Epic Remedies for a Cultural Fail

“So, does this mean you don’t report people who are breaking the rules?” a CEO asked. The question was prompted by an NBC News report: ”An author reported a Metro worker for eating on a train. Now she might lose her book deal.

The author in the headline, Natasha Tynes saw a uniformed Metro worker eating on the subway train, even though Metro rules state that eating is not allowed on trains. Tynes confronted the Metro worker who then told her to mind her own business.

Tynes posted a shaming tweet with the Metro worker’s picture on Twitter. Other Twitter users replied saying that Metro workers don’t really get time for meals, creating a backlash against the author. Despite the fact that she apologized and deleted the Tweet, Tynes’ publisher saw the backlash and canceled her book deal.

Both Tynes and the Metro worker are people of color. The irony is that, in this new media environment of ours, a misstep can destroy a person’s livelihood. To understand why and how this situation became so destructive, we need more information about how people can effectively navigate cross-cultural conversations.

Background information

In a previous blog post, “There’s Nothing Common About Vocabulary,” I explored how developing a common vocabulary builds trust and shared-understanding, which leads to greater collaboration, productivity and innovation in an organization. I explained that one of the best ways to develop a common vocabulary is for a leader to start with the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®) developed by Dr. Mitch Hammer.

The IDI, a 50-item on-line inventory, assesses an individual and group’s ability to effectively navigate cross-cultural conversations. This is done by measuring five core mindsets and associated behaviors for engaging diversity and creating an inclusive environment. The five core mindsets include: Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance or Adaptation.(2)

Five stages of cultural intelligence

The early stages of Denial and Polarization are mono-cultural mindsets.

  1. People and groups in Denial are committed to their own cultural values and practices and may not notice biases and deeper cultural patterns. When Denial is present in the workplace, people from diverse backgrounds often feel ignored.(2)
  2. People and groups in Polarization tend to be overly critical of cultural differences from an “us versus them” viewpoint. When Polarization is present in the workplace employees hear phrases like, “this is how we do things around here.” As a result, people can feel uncomfortable because cultural differences are seen as an obstacle or inferior.(2)

A mono-cultural mindset produces an assimilationist approach to staffing where minority talent is expected to fit into a workplace largely defined by the dominant cultural group. In that kind of workplace, assimilation can take the form of “sink or swim” for new hires. Leaders with this mindset typically assume new hires can figure out how things are done in an organization, “just like they did.” This can have negative consequences; individuals with diverse backgrounds can be left feeling ignored and uncomfortable, experiencing a sense of bias because their contributions go unrecognized.(2)

Minimization is the transitional stage from a mono-cultural to a multicultural mindset.

  1. People and groups in Minimization value commonalities and de-emphasize difference, resulting in a lack of deeper understanding of cultural differences. With a Minimization mindset, leadership tends to use a universalist approach by focusing on the elimination of bias through common policies that assure equal opportunity for all. While this can improve cross-cultural relationships, this mindset does not value diverse perspectives or how to bridge across cultural differences. As a result, minority perspectives and experiences are typically not fully heard, impacting collaboration and innovation.(2)

The later stages of Acceptance and Adaptation are multicultural or global mindsets that support cross-cultural understanding.

  1. People and groups in Acceptance are curious about and interested in cultural differences. However, they can be unclear about how to appropriately adapt their words and behaviors to cultural differences. When Acceptance is present, people with diverse backgrounds feel “understood.”(2)
  2. People and groups in Adaptation can appreciate different perspectives and adapt their words and behavior to another’s cultural context. When Adaptation is present in an organization people feel valued and engaged. Domestic and international diversity are valued as resources for multicultural team effectiveness and everyone is seen as a source of cultural intelligence.(2)

What can be done differently

The mindset of Adaptation, or a willingness to understand the complexity of the Metro worker’s situation and the ability to adapt one’s words to appreciate another’s cultural context, was missing in the Twitter interchange. Had they applied cultural intelligence, the author, Metro worker and publisher all would have done better.

  • When the author saw the Metro worker, instead of making it public on Twitter, she could have gone quietly to the Metro authorities and shared her observation that the organization doesn’t appear to have a good plan for a meal breaks for their workers.
  • The Metro worker could have said, “I get 20 minutes to eat on my meal breaks in transit and it’s not enough time. I’d appreciate if you’d speak up on my behalf.”
  • Tyne’s publisher did the very thing online trolls accused the author of doing to the Metro worker: threatening and possibly destroying her livelihood. Rather than reacting, the publisher and author could have collaborated on how to respond compassionately to the Metro worker and her situation.
  • The Twitter users who centered the backlash against Tynes assumed that, because the Metro worker is a person of color, the rules don’t apply – or perhaps assumed Tynes wasn’t a person of color and was being racist. For whatever their reason, they amplified their own assumptions. They too could have slowed down and learned more about the situation before contributing to the domino reaction of shame, blame and punish.

We need to recognize the charge of delight we get from “being right” and feeling “superior.” That feeling can lead us to act on snap judgements, victimizing others and jeopardizing our own wellbeing online.

After getting caught up in the rush of being right, we get defensive when we learn we were out of line. Being alert and practicing cultural intelligence, we can notice the impetus to get caught up in such feelings; we can instead slow down and consider the impact of our actions. We can ask ourselves: Is this for the greater good or just meeting a personal need?

What a leader can do

Along with utilizing the IDI® to assess our organization’s ability to navigate cross-cultural conversations, here are a few questions a leader can reflect on to determine if there is a need for more cultural intelligence:

  • How many people with different backgrounds have been hired across senior leadership, management and staff?
  • What areas of the organization are less diverse than others?
  • Are opportunities for continuous learning that builds cultural intelligence offered, particularly for building cultural self-awareness and awareness of the cultures being served in our marketplace?
  • Have learning experiences resulted in conversational and behavioral change so that everyone involved benefits?
  • Does affinity bias show up in hiring decisions?
  • What patterns of attrition do you see in the organization and what’s happening in those areas?

Many people don’t realize that two-thirds of people who take the Intercultural Development Inventory® world-wide are unknowingly stuck in the middle stage of Minimization. As a result, there is often strong pressure for people with diverse perspectives to conform to the dominant culture, which can result in people feeling unheard and excluded, and productivity and innovation getting blocked. And ultimately, those conditions can affect the bottom line.

But when an organization intentionally embraces the perspective of alternative cultural views and actively attempts to increase the repertoire of cultural vocabulary and behavior, domestic and international cultural differences are seen and used as an asset for the organization as a whole.


  1. By Janelle Griffith (May 12, 2019) “An author reported a Metro worker for eating on a train. Now she might lose her book deal, ” NBC News: https://apple.news/ADXd72a8SQOGONMxgNIj41w
  2. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.

WoManifesto: The Backstory

“Should I make myself Director of Design on the robotics team? Am I qualified?” asked my youngest daughter who is in high school. It was so cool to be able to share some of the research with her. Did you know men typically apply for jobs if their skills match just 60% of the job description; whereas, women think their skills need to match 100% of the job description?(1) So then I asked her if she felt she was at least 60% qualified.

Being great at rendering technical and creative drawings, she said, “Absolutely.” I asked her to reconsider her question. She not only decided to take the role of Director of Design, she encouraged other girls to join the team. She ended up recruiting enough girls to create a girls’ team within her high school’s larger previously male-dominated Robotics Team. And not only is she in charge of design, she is the co-lead of the girls’ team. Just from one person listening, recognizing and verbalizing another person as capable, a whole new productive and innovative team with new and specific market appeal was born in my kitchen.

In my blog post, “What’s a Guy to Do?” published last November, I explained how men can use their cultural intelligence to be allies for women at work. Last month, I published WoManifesto in the Workplace, where I explained how women can use cultural intelligence to progress at work. Since beginning this journey on how to unleash the full potential of our workforce to be more productive and innovative, the question for me has become how can we as parents, grandparents, mentors, colleagues and friends of girls and young women use cultural intelligence to help girls and young women become innovators and leaders in reality and amid current cultural norms?

For example, when someone says “leader,” “inventor,” “politician,” “scientist,” do we picture a man or a woman? How do we move our culture so we see both? These are the practical and implementable lessons my year-long personal journey on this question as a business leader and a mother has taught me. If our company employs women, why would we not want to get their full productive and innovative power in this generation as well as generations to come?

The very same day that I published, “What’s a Guy to Do?” my business strategist texted, “I think this is the best blog you’ve written yet! Now, what about the women? Considering it had taken two months to research and write about how men could be allies, I could only imagine what I’d have to learn to write a blog on behalf of women. Little did I know the impact it would have on my family.

With the naivete that often accompanies a new concept, I thought, “I’ll let the people at VoteRunLead.org teach me how to help women find their voice.” VoteRunLead is an organization that trains women to run for office and win. This extraordinary organization has trained more than 33,000 women and plans to have trained 1.2 million by 2020. During the interview, it became clear there was a lot I didn’t know about the systems that keep women silent and subordinate in the workplace. So, I set aside the transcript until I’d figured out next steps.

The book

Weeks later, I told my sister about the interview I’d done and blog I was considering. She said, “Before you write that blog, I think you might want to read the Soraya Chemaly’s book, Rage Becomes Her.” Before I knew it, she’d ordered the book and sent it to me as a holiday present. Some gift! Now I had to read it! It was a thick volume, no light read. I pathetically avoided it for weeks.

In January, I relented and started reading. For the first time, I was getting in-depth exposure to the realities of the system under which women have survived and continue to live. It took two months to work my way through her book.

It was a pivotal for me to learn that, “every girl learns, in varying degrees, to filter herself through messages of women’s relative cultural irrelevance, powerlessness and comparative worthlessness.”(2) (p 8) It’s no wonder that, “women are prone to what’s called imposter syndrome, which is characterized as insecurity about their abilities, and feeling less competent, prepared, and accomplished than their peers. They are less likely to believe they ‘deserve’ good things, including the rewards for their work.”(2)

As a woman and mother of four adult children, three of whom are young women, I was initially appalled to consider how I’d been complicit in a system that intentionally and inadvertently communicates worthlessness to our daughters. It was becoming personal; I wanted to do better.

I learned that one of the ways my husband and I’d been complicit was by interrupting our daughters. Studies show that parents interrupt their girls at twice the rate they do their boys. (2) That reality takes a toll on women. The most fundamental bias we face—the one underlying all the others—is the message that women are inherently less worth listening to than men.

That’s borne out in the medical profession. Chemaly’s explains, “Studies in implicit bias consistently show that most people, including, importantly, medical professionals of all genders and ethnicities, have a difficult time taking women’s pain seriously.” In one study that looked at abdominal pain, women waited roughly 15 minutes longer before seeing a doctor in emergency rooms, and it’s worse for women of color.(2)

It was depressing to become aware of such statistics about women, but what broke my heart was learning from a friend that she’d been sexually assaulted throughout her childhood and how it impacted her ability to relate to men. Sexual assault is a criminal offense, and the law also recognizes sexual harassment as a form of employment discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) reports that between 2005 and 2015, women made eight in ten sexual harassment charges to the EEOC. Among women, black women were the most likely of all racial and ethnic groups to have filed a sexual harassment charge.

Research suggests that only a small number of those who experience harassment (one in ten) ever formally report incidents of harassment—let alone make a charge to the EEOC—because of embarrassment, fear of retaliation or a lack of accessible complaints processes. Fear or reporting is justified since 71% of sexual harassment charges in FY 2017 included a charge of retaliation.(3)

Workplace harassment results in substantial costs to companies, including legal costs, employee turnover, and costs related to lower productivity from increased absences, lower motivation and commitment, and team disruption. A U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board study from the early 1990s estimated the economic costs of sexual harassment to federal government workplaces over a two-year period at $327 million.(3)

My family gets involved

Wanting to get to the root cause of this workplace disruption, I read feminist Andrea Dworkin’s poignant 1983 talk given at the Midwest Regional Conference of the National Organization for Changing Men, “I Want a 24-Hour Truce in Which There Is No Rape.” I read it aloud with my husband and son.

My husband and I realized that we needed to recognize out loud, as a family, what women have to do on a daily basis to protect themselves, for example when walking alone at night through a parking lot or across a college campus. Until then, our 19-year-old son hadn’t realized the lengths to which his mom, sisters and female friends go every day to protect themselves.

This awareness resulted in conversations about how our younger daughter needs to be more alert for her own safety and our son needs to learn how to be an ally for women on his university campus. Activist Jackson Katz’ illustrates in his TED Talk, “Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue,” how men can use their power to speak up and be a bystander to create a peer culture where demeaning women is unacceptable.

It was later in the summer that the blog I didn’t think I could write came back to mind. And considering what I was learning, I understood why I had been so intimidated about writing a blog to empower women.

Until I began this intentional research, I hadn’t seen the cultural system that keeps women feeling left out and pushed out. I had fallen into the same trap many of us do. In fact, two-thirds of people who take the Intercultural Development Inventory® world-wide are unknowingly stuck in the developmental stage of Minimization.

The danger is that people in the developmental stage of Minimization tend to assume all people, regardless of the minority group they represent, have the same experience.(6) And because we want equality and fairness, thinking this is best achieved by treating everyone essentially the same, differences between individuals and minorities are not recognized—even de-emphasized, sidelining and silencing women.

Without acknowledging women’s unique perspectives and seeing them as an asset, companies will not realize the value their diverse voices promise—because they won’t hear their voices. The global workplace nonprofit Catalyst found that, “companies with the most women board directors outperformed those with the least on return on sales (ROS) by 16% and return on invested capital (ROIC) by 26%.”(7)

What parents, grandparents, mentors, colleagues and friends can do

Because we are entrenched in our cultural habits, we don’t see our own biases. Had I not been researching the subject, I wouldn’t have known how to coach my daughter. For example, Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project, “found that 23% of girls and 40%t of boys preferred male political leaders instead of female, while only 8% of girls and 4% of boys preferred female political leaders.”(8) At a school-age level that translates to inadvertently granting more power to boys and less leadership opportunities for girls on school councils. Because our bias is so pervasive, I wondered what else parents, grandparents, mentors, colleagues and friends can do to help their children to become leaders. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Check our own biases. Because biases are so ingrained, question daily messages in the media of what is expected from females and males. Expose children to images that contradict stereotypes. Watch our language, for example use the term “firefighter” instead of “fireman.” Ask kids to give us feedback if we are modeling stereotypes or expressing bias. It can be challenging to receive this kind of feedback; however, even if circumstances don’t allow for a change, the conversation can be empowering.(8)
  2. Engage our kids in making our homes “bias-aware.” Proactively start family conversations about how responsibilities get divvied up in our family. Take advantage of children’s sense of fairness and discuss what is fair and balanced rather than making assumptions about who does what based on gender. We can periodically ask our kids whether they think family practices are gender-biased, if there are different expectations for males and females and how they could be made fairer. Parents can share stories of how they’ve seen roles evolve in their lifetime.(8)
  3. Help kids kick stereotypes. Kids learn from the adults in their lives how to recognize bias in themselves and others. They also learn how bias and stereotypes can get in the way of getting to know other people. Ask kids to watch for unfair images of themselves and others. Create a list together of gender stereotypes seen and heard. Talk about how stereotypes make people feel, and as a result, can get in the way of getting making new friends.(8)
  4. Don’t accept that “boys will be boys.” Just because it’s an old adage doesn’t make it helpful or truthful now. Too often boys’ demeaning language and remarks about girls go unchecked because we don’t know what to say. Talk about real honor and strength. Point out to boys the false bravado in demeaning girls and people that are different from them and strength in defying one’s peers when they devalue people. Talk about commonly used words to describe girls and why they’re offensive, even when they’re “just a joke.” Brainstorm strategies with boys for talking to their peers about this denigration that won’t cause them to be spurned or ridiculed.(8)
  5. Grow girls’ leadership skills. To contradict negative images, expose girls to exemplary leaders. Discuss how their interests and passions align with different types of leadership. Develop skills: encourage opportunities for public speaking and debate. Have them participate in family decision-making processes and discuss how to take action at school around problems they’re concerned about.(8)

Chemaly taught me that, “women cannot, by themselves, remedy this situation. We can, however, deliberately and methodically set out to grow people, build families, communities and institutions and societies that take our [women’s] concerns seriously and recognize what happens to us is important. Not because we are enraged or suffering but because we are valued.”(2)

With cultural intelligence we can appreciate others’ perspectives even if they are not like our own and adapt our behavior so that each of us feels valued and heard. Employee safety and belonging is the means to an end: that of greater productivity, innovation and profit in every organization. –Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

1. Mohr, T (Aug 23, 2014) “Why women don’t apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified.” Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified
2. Chemaly, S. (2018). Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, New York: Atria Books.
3. Shaw, E., Hegewisch, A., Hess, C. (October 2918) “Sexual harassment and assault at work: Understanding the costs.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research: https://iwpr.org/publications/sexual-harassment-work-cost/
4. Bindel, J. (April 19, 2018) “Why Andrea Dworkin is the radical, visionary feminist we need in our terrible times,” The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/apr/16/why-andrea-dworkin-is-the-radical-visionary-feminist-we-need-in-our-terrible-times
5. Katz, J (May 29, 2013) “Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue.” TedTalk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElJxUVJ8blw&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1G2BTMutEy8k6adQ7FAA4yJtf2ydayCJv9xYX5xmAmkoSMYCdTh7NnS4U
6. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
7. (2013) “Why diversity matters.” The Catalyst Information Center: https://www.catalyst.org/system/files/why_diversity_matters_catalyst_0.pdf
8. Joyce, A (July 28,2015) “Are you holding your daughter back? Here are 5 ways to raise girls to be leaders.” The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/07/28/are-you-holding-your-daughter-back-a-harvard-psychologist-gives-5-ways-to-raise-girls-to-be-leaders/