“I love my company, but I’m afraid to go back to work. I’ll see her in the hall and won’t know how to act. If I’m this nervous about being at work, I can only imagine how she feels,” said the high-performing employee as she left for a business trip immediately after being called culturally insensitive. She had no time to address the conflict before she left and didn’t have the training or know-how to respond to her colleague’s accusations. With no skills and no place to turn in the company, she was worried how this conflict was going to impact her work and work relationships.
This employee’s concerns are a real distraction and a drain on productivity and profit; it’s an igniting point for drama. It’s also a sign an organization is stuck in a mono-culture mindset, lacking cultural intelligence. A mono-cultural approach incites conflict by upholding dominant group practices as superior to minority group practices, requiring assimilation and adoption of the dominant group’s culture in both overt and subtle ways. The end result leaves people unheard, excluded, less productive, blocked from innovative contributions and polluting overall morale. As an employer, it hits the bottom line hard.
Seven Signs a Company Lacks Intelligence
- Low employee engagement
- Inability to talk and work effectively with people that are different
- Lack of innovation or stagnant productivity
- Infighting between groups
- Inability to reach new markets
- Failure to attract, retain or promote diverse talent
- Tardiness and high turnover
Change is Hard
Sometimes it seems easier to stick with the status quo. We don’t like change. However, as U.S. demographics shift, we must adjust to get the full productivity of our workforce. We may experience confusion, anxiety and anger. We may even feel denial or blame others in the transition period. The tendency will be to resist the changes, especially since it’s not yet apparent what we are adjusting to.
What Has Changed?
While race and ethnicity are fluid concepts created by social consensus, personal self-identification and other means, those concepts effect attitudes and behaviors of workforces and marketplaces.(1) These statistics show how demographics have shifted in the U.S.:
- Foreign born: 1965 – 5% | Now – 14% | 2040 – 17%(2)
- Asia: Largest source of new immigrants to the U.S.(3)
- Millennials as a generation:
- Born from 1981 to 1996, adults from 23 – 38 in 2019
- Largest generation currently in the workforce
- 71 million people compared to 74 million Baby Boomers
- Most diverse group with 43% people of color(4)
- Breadwinner in 40% of all households with children in 2011
- Slow to rise, without parity to men, in their share of top leadership positions (3)
Overall, American attitudes about immigration and diversity are supportive of these changes. More Americans say immigrants strengthen the country than those that say burden it, and most say the U.S.’s increasing ethnic diversity makes it a better place to live.(3)
How Cultural Intelligence Can Help an Organization
With this demographic shift, also with the current unemployment rate at 4%, cultural intelligence and inclusion have emerged as crucial practices to an organization’s success. A well-designed and well-executed strategy can help stabilize an organization:
- Achieve its organizational vision, mission, strategy, and annual goals
- Attract, retain and promote diverse talent
- Build strong and high-performing teams
- Leverage a range of backgrounds and skills to enhance creativity, innovation, and problem solving
- Increase engagement, motivation, and productivity
- Enhance the organization’s reputation/brand as an employer or provider of choice
- Minimize risk/exposure and ensure compliance with legal requirements
- Create an environment where people experience safety and belonging(5)
What’s a Leader to Do?
To increase engagement, collaboration and productivity, leaders must shift an organization from a mono-cultural, compliance mindset to a proactive culturally intelligent mindset. HR guru Dale Kreienkamp suggests starting with these questions:
- With sensitive and confidential concerns, is the perception of our Human Resources function independent, accessible, safe, comfortable and retaliation-free for all employees?
- Are we training and equipping our managers to support their direct-reports when anticipating or working through cross-cultural conflict?
- With hurt or offended employees, is there a strategic people-plan in place that leaves employees feeling empowered with new tools?
- Is there a diverse team of employees to help individuals successfully navigate and anticipate intercultural situations with both colleagues and clients?
To become an employer-of-choice, we must adjust to the changing times and context. While we may resist the change, it’s important to note that companies with the most ethnic diversity on their executive team are 43% more likely to experience higher profitability.(6) However, to achieve those profit margins, organizations must leverage and engage each person’s full value and develop a strategic people-plan for cultural intelligence and inclusion. -Amy Narishkin, PhD
- Liebler et al., 2014; Pew Research Center, 2015b; Wang, 2015
- (Sept. 28, 2015) Chapter 2: Immigration’s Impact on Past and Future U.S. Population Change Pew Center Research: https://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/chapter-2-immigrations-impact-on-past-and-future-u-s-population-change/
- Cohn, D & Caumont, A (March 31, 2016) 10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world. Pew Center Research: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/31/10-demographic-trends-that-are-shaping-the-u-s-and-the-world/
- Cilluffo, A & Cohn, D (April 25, 2018) 7 demographic trends shaping the U.S. and the world in 2018. Pew Center Research: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/25/7-demographic-trends-shaping-the-u-s-and-the-world-in-2018/
- O’Mara, J. & Richter, A (2017) Global Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarks. The Centre for Global Inclusion: http://centreforglobalinclusion.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/GDIB-V.090517.pdf
- Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S. & Yee, L (2017) Delivering Through Diversity. New York: McKinsey & Co.
Because it takes a village, I’d also like to thank Kellee Sikes, Abby Narishkin, and Bettie Rooks for helping craft this blog.
To recruit and retain top talent from diverse backgrounds, leaders can create a culture of safety and belonging for everyone in their organization. With a PhD in Adult Education, Amy works with CEO’s, management teams and group leaders to successfully onboard new recruits by shifting from a mono-cultural to multicultural mindset by developing the skills for cultural intelligence. Learn the skills in six 1.5-hour long Workshops. For more information, contact: [email protected]