms of diversity that most powerfully influence what happens on a team—visible diversity and underrepresentation. Instead of being afraid to name the differences, a culturally intelligent strategy explicitly identifies the differences and then creates processes that minimize the interpersonal conflict that ensues from the differences and maximize the informational diversity from the team.

Apart from a strategy for how to effectively use your diversity, it’s unlikely the diversity will lead to innovation and may actually work against it.

Q: In your opinion, which companies are getting it right and how can others learn from them?

A: No leader or company gets it right all the time. In fact, mistakes are one of the best ways to improve cultural intelligence and come up with innovative solutions. But our research has uncovered dozens of companies that have worked hard at developing a strategy for culturally intelligent innovation. Several of them are featured throughout the book including Google, IKEA, Coca-Cola, Qatar Airways, and Novartis.

Novartis uses their employee resource groups to effectively design medications for culturally diverse patients. In the world of finance, you have CEOs like Ajay Banga (MasterCard) and Brian Moynihan (Bank of America) who personally chair their companies’ diversity and inclusion councils because they believe there’s a direct link between their diversity efforts internally and customer satisfaction. And despite the diversity challenges facing most tech companies, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, says, “One of the secret sauces for Alibaba’s success is that we have a lot of women.” Women hold 47 percent of all jobs at Alibaba and 33 percent of all senior positions.

Q: If readers took only one thing away from the book, what would you hope it would be?

A: It’s my hope that all of us will slow down the impulse to view a different perspective as threatening, wrong, or inferior and instead, to see it as an opportunity for growth.

In those moments when we see things differently from those around us, we have a few choices: We can hold on to our views, defend them, and argue for their superiority. We can let go of our views and entirely acquiesce to the views of others. Or we can allow our perspectives to be broadened, enriched, expanded, and deepened. Culturally intelligent innovation begins with changing our impulse from Why can’t you see it like I do? to Help me see what I might be missing! Together, we can work together to come up with innovative solutions to solve problems big and small.

The Power of Attention for Culturally Intelligent Innovation

davidlivermore | December 14th, 2015 No Comments


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At the end of January, our new book on culturally intelligent innovation will be available in bookstores everywhere. This month’s article is an excerpt from Part 1 in the book.

If you buy a silver Honda, you start seeing silver Hondas everywhere. It’s not that there are really any more silver Hondas on the road. But this simple reality demonstrates the power of the mind to more readily notice whatever you’ve been thinking about most. And the more you think about diversity and innovation, the better your climate for culturally intelligent innovation.

Your life has largely been fashioned by what you’ve paid attention to and what you haven’t. If you paid attention to other things, your reality and life would be very different. And a great deal of research supports that we become what we practice. If you develop patterns of being mean and nasty, you will get mean and nastier. If you practice being kind and caring, you will get kinder and more caring.[1] The same is true for an organization. The behaviors and respective priorities of a company or university shape what and how they operate. Our individual and organizational personalities become a composite of the things that grab our attention.

If you still aren’t convinced of the power of attention, how does your back feel right now? That information was available to you all the time you were reading the previous paragraphs but it’s only when it’s brought to your attention that you bring it up to the level of awareness. When you’re driving and you become engrossed in the news or a conversation on your phone, you become less aware of the scenery. You’ve turned down the sight dial in your brain so that you can allow the auditory inputs to capture your attention. And according to something psychologists call negative bias theory, you pay more attention to unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger, or the annoyance of a bad driver than to positive emotions because the negative ones are more powerful.[2] Negative bias theory has enormous implications for a culturally diverse team. Imagine a team meeting that includes a working lunch together. Because we’re socialized to eat in a certain way, watching someone eat in a different way can be jarring and strike us as rude or even barbaric. If you’ve learned that good manners includes closing your mouth when you eat or breaking off small pieces of a bread roll rather than picking up the whole thing, seeing someone deviate from those norms immediately surfaces on our attention. But when people eat like we expect them to eat, their behavior largely goes unnoticed. You’re unlikely to notice when someone eats “politely” but you’ll most definitely notice when they don’t. Good manners, respect, and appropriate professional behavior are culturally bound.

Beware of too quickly assuming someone isn’t acting professional or demonstrating confidence. Similarly, we’re less likely to notice a colleague’s cultural differences when things are going well. He’s just “John” or “Jose” when you’re working without any conflict. But when something negative occurs, the first impulse is to view John or Jose in light of his culture. Suddenly the thinking becomes: You just can’t trust people from that culture because they end up letting you down. Giving undue attention to negative feelings shrinks your world and your breadth of perspective. Focus on the positive and you’ll expand your view. This is the power of attention.[3]

How to Pay Attention to Culturally Intelligent Innovation
Your mind is your most powerful asset for innovation. Spend time thinking about innovation and it will help foster creative breakthroughs for diverse users. Maintaining and developing a climate of culturally intelligent innovation among a multicultural team requires a deliberate, ongoing effort. Our attention and therefore our companies are easily distracted. But there are a few practices that can help.

Map Your Differences
Start by paying attention to your differences rather than tolerating or overlooking them. Identify each team member’s differences. Create a list with names and the most relevant differences they bring to the team. Start with the two kinds of diversity that are most relevant for how you work together: visible diversity and underrepresented groups. Consider other differences that might also be relevant such as personality styles, skills, industries previously worked in etc.

Many of the organizations we work with use each individual’s cultural value scores from the CQ Assessment reports to create a team list that everyone posts by their desks. That gives each person a visible reminder of the different values and orientations each team member brings to the team.

Prime for Innovation
Priming is the process of presenting a particular stimulus to make us feel and act in a certain way, such as a supermarket that puts “freshly cut” flowers at the entrance of the store so you think of freshness from the moment you enter. To what degree do people across your organization share a vision for innovation and looking ahead? And to what degree is diversity consciously linked to innovation as a resource for new ideas?

The most important way to prime for culturally intelligent innovation is for the leadership to surround themselves with a diversity of perspectives, utilizing that breadth to drive their own innovative approaches. Innovation needs to be built into every person’s role and across all the systems and processes for product development and implementation. Images, signs, town hall meetings, and written messaging need to be used to keep everyone’s attention on the customers of tomorrow.

Become conscious of blind spots
Tap into the power of attention by becoming more aware of your subconscious. Take one of the tests at Project Implicit and consider which groups of people you find most difficult to trust. How might that difficultly connect to a deeply rooted bias? And how might it be closing you off from innovative breakthroughs? By becoming more aware of unconscious bias, you begin to retrain the mind to open yourself and others up to learning from the perspectives of others whom you may otherwise tune out.

Train yourself (and others) to think differently
The brain is an amazing organ. And we can train it to be consciously thinking about innovation through things as simple as taking a different route to work or shifting around our morning routine. One of the best ways to consciously innovate is to disrupt your habits at least once a day. Make a habit of forcing yourself out of autopilot. Change up your morning routine. Drive to work a different way. Work from a different space. Don’t always run your meetings the same way or in the same place. When your team comes up with a solution, stop and ask each other whether this is the best option or whether a third alternative is worth exploring.

Beware your gut
The gut can be a shockingly reliable mechanism for decision-making because our subconscious has been programmed over time. When assessing a familiar situation, the gut often leads to a better result than spending hours reviewing pros and cons. But the gut is subject to enormous error when the cultural context changes and as a result innovative solutions are often missed. Consult with others and consciously suspend trusting your gut. Questions your assumptions and proactively seek out third-way solutions.

Paying attention to culturally intelligent innovation is not enough. You also need to develop a process for effectively leveraging the diversity on your team to come up with more innovation solutions. But there’s tremendous power in what we pay attention to and what we don’t. You can’t force yourself or anyone else to have eureka moments. But the degree to which you consciously utilize the diversity around you and explore creative solutions is directly tied to the probability of producing innovative results.


Portions of this article excerpted from Chapter 2 of Driven By Difference: How Global Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity. Download a sample chapter and pre-order your copy now.


Advance Praise:

“This book provides a compelling and refreshingly practical account of how and when to use ‘CQ’ to drive higher levels of innovation performance.”
— Paul Polman, CEO Unilever

“Livermore makes a strong, science-based case for why diversity and cultural intelligence matter more than you think. Rooted in research and amplified with powerful case studies and examples, this book is an essential read for those hoping to leverage an increasingly diverse workforce to drive innovation.”
— Daniel H. Pink, author of TO SELL IS HUMAN and DRIVE

“This book is a must read for any leader wishing to develop more culturally innovative teams and organizations.  Dr. Livermore’s in-depth research provides the missing link to diversity efforts that are not being fully leveraged.”
— Andrea Kelton-Harris, Sr. Diversity Leader, Harvard University

“Filled with numerous examples and straight talk on how to drive culturally intelligent innovation, Driven by Difference should be mandatory reading for your entire team. ”
— David Butler, Vice President of Innovation, Coca-Cola

“Driven by Difference presents an intriguing, compelling, and thought-provoking approach to unleashing the creative and innovative potential of diverse teams.”
Anthony Mayo, Director of Leadership Initiative, Harvard Business School

“For more than two decades, there has been a discussion of the link between diversity and innovation. This book succeeds at advancing our knowledge of this link by providing the frameworks and practices that guide us to think and act culturally intelligent as we leverage diversity to innovate.”
–Lynn Wooten, PhD, Associate Dean, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

“Through concrete research and real life examples from across the globe, David Livermore’s new book shows us how diversity can be consciously linked to innovation.”
Anindita Banerjee, PhD, Renaissance Strategic Consultants, India

[1] Susan Smalley & Diana Winston, Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, (Philadelphia: Lifelong Books), 2010, 134.

[2] John F. Pratto, Automatic vigilance: The attention grabbing of negative, social information, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61 (1991): 380-391.

[3] Barbara Fredrickson, Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive, New York: Crown, 2009.

The Dilemmas of a Traveling White Guy

davidlivermore | October 19th, 2015 33 Comments

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Last week I walked into the Mumbai airport to check-in for my flight to Abu Dhabi. I was flying economy but as I entered the queue, the airline representative immediately said, “Right this way sir.” And just like that, I was escorted to the posh lobby and check-in section for Etihad business class passengers.

This hardly sounds like a dilemma, right? I was all too grateful to avoid the long lines winding around to the economy counter. But I felt a bit hypocritical. So I stopped the guy and said, “Actually sir. I’m flying economy today so I can just check in there.” To which he emphatically protested that this was where I belonged.

Throughout the next several steps in the process—baggage check, security screening, passport control, boarding etc.—I was directed through special lines for people “like me” with no one questioning why I was there while holding an ECONOMY boarding pass. This is a stark contrast from what happens when I stand in the premier boarding lines in the U.S. and some of my fellow passengers take it on themselves to police whether an interloper has slipped into the wrong line.

Earlier this month, I was staying in a luxury hotel in Dubai and I was walking with a Jordanian woman who was attending the same conference as me. She was also staying at the hotel and as we walked together to return to our respective guest rooms, the hotel staff stopped her and said, “Excuse me ma’am. This section is only for hotel guests.” She pulled out her room key to verify that she was staying there while I showed them nothing. And as we walked away, she said to me, “They think I’m a prostitute.” What?! I was determined to go back and set the record straight or see if maybe it was just that they recognized me and not her. She laughed and said, “No, No…I’m very sure that’s what they thought. But don’t go talk to them about it. It will just cause me more grief.”

The examples keep going. Some of the hotels where I stay overseas have an x-ray machine you have to walk through as you enter the hotel…unless you look like me. I’m consistently waved around the machine while my Chinese, Indian, and Arab colleagues are directed to go through it. And I’m routinely given the best places to sit in restaurants and cafes and granted access to exclusive lounges I haven’t paid to visit. (And this is one reason my family loves traveling with me!). Before I know it, I start to think I deserve this kind of treatment.

I’m not automatically given these kinds of perks back home. But the benefits I receive are often as real.

  • Many of my African American friends worry about whether their sons will be shot dead because they “looked” like they were up to no good.
  • People with “white sounding names” on a resume are 50% more likely to receive an interview in a U.S. company.
  • The average “attractive male” will earn $250,000 more in his lifetime than the average “unattractive male” will.
  • And people with northern U.S. accents are perceived to be smarter and more in charge than people with southern accents are.

My daughter just started film school at USC. She tells me that we’re more likely to see an “other worldly character” in a mainstream movie than we are to see an Asian woman. Aliens have more visibility in the “progressive” world of Hollywood than Asian females do, even though Asians make up 60% of the global population. The on-screen representation of Latinas is similar.

I’m equally troubled by the more subversive forms of bias that benefit me. I was very conscious that I did nothing to merit the business class perks I received last week. I knew I had only paid for an economy ticket. But when I get called back for an interview or look back at my accomplishments, it’s harder to know how much of it I earned and how much of it was enhanced by implicit assumptions that I’m a competent, successful guy.

What’s a culturally intelligent way to respond to these dilemmas? My typical modus operandi in these articles is to offer 4-5 practical takeaways. I’m not short on suggestions for how to respond to these kinds of realities—don’t be a bystander, use privilege to open doors for others, work for systemic change, etc. I’ve written broadly about these points and we teach seminars on it. But I spend so much time researching, teaching, and writing about this topic that it sometimes starts to become depersonalized for me.

So for today, I’m compelled to delay my impulse to teach other people what they should do and instead, to simply sit with the dilemma for a bit. I refuse to become paralyzed with shame for something that is much bigger than me; but neither do I want to too quickly assuage my responsibility. I want to keep feeling the rub of my experience versus the experience of most people in the world. And I never want to lose sight of the shared humanity that exists among all of us—from the sheik to the taxi driver.

Ironically, as I sat at my gate waiting to board my flight to Abu Dhabi, I was staring at an advertisement that says “Brown is in”, with a picture of a Bollywood actress and a magnum ice cream bar. I applaud Unilever for this kind of ad campaign and I hope they expand it to include darker faces (the woman in the ad looks as white as she does brown). But either way, it’s going to take a lot more than an ad campaign or 4 simple steps to address the ways our implicit assumptions limit our potential as individuals, organizations, and the world at large.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back to strategizing ways that cultural intelligence can better address these dilemmas. But for today—I’m sitting with the tension to think critically about how to responsibly steward the privileges I inevitably receive most anywhere I go. And I invite you to do the same.


[Stats from the research on implicit bias at Harvard University and the Media, Diversity and Social Change initiative at University of Southern California]

What Diversity Matters Most?

davidlivermore | September 15th, 2015 2 Comments


I welcome the way many organizations have broadened the definition of “diversity” to go beyond skin color and nationality. Diversity of thought, work style, function, age, and much more are all relevant forms of difference. But not all diversity is equal.

The two forms of diversity that typically create the most challenges and opportunities for workplaces and schools are visible diversity and underrepresentation. That doesn’t mean that other forms of diversity are irrelevant. But two forms of diversity are most important.

1. Visible Diversity
First, visible diversity, which refers to those differences, which can immediately be observed when looking at someone. This includes differences that stem from ethnicity, gender, age, physical disabilities, and sometimes religion—such as a woman wearing a head covering. It’s very difficult to disguise these differences and as a result, they immediately influence the snap judgments that are made.

An individual with low CQ may claim that one’s visible differences are irrelevant to him. Did she do her job competently or not? But thousands of studies consistently confirm that we implicitly favor people who look similar to us. It’s not so much that we feel explicit hatred or dislike toward others, it’s that we reserve our admiration, sympathy and trust for our in-group.

What’s remarkable is how slight the similarity needs to be for a sense of trust and attraction to occur. Brett Pelham is renowned for his research on this tendency to favor people with even the slightest similarities to ourselves. Women are more likely to marry men who share the first letter of their maiden name. People named Louis are more likely to live in St. Louis, just as people named Paul, Mary, and Helen are more likely to live in St. Paul, St. Mary, and St. Helen. So when we see people who “look like us”, our default response is to view them as more trustworthy than individuals who look different from us.

This is why the research and training on unconscious bias is incredibly relevant for developing cultural intelligence. By becoming more aware of our unconscious biases, we can better manage our implicit assumptions.

2. Underrepresentation
The second form of diversity that is most relevant is any person from a culture that is underrepresented in a group, something Rosabeth Kanter calls tokenism. Tokens are members of a subgroup that represent less than 15 percent of the whole group and the disproportionate representation skews the ways they’re perceived. Being the only Southerner on a team of Northerners, the only marketer on a team of engineers, or the only “foreigner” in a department highlights cultural differences that might otherwise be overlooked. The dominant group will be inclined to assume that an unusual behavior by an individual from an underrepresented group is “cultural” but that might not be the case at all.

Humans of New York recently featured a young Pakistani woman who describes her experience studying at a small college in Minnesota:

“I never feel completely at ease because there are only three Pakistanis at my school, and I feel that everything I do reflects on my family, my religion, and my country. I feel pressured to always be exceedingly polite and well behaved, even when I don’t feel like it…[in Pakistan] I feel like my actions only reflect on me.”

Many individuals reflect both forms of diversity, such as being the only person of color on a team, and thereby finding yourself to be both visibly different and as one of the underrepresented team members. But underrepresentation is also a factor for people with cultural differences that aren’t as visible, such as a having a sexual orientation, ideology, socioeconomic status or level of tenure that deviates from the dominant norm in a group. An underrepresented group could also be a majority group that has limited power and voice such as what black South Africans experienced for many years. Underrepresentation is context-specific. Men are underrepresented among HR professionals and women are underrepresented among engineers. Each organization and team will need to consider what groups are underrepresented in their contexts.

What ultimately matters is not the source of diversity but the different values and perspectives that emerge from it. The more diversity you have within an organization, the more ideas there are for how things should be done. The differences that most strongly influence innovation, project management, and accomplishing objectives are the varied approaches for communicating, planning, and executing tasks. How do you align the values, expectations, and work styles of four generations, dozens of nationalities, and endless subcultures toward a universal vision and strategy for the organization? Answering that question is at the crux of our work on cultural intelligence because our interest has been to improve effectiveness working across cultural value differences. And it’s why our CQ Assessments include feedback on one’s individual cultural value orientations.

A broadened understanding of diversity is useful. Just beware. If diversity includes everything, it ends up meaning nothing. Organizations that intentionally develop a strategy for drawing on the insights and perspectives of staff who are visibly different and underrepresented have a key advantage for knowing how to effectively serve culturally diverse populations.

**Portions of this article excepted from David Livermore’s upcoming book Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation through Diversity (AMACOM, releases early 2016). The book features our latest research on the connections between diversity, CQ, and innovation.

What’s Indian Culture? A dive into domestic diversity

davidlivermore | August 16th, 2013 3 Comments

–Guest post by Anindita Banerjee, a Certified CQ Facilitator and head of cross-cultural training at Renaissance Strategic Consultants

If you’re starting to work with a group in India, can you get by with a basic understanding of South Asians or do you need to narrow more specifically on Indians themselves? Or given the enormous population in India, might it be even better to focus more specifically on the region or city in India where the group with whom you’re working is located?

Given our interest in cultural diversity, the diversity practice at my firm recently initiated a study to understand domestic diversity in India and its impact on workplace practices. We looked at four broad regions (North, South, East and West). This is still a fairly broad brush approach. Keep in mind that many regions in India are significantly larger than many European countries put together. But some preliminary findings from our research offer some interesting insights:

Regional Differences
There are some clear characteristics across the four regions of India that are worth noting:

Region Strength Weakness
North Go getters; relationship oriented Emphasis on financial benefits
South Disciplined, simple lifestyle Don’t see the big picture; less flexible
East Intellectual ability Low task/ambition orientation
West Professional; ability to handle situations Always looking for a job!


Just as we must be cautious with how far we extend country-wide norms, so also we have to be cautious with how we interpret these regional norms. I have friends from North and South India who are far removed from some of the trends listed above and who would vehemently disassociate themselves from these descriptions. And there are many people from the North living in the South and visa versa. But as with all cultural norms, these are some broad generalizations that describe some contrasts across the country.

Marketing challenges
It may not always work to market India as one unified culture. The extent of relationship orientation can vary significantly across regions and averages may be misleading. A former CEO of a large manufacturing company in India said: “The dealers in north India are typically the happiest ones but are also the most demanding. In contrast, the ones in south may have issues but are less likely to admit they are unhappy or to articulate issues openly”.

India is consistently described as a place steeped in hierarchy but there are differences across India in this category too. North and South India are perceived to be more hierarchical of the four regions. We also found that although the manifestation for a hierarchical approach was the same across most of the country (e.g. subservience to authority) the drivers for that submissive behavior are different across various regions. For instance, in North India, the primary reason for submission to authority is fear of what will happen if you don’t comply with authority figures. But in the south, the reason stems more out of respect for age, position, and/or experience.

Career motivators
There are also clear differences in the career motivations that exist across the regions. In the North, upward mobility, improved lifestyle, and an entrepreneurial drive are the key motivators for most people. But in South and East India, stability is a far stronger motivator than getting ahead. And not surprisingly, we found that the retention rate is higher in East and South India.

India should not be thought of as one, unified culture. It abounds with diversity, which in turn drastically impacts the way to effectively work across India. Even we as Indians are challenged by some of the diversity across our country. In fact, some Indians would much rather relocate overseas than to a different region in India. An HR head of a leading Indian software company recounted a phone call from the father of an employee in East India. The father pleaded to have his son’s transfer to South India reversed. He was concerned that the different language, climate and food would just be too much.

We have to beware of the variances that exist across India and for that matter, within any national culture. It is nigh impossible to prepare for all the variances we’ll experience among different cultures and individuals. But that’s where the four capabilities (Drive, Knowledge, Strategy, and Action) of cultural intelligence will best prepare us. I’m simply calling for us to have a better appreciation for the importance of domestic diversity within a national culture.

Getting a Culturally Diverse Group to “Speak Up”

davidlivermore | September 11th, 2012 9 Comments

Cultural diversity creates one of the best opportunities for innovation but it can also be one of the biggest roadblocks if it isn’t handled with cultural intelligence. In many organizations, the Europeans and North Americans dominate meetings while the Asians and Latin Americans remain quiet.

The whole idea of “speaking up” is interpreted differently based upon your cultural background. For many Western leaders, asking people to “speak up” is a very positive thing. It’s management’s way of saying “Your input is important”. But your power distance orientation-the degree to which you prefer a hierarchical vs. an egalitarian leadership style-can make a big difference in whether you view “speaking up” positively.

For example, when a low power distance boss tells a high power distance report to “speak up,” the associate hears that as “praise me.” So when the boss asks, “What do you think about this idea?”, the associate says something like, “Oh, it’s a most wonderful idea!”, regardless of what they really think.

Or when a lower power distance associate “speaks up” to a high power distance boss, the boss may interpret that as disrespectful: Why are they always trying to be in charge?

And among peers, the associate who is always “speaking up” is viewed by his high power distance colleagues as the smart alek in the group:  “Ah. Here he goes again. He always has to voice his opinion. The nail that stands up is the one the hammer smacks down.”

There are a few things leadership can do to help culturally diverse associates “speak up”.

1. Clarify what you mean by “speak up”.
The objective is not to have lots of people talking all the time. Nor is it just to make everyone “feel” like they’re part of the team. It’s to gather ideas and innovations from every team member. The leadership truly believes the scientific process will lead to better solutions when diverse voices are heard.

 2. Give Advance Warning.
If you’re an introvert and have high “uncertainty avoidance”, providing a spontaneous response can be very intimidating. And for non-native English speakers to “speak up” often means translating the question back into their native language, constructing a response, translating it back into English, and feeling confident about sounding competent. That’s a tall order but easier if there’s time to anticipate how to respond.

3. Offer multiple ways to “speak up” (verbal, written, group)
Since the goal is participation and ideas, not people “talking”, provide various ways input can be offered. I’ve learned this in the classroom. Some students aren’t comfortable saying much in a large classroom setting but will provide excellent input in a small group, one-on-one, or in an online forum. This dynamic is accentuated among individuals from certain cultural backgrounds.

 4. Be explicit about expectations (e.g. by Fri at 5 p.m.)
If you expect everyone to provide some response, make that clear. Again—offer multiple ways to provide feedback. You can say something like “I need to hear back from everyone by Friday at 5 p.m. You can either offer your input at our meeting this afternoon, by talking with me one-on-one, or by sending me an email.”

An essential part of all of this is for leadership to provide a safe environment where speaking up is rewarded. All these strategies can be used when eliciting feedback from any group of people, but they’re particularly relevant for working with culturally diverse groups. That’s the beauty of cultural intelligence. It improves the way we lead any group of diverse people. Speak up and let me know what you think!

Implications of CQ for HR professionals

davidlivermore | October 16th, 2009 No Comments

[originally posted at]

Our struggling economy is hitting human resource professionals as hard as any group I know. I keep hearing from HR directors who complain about sleepless nights and 60-hour workweeks. Many are asked to figure out which employees can be eliminated and which ones are indispensable to the company’s survival and growth. They spend hours every week consoling stressed out employees who want to know if they’re part of the next “right-sizing”, and many additional hours are spent receiving resumes and phone calls from job seekers. Meanwhile, many lay in bed at night wondering about the stability of their own jobs.

A growing number of human resource professionals are tapping into an emerging field of research to help them survive the roller coaster ride of the 2009 work environment—cultural intelligence (CQ). Cultural intelligence is the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures. It stems from research across more than 30 countries and it’s proven to enhance the effectiveness of individuals and organizations facing economically challenging times. One of the distinctions of companies that are not only surviving but thriving in the midst of this downturn is they’re using this period to enhance the cultural intelligence of their personnel.

HR professionals were among the earliest adopters of the research and training on emotional intelligence. They realize that the common sense and social skills that come from emotional intelligence play a huge role in an employee’s success and in the performance of the entire organization. Cultural intelligence offers that kind of success when working in cross-cultural situations. It’s one thing to be able to read the emotions of a customer or client from a familiar background but the ability to do so with an individual from a different culture requires an additional skill set—cultural intelligence (CQ).

Similar to other forms of intelligence, cultural intelligence includes four capabilities:

1. CQ Drive: One’s interest, confidence, and drive to adapt cross-culturally
2. CQ Knowledge: One’s understanding of cross-cultural issues and differences
3. CQ Strategy: One’s ability to plan effectively for cultural diverse learners
4. CQ Action: One’s adaptability in the midst of cross-cultural teaching and interaction

Growth in these four capabilities needs to begin with HR professionals themselves. They’re the ones who need to be the CQ experts on behalf of the rest of the organization. This will allow them to enhance the cultural intelligence of people all throughout the organization and it provides an important form of assessment when deciding who to retain and when filling vacant positions.

Many organizations have decided every employee needs some degree of cultural intelligence because a customer’s experience is whomever they encounter from the company—whether it’s a c-level executive or a receptionist. But the positions where it’s most important to assess and nurture cultural intelligence are among HR staff themselves, individuals who interact the most with culturally diverse vendors and customers (e.g. sales reps), and senior leaders.

Here are some ways HR professionals are applying cultural intelligence:

1. Enhancing their own CQ in order to work with employees coming from a variety of backgrounds.
2. Drawing upon CQ to analyze various jobs within the organization and identifying which ones require the strongest degree of cultural intelligence.
3. Altering performance appraisals in light of the cultural backgrounds of various personnel (e.g. giving managers tips on how to offer criticism to someone from an Asian background as compared to someone from a Latin background).
4. Creating policies that respect cultural difference while still remaining true to the corporate culture and brand (e.g. head coverings for women).
5. Offering cultural intelligence training and consulting to employees as part of their professional development.
6. Prioritizing cultural intelligence among all new hires by assessing it through a cultural intelligence inventory (See
7. Finding better ways to motivate people to participate in diversity training.
8. Drawing upon CQ to help bridge the generational divides that exists among many subcultures of an organization.
9. Developing training around the four capabilities of CQ (Drive, Knowledge, Strategy, and Action).
10. Assessing current and future personnel by interviewing them in light of the four capabilities of CQ.

Employees with high CQ know how to innovate, adapt, and function in and out of a lot of fluctuating markets and circumstances. Even if the position being filled isn’t directly involved with cultural diverse markets, it bodes well for any company to have an eye out for job candidates who demonstrate a growing measure of cultural intelligence. We can all become more culturally intelligent! Education (through training, consulting and/or reading), being part of a multi-cultural team and real live cross-cultural experiences are the best ways to increase your cultural intelligence.

Tap into cultural intelligence to alleviate some of the stress of today’s unpredictable twists and turns. CQ offers you both a tool for survival and a satisfying way to help your team and company succeed.