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LEADERSHIP

Inclusion in a Very English Way. Why Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Makes Inclusion, Inclusive

INSIGHTS: DIFFERENCE

Inclusion in a Very English Way: Why Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Makes Inclusion, Inclusive

Why we need to constantly question our assumptions about what Inclusion looks and feels like from different cultural perspectives.
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“Ask most people about what inclusion looks like at work and two words instantly pop up – respect and value (being respected and being valued). To what degree, however, is an individual’s perception of being respected and valued in the workplace defined by their cultural background, values, and cultural preferences? If culture does make a difference, then by what cultural lens are we defining inclusion when we talk about it. Do we just mean inclusion the English way?”


September 27 – October 3 is National Inclusion week in 2021, similar to last year, social media will probably be awash with the voices of many reiterating the importance and relevance of Inclusion to the diversity agenda. It is very encouraging to see Inclusion celebrated in its own right. Even more so, that there is now a clear recognition that diversity itself, does not automatically mean Inclusion. One would go so far to suggest, that diversity in any workplace without equity and inclusion is just tokenism, a demeaning numbers game that leaves many of its target groups and champions, broken, disillusioned, and frustrated.

As encouraging as this emerging focus on Inclusion is, I wonder if there is a real danger that it becomes a meaningless buzzword. Could it too become an aspirational ‘catch-all’ for all our shared ambitions around the reality of an equal and fair society?

This danger, I believe, lies in the underlying assumption that Inclusion itself is monochromic, particularly concerning ethnicity. That it means the same in every cultural context and is not shaped or defined by the cultural values and preferences of those who seek to include and/or those who are being ‘included’. This assumption would suggest that being included, looks, and feels the same to everyone irrespective of their cultural or indeed social background. I am not sure it is that simple.

Ask most people about what inclusion looks like at work and two words instantly pop up – respect and value (being respected and being valued). To what degree, however, is an individual’s perception of being respected and valued in the workplace defined by their cultural background, values, and cultural preferences? If culture does make a difference, then by what cultural lens are we defining inclusion when we talk about it. Do we just mean inclusion the English way?

As a Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Trainer and Facilitator, I constantly question my assumptions about what Inclusion looks and feels like from different cultural perspectives. I do so now, through the lens of enhanced Cultural Intelligence (CQ) and a growing deeper appreciation of the impact of cultural values and preferences on intercultural interactions between individuals.

Here’s an example. In some cultures (high power distance cultures), respecting your boss/manager means listening and in many cases acquiescing quietly to what they have to say. It means, not disagreeing with them in meetings even if you think they are wrong. In these cultures, respect can be submissive and can involve surrendering one’s rights in favor of a ‘superior.’ Hierarchy is essential, and status is everything. Professional standing is expected to be clearly, visually defined in the perks that come with seniority of office. Decision-making (even the most basic) powers are intentionally invested in the hierarchy. Respect, especially from subordinates means being treated with suitable deference in all things.

In other cultures, (low power distance cultures) a person who sits quietly in a meeting, seemingly unwilling to challenge or debate in front of a manager/leader can be perceived as lacking character or initiative. Individuals at all levels in the workplace are expected to demonstrate an ability to make decisions, prioritize without continually checking with a manager and work on their own initiative. Open, shared office spaces are all the rage. Flashing signs of your authority or title, especially in the public sector is generally considered inappropriate behavior. Respect is expected to be a two-way street, and deliberate attempts to assert authority vested in your position over subordinates can be seen as bullying and is frowned upon. I found this chart on the internet that loosely sets this out.

It is clear that leaders in these different cultural contexts will have different views about what respect for their positions in the workplace will look and feel like as will the individuals lower down the pecking scale about being valued. As a young fresh graduate arriving back to the UK from Nigeria and having grown up in a high power distance culture and perhaps an even higher power distance family, I remember my confusion as I tried to come to grips with these conflicting perspectives.

When my first UK ‘boss’ asked what I thought about a new proposal he was presenting, I genuinely thought it was a trick question. Nothing in me felt it was appropriate or safe to give him my honest opinion which as it was, wasn’t entirely positive. In my view, to express that would have been ‘disrespectful.’ 

So here is the rub. In an ethnically diverse team, set in a low power distance culture where the manager and team members are from diverse cultural backgrounds (Low/high), which definition of respect/value wins out? How does the other individual or individuals resolve the potential loss of part of their cultural identity in the workplace and still feel valued and respected? Can they express their confusion without fear of being patronised, judged, treated as if their own values are retrograde, backward or ‘just not the way we do things round here’. Is simply conforming (by choice or by expectation#) to the dominant cultural perspective real Inclusion? 

The issue here is not about which of these two cultural perspectives with regards to respect is preferable or ‘right.’ We will naturally all make that judgement through our own cultural lens and the cultural values of the environment in which we live. While a High Power Distance approach to ‘respect’ and ‘value’ may not sit well with our Eurocentric view of the world, it is the very real and lived experience of many people from African, Asian and Middle Eastern parts of the world and an acceptable way of doing things within the workplace, socially and in families. 

This is where Cultural Intelligence (CQ) becomes vital. The Cultural Intelligence Quotient (CQ) is defined as the capability to work effectively across diverse cultural contexts, including ethnic, generational, organisational, etc. I think it’s relevance to inclusion lies in the fact that it provides a common ground for the ‘includers’ and those to be included. Both sides benefit immensely from developing the core capabilities that are key to an enhanced Cultural Intelligence (CQ) in individuals and teams. These shared capabilities make inclusion for all, a comfortable reality. 

Individuals with enhanced CQ Drive are motivated to learn and adapt to new and diverse cultural settings and values. This is important because it provides an open and curious platform on which differences in perspectives can are identified and engaged with positively.

Individuals with enhanced CQ Knowledge have a rich, well-organised understanding of culture and how it affects the way people think and behave. They understand that assumptions and stereotypes based on one’s own cultural values and preferences are the death of inclusion and diversity.

Individuals with enhanced CQ Strategy think about multicultural interactions before and after they occur. They recognise the importance of planning, checking, and most importantly possess a refined awareness of the cultural perspectives of self and others during interactions with people different from themselves.

Finally, individuals with enhanced CQ Action translate their CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, and CQ Strategy into action. They know when and where to adapt their behavior and speech. They know how important this is to make others feel valued, accepted, and in some cases, safe in the workplace.

All of these components can be assessed, developed in individuals and teams and it works. Research tells us that where CQ levels are low, diverse teams will underperform against homogenous teams on every key indicator – performance, productivity, creativity and innovation. Where CQ levels are high, the reverse is true; diverse teams significantly outperform homogenous teams on every indicator.

Cultural Intelligence makes inclusion a shared and jointly owned agenda. It tackles the suspicions, misunderstandings, and friction that inevitably occurs when diverse cultural perspectives come together. It challenges the subtle, covert cultural superiority that sadly, so often underpins misjudged, patronising attempts at inclusion. It says it’s ok to be different but equips us to respond and react to difference in a way that is universally respectful. CQ helps us do difference better.

The challenge is not about how diverse organisations look but how diverse they feel for everyone. Those feelings will always be shaped and analysed through the lens of our diverse cultural values, lived experiences, and preferences. Real inclusion comes when we openly acknowledge those differences, recognise the distances that everyone has to travel to an agreed and shared set of values around being and doing in the workplace. When teams are Culturally Intelligent, they make this journey together. There are no ‘includers’ and ‘included’ just a diverse and beautiful spectrum of individuals seeking, learning, experiencing, and shaping together. 

These are the individuals and leaders that produce innovative, inclusive and creative solutions that make the world a much better place for all.

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DIFFERENCE

Disrupting Unconscious Bias: Recognising Evidence Based Cultural Intelligence and Inclusion

INSIGHTS: DIFFERENCE

Disrupting Unconscious Bias: Recognising Evidence Based Cultural Intelligence and Inclusion

Unconscious Bias (UB) Awareness workshops have been recommended as a panacea to the Diversity and Inclusion concerns. However, at Above Difference we’d like to offer you an alternative.

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“One theory is that if training tells us we’re all biased, we might no longer think we need to make an effort or that making an effort will make a difference. Afterwards, a participant might come away with a sense of relief: they’ve been shown that their bias isn’t really their fault at all. The eagerness to label all bias as unconscious could allow us to evade responsibility for the harm it causes.”

In December 2020, unconscious bias training was scrapped for civil servants in England because ministers said it does not work.

The government followed the data which says there is no evidence that it changes attitudes. It also urged other public sector employers to end this type of training.1

Sadly, we see instances of bias everywhere. How it manifests itself and the impact is important but expecting people to be aware of their unconscious and mitigate themselves, is not, actually, possible.

Take this recently updated academic paper which aggregates into one, 492 studies on the matter, with nearly 90-thousand participants.

It concludes: We found that implicit measures can be changed, but effects are often relatively weak… Procedures changed explicit measures less consistently and to a smaller degree than implicit measures and generally produced trivial changes in behaviour … Our findings suggest that changes in implicit measures are possible, but those changes do not necessarily translate into changes in explicit measures or behaviour.2

So, even if weak changes in implicit bias occur, they do not mediate downstream changes in explicit bias or behaviour, and if they did, they are trivial in nature. The recommendation from the author of the report: Do not try to change implicit bias… Instead focus on working around it. Target other inter group outcomes and teach folks to create procedural changes that prevent the influence of hidden biases.3

Add to this, the work of Alexandra Kalev, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University who found that not only that bad training doesn’t work, but that it can be counterproductive, so the targets set to improve diversity in leadership can, in fact, be reversed! She found that efforts to get people to suppress their stereotypes can actually work to reinforce them. Often, any positive change is weak and short term.

“One theory is that if training tells us we’re all biased, we might no longer think we need to make an effort or that making an effort will make a difference. Afterwards, a participant might come away with a sense of relief: they’ve been shown that their bias isn’t really their fault at all. The eagerness to label all bias as unconscious could allow us to evade responsibility for the harm it causes.

And many businesses might see the training as a complete solution to their discrimination problems: a quick fix. But although unconscious bias training opens the door to fruitful conversations about bias, by itself it won’t make you or your company any less biased than you were before.”4

Face-to-face UB courses, whilst good at helping people realise UB exists and how it manifests itself, it doesn’t focus enough about impact and still expects people to mitigate themselves and makes no mention of the requirement of processes and structures to change in order to assist with mitigation.

A report by the EHRC also points to raising awareness being useful – as I say, helping people realise what UB is part of the knowledge piece to open the conversation – but evidence for behaviour change is weak.5

And yet another report, the ‘Diversity management that works’ review found that while training did increase awareness of issues such as unconscious bias, evidence of attitude and behavioural change among staff as a result of the training was less conclusive.6

Daniel Kahneman, the “father of heuristics” says it’s extremely difficult to catch yourself doing something unconsciously. When asked why you made a decision, you’ll convince yourself of a valid reason, when in reality your unconscious forced you to come to a conclusion based on your bias and short-cutting of information, a cerebral process of which you’re completely unaware. And yet the conscious decision-making process, which you do control, is “who you think you are”.7

Report after report after report shows, the repeated suggestion that we can, by being aware, mitigate our own unconscious bias is not correct. We must stop saying and teaching that. We need to put less store by the training and more by the overall structures and processes we need to create, implement and enforce to mitigate it. We must also put more effort into creating a culture of feedback where it’s ok to call it out other’s bias because a diversity of staff can see and feel it more clearly than we’d ever be able to in ourselves, and for the recipient of that feedback not to be defensive about it.

And, allow people who can see and feel them, to call out issues, and don’t then vilify them for it. (Image: The ‘Problem’ Woman of Colour in the Workplace)8

Above Difference would suggest you consider the most academically robust approach in helping with this mitigation, Cultural Intelligence (CQ). CQ is made up of four capabilities which when built on each other allow you to succeed in working and relating effectively with people who are different from you.

The first capability CQ Drive, your motivation to enter into work and personal situations with those different from you, can be hindered by your bias, conscious and unconscious, so being able to recognise the element of discomfort in yourself, challenge this and use the tools of intrinsic, extrinsic motivation as well as calling upon your self-efficacy, is vital. A CQ assessment helps you pinpoint where you are on this scale and that enables you to improve it.

CQ Knowledge, the second capability, helps you tackle bias by encouraging you to focus on growing what you know about those different from you.

The third capability, CQ Strategy is especially crucial when dealing with UB. It requires you to stop, think about what you’re thinking about and stereotype you might be holding, and check your assumptions. It asks you to be hugely self-aware. It means you plan before executing any behaviour in a situation with those who are different from you. As part of CQ Strategy we would agree you should put in place procedural changes that prevent the influence of hidden biases, as Professor Lai suggests.

Those high in the fourth capability CQ Action, have a broad repertoire of thoughtful behaviours to call upon, which means they’re less likely to act in a biased way.

Above Difference has, at its core, a fundamental belief, that an individual’s ability to decisively and intentionally create inclusive workplace cultures, can be developed, so diversity is recognised as an organisation’s greatest asset and all cultures are valued and respected. And that’s a very conscious credo.