Three Steps to Bridge the Political Divide

Three Steps to Bridge the Political Divide

“No matter who wins the upcoming election, there’s going to be a need for healing in this country,” said Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, Chief Medical Officer for Prevention at the American Heart Association. After attending my presentation, Eduardo said, “Cultural intelligence is an answer to the political divide.”

I asked him: “I think so too, but what prompts you to say that?”

Eduardo: “The root cause of the political divide is binary thinking. Binary thinking is a false narrative. There’s always more to the story about a person or problem. With cultural intelligence, you’re teaching people to really listen to others, learn their story and seek common ground. It’s like the middle space that overlaps the parts in a Venn diagram. Until you share your story and describe the nuance of your thinking, neither of you can imagine there’s common ground between you.”

Amy: “I like your analogy of the Venn Diagram. That helps me picture this. We don’t have to agree on all points; we can listen and find out where our thoughts, feelings and values overlap. Eduardo, what do you do when someone makes a strong statement that’s off-putting or maddening to you?”

Eduardo: “How does anyone engage in conversations with people who seem to completely disagree or are caught up in an exclusive agenda? You have to dig down with that person and learn more about their perspective. I often discover that they too care for people.

“I’ve heard people say that what makes Latinos unique is that they love to dance to good music and they love to eat good food. I can’t imagine there isn’t a person or group on this earth that doesn’t like to eat the food and dance to the music they love. That’s the common ground, if we look for it. But with wider gaps and tough topics, you have to dig down to get to the common ground.”

Amy: “That’s where we can be a healer – in our workplaces, community spaces, and homes – and figure out what brings us together. What is the divisor – the dividing factor – in a conversation?”

Eduardo: “I can give you an example. We may not all agree that everyone has the right to have health insurance but it is true that the lifespan in the U.S. is shorter overall than in most other Western countries. We can probably agree that there are health challenges that need to be addressed and identify the problem or pain point we can agree on. Then work from there.”

Amy: “So the problem or pain we want to solve is what leads us to the common ground where we can meet?

Eduardo: “Yes. There are two places where we get hung up and run into division – 1) when we’re trying to figure out the cause of the problem and 2) when we’re trying to determine what the solution should be. For the sake of healing or coming back together, we need to set aside what we think caused the problem and what we think will be the solution and instead figure out the pain we want to address.”

Amy: “So rather than getting hung up on a battle-ground issue, we can focus on finding the pain we can agree on that we’d like to address. Can you share an example?”

Eduardo: “Books in libraries is a battle-ground issue. If you think about it, the number of books people are concerned about isn’t really that many. Instead, let’s focus on an issue I think we can all agree on: all children should be able to read at least at grade level.”

Amy: “You’re right, so many of us can agree that children should be able to read at least at grade level. I’m curious, what prompts you, as a medical doctor, to be thinking about getting kids reading?”

Eduardo: “After I finished my residency, I was a doctor in clinical care for 10 years, serving low-income families mostly without insurance. It turns out that level of education predicts health. More education results in better health for so many reasons.

“Back to kids and reading. It also turns out that kids in households with lower income are less likely to have books in their homes. There’s a correlation between the number of books in the home and how kids do in school. More books equal higher vocabulary in kindergarten, which increases the likelihood of reading on grade level by third grade, which means a higher likelihood of graduating from high school.

“This cascade sets the stage for at least one year of higher education or certificate training. At least one year of higher education or training equals a longer life. So, instead of sample drugs, I had children’s books in my exam rooms. Each child got a book before they left my office. For younger children, I’d tell the parents that by reading books to their kids, the kids will…

  • Enter school with more vocabulary
  • Grow greater a bond with them [their parents]
  • Realize that, between the front and back covers, there’s an adventure.

“Some parents were embarrassed that they couldn’t read. I’d tell them that their kids didn’t know whether or not they could read. I’d say, “Use the pictures and make up a story. Your child will learn words, bond with you, and enjoy an adventure. That would satisfy them.”

Amy: “While you treated individual medical issues, you also took the opportunity to address a public health issue.”

Eduardo: “Yes. Books improve long-term health outcomes. The point is, getting kids reading is something we can all agree is worth addressing. I hope this helps.”

Amy: “It does! Thank you for helping me see how you’re using cultural intelligence – compassion for another’s context – to find common ground with a person with whom you may initially disagree.”

To recap, here are three steps for overcoming division and creating change together:

  1. Rather than focusing on the battle-ground issue, seek a common-ground problem. You can ask: “What’s the pain or problem that is upsetting to us both?”
  2. Don’t strive to convert, seek to cooperate. You can ask: “What can we do together to address the pain?”
  3. Speak to the dignity within each person. You can ask: “How can we learn more so that all the stakeholders are involved in the eventual solution?”

Eduardo is right, cultural intelligence offers a path to seek a shared understanding and mutual appreciation. No doubt, these three steps take time, tenacity and tenderness. The best part though is that these three steps lead to win-win scenarios that bridge divides and nourish human connection in workplaces and community spaces. That’s what creates a sense of safety and belonging in any organization.

To learn more tools that create a sense of safety, belonging and connection in just six thirty-minute sessions, individual employees and work teams can take my online course, Awkward to Awesome. Hosted by MaryvilleWorks, the course provides innovative, market-relevant workforce development solutions designed to meet your needs and complement your business strategy.

 Photo by Manuel Mnvx on Unsplash

‘Why don’t you think before before you speak?’

‘Why don’t you think before before you speak?’

“Why don’t you think before you speak?”
Maybe you were chastised with that question as a kid.
Or maybe that was a thought about a colleague, client or cousin.

What exactly does it mean to “think before you speak”?
What can you think about before you speak?

With cultural intelligence, each encounter is a chance to learn
Learn about the other person’s context.
Learn about their experience.

Why bother?
That’s how you flip assuming to knowing.
That’s how you uncover what’s up and what’s hurting.
That’s how your gaze softens.
That’s how you create connection.

When someone says something off-putting, demeaning or maddening:
“Think before you speak” and act.
Slow down and take a breath.
Maybe take three deep breaths to buy you a moment,
To drop your heart rate.

With that softer gaze, you could gently ask…
“How’d you feel about that?”
“What happened?”
“What’s going on for you?”

Then hear them all … the … way … out. Because…
It’s in their answer you discover their circumstances.
It’s in their story you uncover compassion.
It’s thinking before speaking that…
Bridges divides and…
Nourishes human connection.

To learn more tools, take my online course, Awkward to Awesome. Discover two tools in each of the six 30-minute sessions to bridge divides and generate more productivity, engagement and commitment in any workplace and community. Hosted by Maryville University.


  1. Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash
Maximize Group Engagement

Maximize Group Engagement

“People keep turning our meeting into a political debate. No one is listening to anyone,” said Lillian, a middle manager. She asked, “I want to facilitate a discussion where everyone feels included and we all learn from one another. Is that even possible?”

“Absolutely,” I said, “No one needs to railroad people and no one needs to feel left out or pushed out. While you can’t control others’ behavior, you can provide the structure to maximize group engagement and care for each team member. Do you want me to suggest a structure you can try?”

Lillian said, “Yes, please.”

The structure

The structure provides the space for everyone to slow down and shift mindless reaction to thoughtful response. The structure includes:

  1. Background information
  2. Communication guidelines
  3. Steps for implementation

Background information

Even when people are conscious of cultural differences, unconscious assumptions can kick in even before we realize it and block communication. For example, studies show both men and women are more likely to interrupt and talk over girls and women than they are over boys and men. Since this is true even in scripted television shows and movies, we need to be aware of the impact unconscious practices can have in group settings.(1)

It’s not only happening to women, however.

It may be helpful to know that people from any historically marginalized group, women, people of color and those who are differently abled, may hesitate to speak up for fear of retaliation, misrepresentation, social isolation or job loss, even when they’re asked to speak up.

Being alert to this is especially important for those of us who are part of the dominant culture. In the U.S., people of dominant culture can inadvertently make ourselves the center of the conversation, interrupt others and offer unsolicited solutions. We can come across as the knowers rather than the learners and the speakers rather than the listeners, blocking genuine engagement for the whole group in general and people of historically marginalized groups in particular. Being aware of and alert to our own and other people’s context, allows us to adapt our words and actions to show genuine respect for our own and their circumstances. This is cultural intelligence in action.

To counter dominant culture tendencies so that everyone has the opportunity to speak up, we can intentionally set in motion new guidelines for speech and behavior. That way, we won’t miss valuable front-line input because of one-way communication habits. Here are some guidelines we can use:

Communication guidelines

  • Affirm another’s experience, whether or not your experience is the same.
  • Listen actively – hear the person out
  • Check the impact of your words rather than explaining your intent.
  • Honor confidentiality.
  • Share airtime and let the person finish talking.
  • Speak from my own experience – use “I” statements
  • Say “Ouch” if you’ve been hurt.
  • Say “Oops” if you mess up.
  • Express curiosity and wonder with gentle questions.

Steps for implementation

As the leader, say: “Because everyone’s ideas are important to the group dynamics, we’re putting in place Communication Guidelines.” You can also explain that because these guidelines are not necessarily intuitive and may run counter to some people’s culture, it can be initially uncomfortable for some participants to speak and act this way. But with practice the awkwardness will pass. As the guidelines become the new norm, the upside is, everyone will feel more valued, heard and seen. A genuine authenticity among the group members can show up, along with ever greater engagement and collaboration. Here are some steps you can now take:

  1. Post the Communication Guidelines and ensure everyone has their own copy.
  2. Ask someone to read them aloud.
  3. Review each guideline and ask for examples of what each one might sound like.
  4. Begin your discussion by asking an open-ended question, such as: “What are the needs?” or “Who does this work impact?”
  5. Express appreciation out loud regularly (especially at first) when someone uses a guideline.


The leader whose discussion kept dissolving into politics called back to tell me how well her next meeting went. She was thrilled that, as she introduced and gently enforced the Guidelines, no one railroaded the conversation. Everyone stayed on topic. Participants allowed each other to finish their ideas and affirmed one another’s experiences – even if they didn’t agree. She said, “Now, rather than dreading the next meeting, I can’t wait to get back to the group and keep the conversation rolling.”

Engagement, productivity and collaboration all get dinged when conversations take a bad turn. To get from workplace drama and factions to collaborating teams, we can set in motion a new norm, a culturally intelligent system for communication. This allows leaders to gain the full strengths of their diverse workforce and build organic collaboration and retention because people feel valued, seen and heard. How people feel is essential to growing productivity, engagement and collaboration in any organization.  -Amy Narishkin, PhD

So often people just don’t have the language or skills to talk and work with people who seem different. Self-study can be a great way to get started. Click to learn more about Empowering Partners’ new online self-study course: Awkward to Awesome: Boost Productivity, Diversity and Collaboration with Cultural Intelligence.


  1. Chemaly, S. (2018). Rage Becomes Her. New York: Atria Books
  2. Distefano, J. & Mazevski, M. (2012). “Creating Value with Diverse Teams in Global Management.” Organizational Dynamics:
  3. Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S. & Yee, L (2017) Delivering Through Diversity. New York: McKinsey & Co.
Police Chief Critiques Cultural Intelligence Course

Police Chief Critiques Cultural Intelligence Course

Empowering Partners, LLC is pleased to announce we’ve just launched a complete online self-study course, “Awkward to Awesome: Boost Productivity, Diversity and Collaboration with Cultural Intelligence,” on how to acknowledge and support cultural differences and see them as an asset for your organization. Chief Carter (not his real name at his request), a police chief in the St. Louis metro area, was kind enough to be an early reviewer of the course. The following conversation followed his critique.

Chief Carter said: “We need to overcome the ‘defensive posturing’ of people in my profession. I find police officers actually do want to explore the topics of policing and race, diversity, bias and minority engagement but are unsure of how to engage. So often though conversations don’t get past judgment, blame and finger-pointing which is what puts people on the defensive. So I’m always looking for ways to learn how we can be and do better.

Amy: “I understand. Blame and shame drive people away. Can you give me an example of what you’re on the lookout for?”

Chief Carter: “Last year I was at a Police Chief conference with over 100 Police Chiefs and over 100 School Resource Officers. The Anti-Defamation League [ADL] offers a course entitled ‘Implicit Bias.’ Only seven of us showed up for the class and perhaps two of us were Police Chiefs. I think so few showed up because of that perception: ‘This’ll just be another one of those classes where we’ll be criticized and judged for being in law enforcement.’

During the class, I noticed a lot of engagement, though, because the instructors from the ADL were accepting and not judging. They asked questions and allowed the participants to share their perspectives and become educated on issues that relate to law enforcement. It was a great interaction, but that perception of blame prevented many from attending.”

Amy: “Sounds like acceptance and #curiosity opened up an opportunity for constructive conversation, at least for those showed up. Too bad more conversations aren’t like that.”

Chief Carter: “Yes, that’s why I like how you started your online course teaching openness and curiosity. I like the five C’s for constructive conversation. ”He was talking about…

  1. Curiosity
  2. Contemplation
  3. Courage
  4. Context
  5. Compassion

“I think this is an accurate description of what it takes to stay open and talk through tough topics with people who have different opinions. In your course, I like how you immediately provide an example of how to use the 5 C’s to overcome the defensiveness people feel—and not just people in law enforcement. Your story “Connection, not Correction” is a good example of the kind of interaction that’s possible with cultural intelligence.”

Amy: “How do you use curiosity?”

Chief Carter: “This definition from your course is good, ‘Curiosity is the interest, intrigue and wonder about people, places and systems that are new and different.’ When I read that definition, I was reminded of the two Black coordinators I worked with from a group called Stand United. They came to our area for a protest march. After the protest, they asked to talk with me and other police chiefs about law enforcement perspectives, culture and reform.

I recall many police officers and their chiefs and the people representing Stand United wanted to engage in these discussions. We were all genuinely curious and recognized the opportunity to learn more about the other side. We were all in the same boat—we wanted to be educated on the other culture without being criticized or judged. This led to amazing discussions and understanding for both groups.”

Amy: “It’s awesome how you all were able to overcome any defensiveness and learn together. To come to that place of shared understanding, it sounds like everyone was more than just curious. It took #courage to slow down and open up the space for listening and learning together. In that space, you found #compassion for each other’s different contexts and vantage points. All five C’s were in play there.

“Was there a part of the course that helped you slow down to learn more about each other?”

Chief Carter: “Two things. I liked the one-minute meditation videos. They’re of high value in my opinion, because they allow reflection and focus. We have training where they teach us combat breathing for high-stress situations. Also, I liked the questions you have in the section, ‘How to Express Curiosity and Wonder.’ You said: ‘To get more information so you can appreciate about another person’s experience, you can ask:

  • Do you mind if I ask you a question?
  • What has been your experience?
  • How did you feel about that?
  • What was the impact of my words’

That was helpful, especially the last question. Law enforcement, and people in general, don’t realize how their words are coming across to other people.”

Amy: “It sounds like you’ve become aware of the impact of words. Do you have an example?”

Chief Carter: “In our talks between minority communities and law enforcement, we’ve discussed ‘trigger words,’ words that can instantly put people on the defensive and yet we have no idea of their impact. I noticed one of the first things you did in the course was build a common vocabulary.

“When I was talking to a member of the Black community, he relayed to us that he felt defensive when he heard a White person say ‘All Lives Matter.’ To him, the White person was minimizing the traumatic history of Blacks in America. Similarly, I’ve had White people who have said that they felt the term ‘Black Lives Matter’ minimized their belief that their life was equally important because it didn’t include everyone else. Both valued lives and wanted to feel seen and heard but didn’t seem to know how their words impacted others. There are words and concepts which have been relayed to me through various conversations that destroy communication by instantly putting participants on the defensive. It’s valuable to have discussions to identify these inflammatory words and phrases so we can understand one another’s perception.”

Amy: “It is important to understand how our words impact people. What tool in the course stood out to help with softening and learning how others perceive things?”

Chief Carter: “One tool I particularly liked was the S.T.O.P. technique. It’s a good de-escalation strategy that can be applied in law enforcement and the private sector:

  • S = Slow down…
  • T = Take three deep breaths…
  • O = Observe your emotion, your assumption and how the other person reacts and, if you’re safe…
  • P = Proceed with curiosity and wonder

This example in the course of how to use S.T.O.P. could prevent many different issues that law enforcement may have to eventually intervene on. Good job on that.” He was referring to this conversation:

  • Jason made a racist remark.
  • Mandy practiced S.T.O.P. and asked: “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
  • Jason: “Sure.”
  • Mandy: “What happened that made you so pissed off?”
  • Jason: “The company needed to increase their affirmative action numbers; I have the least seniority here, so they let me go at the end of this month.”
  • Mandy: “Ouch! That’s gotta be tough!”
  • Jason: “You’re not kidding. I have no idea how I am going to pay the bills while I look for another job.”
  • Mandy: “That sounds scary. Let me know if you want to put our heads together and brainstorm.”
  • Jason: “I appreciate you understanding. I’ll let you know.”

Amy: “Mandy slowed down with S.T.O.P. and showed she really felt for the guy, didn’t she? How does that kind of compassion come into play in your work?”

Chief Carter: “Compassion is definitely one of the foundations for dropping that defensiveness and opening up dialogue. Dignity and respect in all situations work great. I suggest to my command leaders to take a breath, get centered and quiet and then take a look at the different sides to an issue before acting.”

Amy: “Like S.T.O.P.”

Chief Carter: “Exactly.”

Amy: “Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about the course?”

Chief Carter: “One thing I appreciate is how you help people think about hiring, retaining and promoting culturally diverse people without creating an environment where those of us who are of the dominant culture don’t feel left out. I appreciated the section about the need for diverse perspectives.” He was talking about this section:

“When we hire, we look for experience for some roles, but, in all roles, we look for unique perspectives, personalities and passions that truly believe the next best innovation or process could come from anyone, even themselves. From there, we keep shaping an environment of active listening, experimenting, collaborating and applauding mistakes as a step on the road to success. We also build a system to document our successes so we know how to replicate them and our mistakes so we only make them once.”

“Also,” the Chief Carter kindly added, “I want to offer my sincere appreciation for your endeavor to unite diverse groups through the prompting of needed discussions on sensitive topics. Your compassion and motivation to bring people together is a testament to your good core values and is evident throughout the course.”

Amy: “Thank you, Chief Carter. Coming from someone in your position of influence, your words mean so much. Also, I deeply appreciate your willingness to review the course and help me understand how curiosity, contemplation, courage, context and compassion are vital to the work you do to keep the public safe.” -Amy Narishkin, PhD

To learn the skills and feel confident working with anyone who seems different, click here to register for or learn more about the course, “Awkward to Awesome: Boost Productivity, Diversity and Collaboration with Cultural Intelligence.”

The Value Proposition

The best leadership in an organization recognizes that conflict and other behaviors that put a temporary drag on production can ultimately be transformative as well as good for the bottom line. Even incidents that seem the most polarizing can lead to the kind of cultural intelligence that effects positive change for a company.

In a conversation we recently had, here’s how that unfolded for one manufacturing CEO, who you’ll see saw how to put cultural intelligence to work for his company:

CEO: What do I do about this guy who is always late for work?

AMY: Are you asking me because the guy is black?

CEO: Yes

AMY: Do white people show up late for work?

CEO: They’ve already been fired. I don’t know what to do about this black guy. Should I call my black pastor friend and see if he’ll have a talk with them?

AMY: Is that idea sustainable? What I mean is, will you be able to call him for help each time someone is late or needs to talk with a black employee?

CEO: No, that’s not possible; I can’t call him every time.

AMY: Would it be more helpful to empower his manager to work through the problem so he’ll be able handle the issue next time too?

CEO: Probably. They report to the plant manager.

AMY: But you’re concerned about tardiness too?

CEO: Yes. What confuses me is that we have a white guy who is a single dad and lives an hour west of town and still makes it to work on time. But this guy who lives 20 minutes from work is single and is regularly late.

AMY: It seems like your company has a double standard for blacks and whites.

CEO: Yes. It’s frustrating.

AMY: I bet! Do you want to keep your plant diverse?

CEO: Yes. Because I didn’t grow up in this country, I see the value of having different perspectives at our company. It’s also expensive to recruit and train new people. This guy is a good worker once he’s on site. Besides, it’s just hard to find good people in this economy.

Value proposition

This CEO is acknowledging that, with the unemployment rate at less than 4%, attrition is costly. And because of his international background, he inherently understands the value of having diverse perspectives in his company. The research supports his experience.

  1. “…when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end user, the entire team better understands that user. A team with a member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152% likelier than another team to understand that client.”(1)
  2. “Catalyst found that companies with the most women board directors outperformed those with the least on return on sales (ROS) by 16 percent and return on invested capital (ROIC) by 26 percent.”(2)
  3. “Companies reporting the highest levels of diversity brought in nearly 10-15 times more sales revenue on average than those with the lowest levels of diversity.” (3)
  4. Companies with the most ethnic diversity on their executive team were 43% more likely to experience higher profitability. (4)

However, further research reveals that merely making an organization look more diverse actually lowers performance. When leaders of multicultural teams ignore and suppress cultural differences, research shows mono-cultural teams are more productive. So it’s not diversity all by itself that has the positive impact.(5)

How an organization benefits from diversity

That same research shows multicultural teams significantly outperform mono-cultural teams when their leaders acknowledge and support cultural differences and see them as an asset to the company.(5)

To acknowledge and support cultural differences, the leader and their team need cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence, a skill that can be measured and developed, is the ability to shift our perspective and change our behavior to bridge across cultural differences. With this mindset in the workplace, people with diverse backgrounds feel valued, heard and engaged.

With cultural intelligence, people are becoming more aware of what they value individually and as an organization. They’re better able to communicate expectations for success. Cultural intelligence and inclusion in a diverse workforce are the tools that organizations need to close the productivity gap.

Cultural intelligence in action

Our conversation continued…

CEO: So what do we need to do?

AMY: You and your plant manager may want to become aware of how your own cultural bias can negatively influence a conversation with the employee, and inadvertently shut him down. Because we all tend to favor people who look and think like us, and he doesn’t share your skin color, our hidden assumptions can get in the way of really hearing the employee and the needs.

CEO: This’ll take some work.

AMY: Initially it’s more work. With some training and practice, and making those hard-to-replace-workers the priority, it becomes second nature. In fact, once people learn the skills, communication becomes streamlined. Once a manager learns how to slow down, notice their own assumptions, forgo the assumptions and hear the employee out, the relationship and process work more effectively because of the trust they build. The manager can then hold a quick weekly meeting to give and get feedback around questions such as:

  1. What are you working on?
  2. What are your next steps?
  3. What can I do to help?”

So here’s what happened

With the employee that was late, the CEO and plant manager had a conversation with the employee. They slowed down and recognized that their bias was getting in the way of them really hearing the guy out. They learned that the employee was often late because the public transportation wasn’t reliable. The factory is in a remote part of town and hard to get to without a car. And on top of that he had recently lost his license. The plant manager ended up helping him find an apartment within walking distance of the factory and fronted him the money for the first month’s deposit. The employee has since paid back the loan for the deposit and is consistently on time for work.

In this case, diversity was about racial differences. But visible differences, such as race, age, gender and nationality aren’t the only assets worth considering. Then there are differences that may not be visible, such as a person’s disability, religion, educational level, or social class if supported and seen as an asset, can bring about unique perspectives and innovative ideas that increase productivity, collaboration and profit to any organization.

To realize the promise of diversity, organizations need to make sure their people feel valued and heard. The best corporate leadership recognizes that while diversity is the state of being in our society, it is cultural intelligence that is the state of doing well by each other.

-Amy S. Narishkin, PhD


  1. Hewlett, S., Marshall, M. & Sherbin, L. (Dee 2013). “How Diversity Can Drive Innovation,” Harvard Business Review:
  2. Troiano, E (July 23, 2013) “Why Diversity Matters,” Catalyst:
  3. Herring, C (April 2009) “Does Diversity Pay?: Race, Gender, and the Business Case for Diversity,” American Sociological Review:
  4. Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S. & Yee, L (2017) Delivering Through Diversity. New York: McKinsey & Co.
  5. Distefano, J. & Mazevski, M. (2012). “Creating Value with Diverse Teams in Global Management.” Organizational Dynamics


There’s Nothing Common About Vocabulary

“It’s taken me 45 trips around the sun, but for the first time in my life I know what it feels like to have a ‘band-aid’ in my own skin tone. You can barely even spot it in the first photo. For real I’m holding back tears,” Dominique Apollon wrote in his Twitter post. That tweet was all about a new product called “Tru-Colour Bandages” that, as we can tell works in the real world – the world of a myriad of flesh tones.

In our previous blog post “Shift Happens,” we explored how, in terms of race, ethnicity and gender, the makeup of who is in our workforce, our marketplace and our world is changing rapidly. That change will drive us to new processes and products, but not without a foundational tool we take for granted every day: vocabulary – the vocabulary we use in all-important everyday conversations in our workplaces.

Finally offering Tru-Colour Bandages in multiple flesh tones may have started with an idea, but it took many conversations for the idea to become a product, conversations built on trust and shared understanding of the meanings of words and ideas. Vocabulary matters. It’s what gets us to shared-understanding in the conversation that leads to productivity and innovation, especially at this time in history. So much hinges on vocabulary.

To successfully communicate in cross-cultural teams or to create cross-cultural products we first need a shared understanding of three foundational vocabulary words: culture, diversity and inclusion.

What is Culture?

Culture is something that every group of people has – from family, school, place of worship, business and ethnic group, to country. Each culture is different. Culture is a set of behaviors, customs, attitudes, values, mentality and goals that people in a particular group have in common. To clearly understand culture, we can break it down into four parts:

  1. Objective culture is made of the objects and institutions created by a group of people. We often recognize them in people’s language, rituals, art, music, food, laws, and holidays. Like Italian pizza, Chinese New Year, or Mexican mariachi music. Because we can see and participate in these things, we tend to appreciate these cultural differences. We all have seen how a street of “ethnic” restaurants and shops can make a community more vibrant and attractive to visitors.
  2. Subjective culture is also created by institutions and groups of people in the forms of values, beliefs and perceptions that often guide a person, like a kind of cultural compass. Because we can’t often see, experience or quickly learn the rationale of someone else’s subjective culture, we often overlook it, don’t appreciate it or simply override it without even knowing we have. In fact, it is here in subjective culture where most intercultural misunderstanding takes place. If we are white, we may never have given a moment’s thought to the idea that calling bandages matching only white people’s skin tones “flesh-colored” is problematic. How “Tru-Colour” could bandages be if they were created in a white monoculture with no thought to the full spectrum meaning of “flesh-colored?” Yes, we would have customers with beige bandages and we would also be missing an ever-growing market of flesh colors beyond beige.
  3. World-wide, within every country and community, culture comes in two forms. Majority culture is the most powerful, widespread, or influential group within a multicultural community of any type (home, school, work, community, country, etc.). For example, in your organization the sales team may be the majority culture by driving what products or services are developed next based on what needs customers have expressed to them.
  4. Minority culture is a distinct group that coexists with but is subordinate to the majority culture. It is often smaller in number (but not always) and is distinct from majority culture because of objective and/or subjective culture differences. Take the example of the sales team as the majority culture providing direction for research and development. What happens when someone in the minority culture, such as R&D or manufacturing has an innovative idea that customers don’t even know is possible? Or what if it never even occurs to the majority culture sales team that’s nearly all or entirely white, that the minority culture’s idea for a product or service could be of value to people in a culture different the sales team’s?

What is Diversity?

Diversity is the mix of differences in a community. Diversity can be visible (gender, age, race and ethnicity) as well as not immediately or ever visible (ability, religion, work experience, socio-economic status, orientation and educational background).(1) How we view and interact in diverse groups is based on our personal and cultural beliefs as well as our intercultural skills including our ability to adapt vocabulary and collaboration styles to the makeup of our communities.

What is Inclusion?

Inclusion occurs when people are working together effectively, and their distinct cultural differences are valued and engaged. Inclusion or a sense of belonging in a community or organization is important so that people can bring to the table their unique gifts, experiences, preferences and strengths without sacrificing or minimizing who they are, for example, “knowing what it feels like to have a ‘band-aid’ in my own skin tone.”(1) Inclusion leverages diversity for increased engagement, productivity and creativity.

Diversity + Cultural Intelligence = Inclusion (and More Productivity)

How does a leader begin to build a common vocabulary to move toward culturally intelligent organization?

In my experience, the most effective, objective and unbiased way to develop a common vocabulary and begin developing cultural intelligence is for a leader to start with the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®). The IDI is a 50-item on-line assessment tool that measures an individual’s or group’s ability to navigate cross-cultural conversations effectively. The assessment is able to pinpoint whether a person or group is in the developmental stage of Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance, or Adaptation.(1) IDI results are shared and defined with each person and group by a Qualified Administrator (QA). The QA also helps individuals, teams and organizations develop the personal/professional goals for growing their cultural intelligence. It’s group, or collective, cultural self-awareness that can grow inclusion, with all that can mean for the team and the company.

By taking the IDI together, participants develop a common vocabulary to:

  • Set goals tied to performance and promotion
  • Consider cultural needs for customers and customer service training
  • Develop Affinity/Employee Resource Group objectives
  • Increase gender and racial parity among employees and leadership
  • Develop and review internal inclusive policies and practices
  • Resolve cross-cultural conflict
  • Create a track for organizational development and evaluation

All of these options allow organizations to realize a fuller spectrum of potential from each team member as well as more productive work in teams, across departments and in collaboration with vendors and potential target markets. We cannot train diversity because diversity is simply a mix of cultures that can dissect a workforce into factions, but we can learn how to leverage it. With cultural intelligence skills, diverse perspectives are sought out and appreciated, spurring an organization to realize even greater innovation, productivity and profit.  -Amy Narishkin, PhD


1.       Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.

To recruit, retain and promote top talent from diverse backgrounds, leaders will want to 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 to effectively implement the tools for cultural intelligence, collaboration and innovation for growth. A leader can begin with the Intercultural Development Inventory®, an on-line assessment tool that pinpoints your team’s ability to navigate cross-cultural conversations. For more information, contact: [email protected]

Shift Happens

“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

  1. Low employee engagement
  2. Inability to talk and work effectively with people that are different
  3. Lack of innovation or stagnant productivity
  4. Infighting between groups
  5. Inability to reach new markets
  6. Failure to attract, retain or promote diverse talent
  7. 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)
  • Women:
    • 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:

  1. With sensitive and confidential concerns, is the perception of our Human Resources function independent, accessible, safe, comfortable and retaliation-free for all employees?
  2. Are we training and equipping our managers to support their direct-reports when anticipating or working through cross-cultural conflict?
  3. With hurt or offended employees, is there a strategic people-plan in place that leaves employees feeling empowered with new tools?
  4. 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


  1. Liebler et al., 2014; Pew Research Center, 2015b; Wang, 2015
  2. (Sept. 28, 2015) Chapter 2: Immigration’s Impact on Past and Future U.S. Population Change Pew Center Research:
  3. Cohn, D & Caumont, A (March 31, 2016) 10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world. Pew Center Research:
  4. Cilluffo, A & Cohn, D (April 25, 2018) 7 demographic trends shaping the U.S. and the world in 2018. Pew Center Research:
  5. O’Mara, J. & Richter, A (2017) Global Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarks. The Centre for Global Inclusion:
  6. 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]

How to Maximize Group Participation

How to Maximize Group Participation

“I want to facilitate a discussion where everyone feels included and we all learn from one another. But instead of sharing their experiences and perspectives, people keep turning it to a political discussion and no one is listening to anyone,” an exasperated professional facilitator told me.

As a leader of any kind – including a discussion leader – we can intentionally set and compassionately enforce guidelines for effective cross-cultural conversations. Communication, innovation, productivity and profit all get dinged when conversations take a bad turn, leaving some feeling sidelined or silenced and others pridefully superior. I’ve developed a series of practical guidelines based on my experience and several lists I’ve seen over the years. Feel free to try them out.

Communication guidelines

  1. Affirm another’s experience, whether or not your experience is the same
  2. Listen actively – hear the person out
  3. Check the impact of your words rather than explaining the intent
  4. Honor confidentiality
  5. Share airtime and let someone finish talking
  6. Speak from your own experience – use “I” statements
  7. Say “Ouch” if you’ve been hurt
  8. Say “Oops” if you mess up
  9. Express curiosity and wonder with gentle questions

Why they work

These Communication Guidelines suggest behaviors and words that build community and encourage relationships. They are the first step in building cultural intelligence and a community of compassion. They work because we have a nearly universal tendency to react instinctively to differences as bad. Even when people are conscious about cultural differences, our unconscious assumptions kick in even before we realize it.(1) For example, studies show men and women are more likely to interrupt and talk over girls and women than they are boys and men. Since this is true in even scripted television shows and movies, we each need to be more alert to our impact in group settings.(2)

Being alert is especially important for those of us that are part of the dominant culture. We inadvertently make ourselves the center of the conversation, interrupt others and offer unsolicited solutions. We can come across as the knowers rather than the learners, and speakers rather than the listeners to the detriment of the whole group in general and non-dominant group members in particular.

To counter these dominant culture tendencies, so everyone has the opportunity to speak up, we need to intentionally set in motion new guidelines for speech and behavior. As a result, we won’t miss valuable front-line input because of one-sided communication habits.

How to get started

As the leader, you’ll want to explain that because everyone’s ideas are important to an innovative team, we’re putting in place Communication Guidelines. Because the rules are not necessarily intuitive and may be counter to our cultural norms, it can be initially uncomfortable for some participants to speak and act this way. However, with practice the awkwardness will pass. As the guidelines become the new norm, everyone will feel more valued, heard and engaged. A genuine authenticity among the group members can show up, along with greater collaboration and innovation.

The steps for implementation are…

  1. Post the Communication Guidelines and ensure everyone has their own copy.
  2. Ask someone to read them aloud.
  3. Review each guideline and ask for example of what each one might sound like.
  4. Begin your discussion by asking an open-ended question.
  5. Express appreciation aloud regularly (especially at first) when someone uses a guideline.
  6. Close by asking: What did we do well? Where can we do better?

How to maximize participation

Because individuals and teams that communicate and collaborate with cultural intelligence increase profit lines for organizations by as much as 43%, a leader will want to ensure equal participation.(3) Considering cultural differences can show up between ethnic, national, gender, generational or even departmental groups, here are two ways to maximize participation.

  1. To allow a leader to focus on content in a meeting, another group member can be assigned the role of Process Leader. Using the Communication Guidelines as a foundation, the Process Leader is given explicit license to compassionately curb the dominance of any individual, interrupt those talking freely on behalf of more reserved members and invite participation from members who are more silent.(1)
  2. Also, if diverse types and talents, including introverts or people from other countries are not accustomed to U.S.-style meetings, the leader can solicit detailed e-mails about the topic before the meeting. The leader can ask, “What are your ideas?” One leader discovered that, “to his surprise, he received very thoughtful responses from those who had been most quiet during the past meetings. He tried to deliberately bump into team members in the hall or cafeteria, and chat with them about the issues. He also encouraged them to do the same with each other, and to share the outcomes of their discussions with him. He kept in frequent contact with the team members over the phone, and again encouraged them to do the same with each other.”(1)

After we talked about everything I’ve shared here, a week later, the facilitator whose discussion kept dissolving into politics called back to tell me how well her next meeting went. She was thrilled that as she introduced and gently enforced the guidelines, no one railroaded the conversation. Everyone stayed on topic. Participants allowed each other to finish their ideas and affirmed other’s experiences – even if they didn’t agree. Now, rather than dreading the next meeting, she couldn’t wait to get back to the group and keep the conversation rolling.

To change workplace diversity drama and factions forming into collaboration and productivity, we can set in motion a new norm, a new system for communication. This allows leaders to gain the full strengths of their diverse workforce and build organic collaboration and retention because people feel valued. How people feel is important as a means to greater productivity, innovation and profit.  -Amy Narishkin, PhD


  1. Distefano, J. & Mazevski, M. (2012). “Creating Value with Diverse Teams in Global Management.” Organizational Dynamics.
  2. Chemaly, S. (2018). Rage Becomes Her. New York: Atria Books
  3. Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S. & Yee, L (2017) Delivering Through Diversity. New York: McKinsey & Co.
  4. Gades, S. Photo credit:

If there’s someone in your network who would benefit from having this information, please feel free to share. To recruit, retain and promote top talent from diverse backgrounds, leaders can create a culture of safety and belonging for everyone in their organization. With a PhD in Adult Learning, Dr. Amy works with CEO’s, management teams and group leaders to develop the skills and heart for cultural intelligence so people can feel free to talk and work with just about anyone! For more information, contact: [email protected]

Five Steps for Solving “Wicked” Problems

The lady initially repulsed me. Her clothes and hair unkempt, eyes bugged out and head was misshapen. For just a moment I hesitated to even hug her. But it was fellowship time in our church, and we’re asked to greet and hug one another. So, I looked at her, asked permission to greet with a hug and held her tight. She leaned in.

Moments later, I found her sitting on a bench in the hall sobbing. Sister Dawn asked me to sit with her as she fetched water. I didn’t want to sit with her, not at all. I didn’t know what I could possibly do to help. But I sat down. I put my arm around her and held her to me.

To my relief, Deaconess Darline came to sit with us. Darline has been a hospital service provider for 30+ years so there isn’t much she hasn’t seen. She put her arm around the lady too. Watching Darline, I decided I must be doing something right. I fought my inclination to leave; I realized had something to learn about compassion.

Dawn brought the water and left. As the lady took a few sips, her tears subsided, she began to tell her story. Huddled together arm-in-arm, Darline and I listened, nodded and said we understood how hard it is. I remember thinking how similar it was to the active listening I do in my work. It was good to know Darline uses the same practice in a crisis.

The lady told us about the physical abuse she had experienced, the resulting babies she’d lost to miscarriage, the husband that had died and the children that wouldn’t see her anymore. She told us she didn’t understand why she was even alive after the beating she had received to her head. I was scared; I’d never experienced such deprivation. We continued to lean in, listen and affirm. Darline asked me to find a protein bar for her to eat. Once I’d found one and brought it back, Darline told me I was free to go back to church if I wanted to but I sat back down with them. The lady said she hadn’t eaten in two days.

As she nibbled on the bar, Darline shared a similar experience, saying she understood the pain. She asked the lady, “Do you know what you need to do?” The lady shook her head. “You need to forgive yourself and those people,” Darline said.

I said, “Darline isn’t saying those people are off the hook for what they did. They’ll get their due. She’s saying to forgive, for your sake.”

Darline responded, “That’s right. You need to forgive because it’s not until you forgive yourself that you’ll be able to take care of yourself.” The lady nodded. She was quiet for the first time.

Dawn came back and asked the lady if she had a coat. She shook her head. Dawn asked me to help look for some clothes. Thinking Dawn had gone that way, I opened the door to the back of the sanctuary; music poured into the hall. The lady was on her feet wondering about the singing she was missing. I went to find Dawn who’d gone to her trunk for used clothes. When I returned, the lady was sitting in the church sanctuary, singing and clapping along with the other congregants.

Darline’s Approach

Later that day, I asked Darline about her approach. She too didn’t have a solution to the problem, at least not at first. Because of her experience, she knew to listen and learn, and a solution would become apparent. In majority culture we tend to want to offer a solution, even when we don’t know the whole problem. Because I didn’t have a “fix,” I wanted to flee and leave it for someone else. However, because I want to practice Acceptance, I acknowledged my feelings of overwhelm and leaned into learning how to express care in a completely new context. I recognized the cultural context as different from my own and because of my fear, found it initially difficult to take appropriate action. So I had to follow another’s lead.

Often corporate leaders who value cultural diversity aren’t trained in cultural intelligence and don’t know how to accept differences and adapt their behavior.(1) This can be a “wicked” problem because cultural intelligence is the link that makes a diverse environment an innovative, profitable culture.

When someone looks or speaks differently, it can be initially repulsive to any of us. However, when a person who’s a part of the “ingroup” takes the time to lean in and listen, bridges of understanding can be built and solutions can be found.

CEOs have seen this problem before. Someone on the team who usually shows great potential and is typically high performing, suddenly starts tanking. What do we do? Maybe their spouse or parent is ill and the strain is wearing on them. So instead of looking only at numbers and productivity, we can relate to the person first, learn what’s happening and how we can help, which in turn helps the company and our heart. Often stress and struggle comes from a tough circumstance and the person wants to manage while managing to be a good employee, but they need assistance figuring out how to handle both. This is a “wicked” problem but with a mindset of Acceptance and a posture of curiosity, resolution can be discovered.

“Wicked” Problem Defined

A “wicked” problem is difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that no one has seen or experienced before. (The term “wicked” here denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil.)

How to solve “wicked” problems is an area of research and teaching for Dr. Jackson Nickerson at Washington University’s Olin School of Business. When I told him about Darline’s approach, he said, “I’d like to meet her. She’s a pro.” He explained, “If we want to succeed in solving “wicked” organizational problems, we need to build trust and understanding in order to get the full picture. However, in corporate America, there is often a race going on between building trust and understanding and comprehending the situation sufficiently to come up with a solution. The problem is if we come up with a solution before we build trust and understanding, we’ll fail to solve the ‘wicked’ problem.”

Five Steps for Building Trust & Understanding

According to Nickerson, there are five elements for building trust and understanding and, as a result, being able to formulate a problem and discover a solution.

  1. Spark good feelings. We feel good when the chemical dopamine is released in our brain. Dopamine is released when people experience appreciation. Consider the context. In church, a heartfelt embrace can spark those good feelings; whereas, at work, we can express appreciation for a person’s idea or action aloud or in a note.(2)
  2. Build a common identity. We’re attracted to people who look or think like us. Even when a person seems different, we’re searching for opportunities to communicate we can relate to their experience. A story shared can suggest, “We’re from the same tribe.”(2) Darline shared her own experience which resonated with the lady.
  3. Demonstrate reliability. Do our actions match our words? We need to be counted on to behave in a way that is consistent with what we’ve said.(4) Darline stayed with the lady until she round resolution according to what the lady needed and not what Darline wanted.
  4. Prove you care. We can make a sacrifice at our own personal expense. The most common sacrifices are time, money, and other priorities.(3) Like Darline, we can take the time to be present with someone, particularly when they have a concern by hearing them out and affirming their experience (even if their experience is completely different from our own).
  5. Exhibit competence. Can we effectively accomplish the task before us? “Interpersonal competence is the ability to demonstrate, ‘I’ve got your back,’ or the sense that you’ll be there for your colleague.” Not only can we take the time to hear someone out, we can look for what else might be needed. We can notice what isn’t being said and find a resource.(4)

Trust is emerging as we build understanding and vice-versa. We can’t move into understanding a person or problem without trust; otherwise, people won’t tell us what we need to know. Nickerson explained rather than probing for a solution, we’re probing for multiple perspectives about the situation, challenge and symptoms. The solution almost always becomes apparent when we get to the real root cause. Fostering employee safety and belonging using cultural intelligence is the means to an end for greater job satisfaction, innovation and profit in every business. -Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

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 CEOs, 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.


  1. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  2. Van Edwards, V. (2017) Captivate. New York: Penguin Books.
  3. Maxfield, David. (Jan 23, 2019) “What to do when someone undermines your role.” Crucial Conversations Blog:
  4. Grodnitzky, G. (2014) Culture Trumps Everything. Mountain Fog Publishing.
What’s a Guy to Do?

What’s a Guy to Do?

One manager lamented, “I can’t even compliment a woman on how she looks anymore.” What he hadn’t realized is that context matters.

For those men who have walked the straight and narrow and valued female colleagues for their intellect, regardless of their looks, the #MeToo movement can feel confusing. It can make them hesitant or nervous about how they’re perceived, putting a damper on even healthy workplace culture and working relationships. In fact, a forthcoming survey by and SurveyMonkey found almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in basic workplace activities with women, including working alone together.(1)

The problem

The danger is that people in the developmental stage of Minimization tend to assume we all have the same experience. Two-thirds of people who take the Intercultural Development Inventory® world-wide are unknowingly stuck in this stage. Because individual differences are not recognized, even de-emphasized, we may not see the cultural system that keeps people feeling left out or pushed out. We want equality and fairness, thinking this is best achieved by treating everyone essentially the same.(2)

However, people’s experiences are not essentially the same. Studies show one in five women and one in 71 men are raped at some point in their lives.(3) Activist and survivor Tarana Burke started the “metoo” movement in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence find pathways to healing. She strove to galvanize a broad base of survivors to disrupt the systems that proliferate sexual violence for both women and men. The conflict escalated a year ago when the “#metoo” hashtag went viral on social media as the first allegations against Harvey Weinstein appeared in the New York Times. Within the first 24 to 48 hours, Facebook had 12 million engagements with the #metoo, igniting a national conversation about sexual violence.(4) Such problem-surfacing makes people uncomfortable and aware. Uncomfortable is a jumping off point for problem-solving.(5)

To begin solving the problem, we need to stop minimizing differences and disrupt the system that allows for sexual violence. To do so, we start by noticing the cultural characteristics, the shared values and patterns of behavior, that inadvertently support such a critical social problem. This isn’t just good for people, it’s good for business.

In the scenario of complimenting a woman at work, complement her work, not her wardrobe. Cultural intelligence is the ability to appreciate another’s perspective and change our words and actions to show genuine respect. To express cultural intelligence within the context of work, a man doesn’t need to comment on a woman’s appearance. In other contexts, if he’s unsure a compliment was appropriate, he can check by asking, “What was the impact of my words?” Then actively listen to the response. However, we need to be careful because depending on a woman’s experience, compliments offered with the best of intentions can be perceived as aggressive. And although she might not speak up, she may be minimizing her hurt or angry feelings to fit in or because she needs the job. Minimization is a sure path to lost productivity and employee engagement and satisfaction.

Why invest in and advance women at work?

Reykjavik Energy, the parent company of Iceland’s largest power provider, which was forced to fire one-third of its workforce in the aftermath of the financial crash, seized on its subsequent restructuring as an opportunity to become a fully gender-equal employer. Within five years, by “putting the gender glasses on before taking every single decision,” it had boosted the proportion of women in management positions from 29% to 49%. Over the same period, its adjusted gender pay gap shrank from 8.4% to 2.1% – and now stands at 0.2% in favor of women. The company’s chief executive, Bjarni Bjarnason, says the net outcome has been “more open discussions, higher productivity, greater job satisfaction, improved decision-making, higher morale and an all-round far better atmosphere.”(6)

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) Whereas most executives believe that gender diversity improves financial performance, far fewer translate that belief into action.(8)

In an interview for Forbes, Michelle King asked Mike Gamson, Senior Vice President for LinkedIn Global Solutions, “Why are most men not aware of their critical role in advancing women at work?”(9)

Gamson replied, “There’s a natural human tendency to hire or surround ourselves with people that look and think just like us. That’s a problem for many reasons, one being that when everyone at the top looks, thinks, acts or speaks like you, it’s harder to get that natural exposure to new ways of doing things or emerging opportunities.”(9)

What’s a guy to do?

“What can a guy do to support the advancement of women at work?” I asked Gwen Phillips, Director of Human Resources for Phillips Theological Seminary. As an example, she related the story about her college professor. He had said about her writing, “You’re an excellent writer, but something’s missing; you’re detached. You’re clearly grasping the material, but I don’t see your perspective expressed here.” Gwen said she was shocked. No one before had asked what she thought. She said, “At first I didn’t believe him; I didn’t change my writing style. He gave me a B on that next paper and again asked me to share my voice. On the following paper, I spoke my truth and shared my perspective. He gave me an A on that paper and said, ‘Now, I see you.’” She said that if he hadn’t persisted and encouraged me to speak up, “I’d still be burying me. Because of that professor, I learned to speak from my own social and political construct.” Gwen explained that if a man can ask about a woman’s experience and take the time to listen, her ideas and talents will come to the surface. When a woman’s perspective is encouraged and appreciated, naturally there will be more and differing perspectives that can provide the ‘ah ha’ moments that spur true innovation.

Be part of the solution

“Don’t avoid women, mentor them,” says Thomas and Brown-Philpot in their Wall Street Journal article.(10) While women represent over half the available talent pool, organizations struggle to retain and grow talented women. Leaders can:

  • Be a mentor. Studies show that people with mentors are likelier to get promotions. Mentors show women the ropes and help us navigate office politics. They introduce them to decision-makers who help us get high-profile assignments. So much of what gets you noticed at work is who you know and who sings your praises.(10)
  • Meet everyone for breakfast, if you’re uncomfortable going to dinner with female colleagues. The so-called Pence rule—the idea that a man can’t eat alone with a woman who isn’t his wife—is a double standard. It results in one kind of access for men, another for women. This is not the answer.(10)
  • Ask women what they need to move up. Maybe she wants advice on how to pitch to a prospective client. Maybe she is walking through political landmines in her office and just wants guidance from someone who has navigated her way in the past. Maybe she’s thinking about quitting because she’s being asked to attend too many events at night and she has young kids at home she wants to spend time with. Conversations such as these are important, typically requiring an hour per person a month, at most.(11)
  • Be informed about both big-picture data and the statistics of the company. For example, find out the average pay gap and address this when bonuses are being discussed. By doing basic research on workplace sexism, you could implement new policies to limit your company’s tendency for bias.(12)
  • Remember times when you have experienced some form of bias. By engaging in those conversations through personal storytelling, it creates an emotional connection to the issue and gets leaders in the majority to better understand the perspectives of minority team members.(12)
  • Take time to identify where bias might play a part in your work day. Whether it’s recruiting, management, interpersonal interactions, etc. – start making a plan. Recognition is the first key to making a change.(9)

Achieving diversity, equity and a sense of belonging in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s critical to a company’s long-term success. Fostering employee safety and belonging using cultural intelligence is the means to an end for greater job satisfaction, productivity, innovation and profit in any business.  -Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

To attract, retain and promote 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 CEOs, management teams and those who want to take the lead to successfully onboard new recruits by shifting from a homogeneous to multicultural mindset by developing the skills for Cultural Intelligence in five 2-hour long Workshops


  1. Racioppi, R. (19 June 2018) “Advancing female talent: organization-wide opportunities for change.” Forbes:
  2. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  3. National Sexual Violence Resource Center:
  4. MeToo.:
  5. Hammer, M. (Oct. 2018) In a talk given at the International Conference for the Intercultural Development Inventory.
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  7. (2013) “Why diversity matters.” The Catalyst Information Center:
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  10. Thomas, R. & Brown-Philpot, S (4 Feb. 2018) “Don’t avoid women, mentor them: worried by #MeToo? Here’s how to become part of the solution.” Wall Street Journal:
  11. Campbell-Dollaghan, K (23 Oct. 2018) “9 women executives on how MeToo has changed the way they mentor.” Fast Company:
  12. Donnelly, G, (5 Oct. 2018) “Here’s how men can be leaders in improving corporate diversity.” Fortune:
  13. Photo credit: Cory Bouthillette on Unsplash