Is This Diversity and Inclusion Concept the Missing Link for Real Change?
To bring more allies into the diversity, equity and inclusion conversation, you need to start incorporating this key concept. Here's why.
- What cultural intelligence means
- The benefits of cultural intelligence on diversity and inclusion
- How to bring cultural intelligence to your organization
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As a certified cultural intelligence trainer, I see the unfortunate outcomes when cultural intelligence is not a part of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work. When DEI work focuses solely on race and gender and not broader dimensions of diversity, the majority group (white, straight, cisgender men) often feels left out. This perpetuates the problem with those that hold the majority of positional power and influence in organizations not engaging in DEI work.
When we broaden diversity to include cultural intelligence, we invite allies with power to influence change in DEI work.
Related: Diversity Matters: Defining (And Developing) Your Cultural Quotient
What does cultural intelligence mean?
Cultural intelligence is "an outsider's seemingly natural ability to interpret someone's unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person's compatriots would." Alternatively, the Cultural Intelligence Center describes it as "the ability to work effectively across various cultural contexts (e.g. national, ethnic, organizational, generational, etc.)."
Cultural intelligence simply put: working effectively with people that are different from you.
There are many dimensions of difference in people — race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, disability, LGBTQ+, neurodivergence, mental health, age and culture — with many more.
Imagine for a moment what might be possible if more people could work more effectively with different types of people.
- What would it feel like to work with a culturally intelligent workforce?
- What would be different at your organization?
- What positive changes would be possible for DEI?
The benefits of cultural intelligence
When we value the full array of differences that an individual brings to an organization, performance increases.
- Studies show that toxic workplace cultures with a lack of respect and inclusion of cultural differences are primary predictors of employee turnover.
- Psychological safety, the ability to speak up and share hard things without the fear of retribution, is highly correlated with higher team performance. This kind of safety is more familiar to culturally intelligent teams.
- Culturally diverse teams are more likely to be more innovative, solve problems more deeply and perform better under uncertainty.
The business case for DEI has been around for a long time, yet representation and the perception of inclusion have not shifted. Without the broader lens of cultural intelligence, organizations lose sight of these benefits.
Related: How to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Your Workplace
How to bring cultural intelligence to your organization
Very few DEI programs are experiencing the outcomes they had hoped to achieve: 80% of organizations are estimated to be going through the motions of DEI without enacting real change. DEI work means doing things differently and disrupting the status quo. Systems in organizations need to shift to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive and cultural intelligence is often the missing link that can accelerate change.
To bring cultural intelligence to your organization, consider these ideas:
- Train the entire organization on cultural intelligence. Rarely are front-line workers trained on DEI beyond awareness training. Only 25% of organizations have DEI training included in leadership development training. Because DEI training is optional, employees lack the understanding of cultural intelligence for it to be valued and well-practiced. Cultural intelligence can be learned over time through education on empathy, vulnerability, candor and other key human skillsets.
- Communicate the importance of cultural intelligence. It is necessary to consistently and intentionally share information on cultural intelligence over time for it to stick. As with any culture change, appreciating differences and working with people with different backgrounds takes time. Look for stories from team members, clients or the community to showcase the skills on a personal level.
- Measure cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence is rarely assessed in performance reviews. Organizations more commonly measure the results of goals without measuring the behaviors that help accomplish the goals, leading to dissatisfaction among employees with 90% of HR leads believing reviews yield inaccurate information. This should also be measured at an organizational level with perception data from engagement surveys or specific DEI assessments.
Related: Not Where You Want to Be with Diversity and Inclusion? Consider a Bite-Sized Approach.
An organization I consulted with on cultural intelligence could apply these practices, citing a reduction in turnover of diverse groups, an increase in promotions of people with diverse backgrounds and a 20% improvement in perceived knowledge of cultural intelligence of those trained. Cultural intelligence skills were central to their measurement, communication and training practices.
Cultural intelligence is a vehicle to bring more allies into the conversation. When we expand the conversation on DEI beyond race and gender, we create a psychologically safe space for people with other dimensions of difference to join that might have otherwise thought they did not have a place in DEI.