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.
  6. Henley, J (20 Feb. 2018) “’Equality won’t happen by itself’: how Iceland got tough on gender pay gap.” The Guardian:
  7. (2013) “Why diversity matters.” The Catalyst Information Center:
  8. Werner, C., Devillard, S., & Sancier-Sultan, S. (Oct. 2010) “Moving women to the top: McKinsey Global Survey Results.” McKinsey & Company:
  9. King, M (28 Sept. 2017) “Three ways men can champion gender equality at work.” Forbes:
  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

Disagree, Don’t Suck It Up

“I just want to be able to talk with my sister again.” said the Chief Marketing Officer. I had asked why he’d signed up for EP’s Workshop Series on developing cultural intelligence. He explained, “We can’t even have a discussion without her calling me a name. It’s always an argument.”

The Problem

When someone doesn’t agree with us, we feel attacked. We can become combative and closed-minded. We find flaws in the other’s point of view. It’s about winning and is short-sighted. Most of the time though, we avoid conflict; we’re just trying to get along with people. Human nature makes us want to feel accepted, liked, and part of a group. As a result, we suppress our ideas and minimize our feelings, especially at work. No one wants to work with a person all day with whom they have a dispute.

This attitude of ‘go-along to get-along’ belittles people’s experience and actually undermines individuals as well as corporate productivity. In fact, two-thirds of the people that take the Intercultural Development Inventory®, an assessment tool that measures an organizations ability to navigate cross-cultural conversations, show up in the stage of Minimization. People and groups in Minimization overemphasize commonalities among people and may lack deeper understanding of people’s cultural differences. In a multi-cultural society like the United States, this impacts both majority and minority people. People of majority culture tend to minimize differences to maintain the status quo and avoid conflict. Whereas, people of minority cultures minimize differences to get along, fit in and keep their jobs.1

Why Disagree?

For more corporate productivity, culturally intelligent innovation explores and capitalizes on differences as much as, if not more than, areas of agreement.2  Gallo (2018) suggests that when well-managed, disagreements provide:

  • Opportunities to Learn and Grow. While not always comfortable, building a team with differing points of view will push you to think more critically. We’ll think through every angle and develop a well-rounded understanding of pros and cons. A culturally intelligent diverse team can give us a better understanding of industry, customers and competition.
  • Better Work Outcomes. When coworkers push one another to continually ask if there is a better approach, the creative friction is likely to lead to new innovations. The place where people feel uncomfortable is where perspectives change; people become open to new ideas and are willing to see things in a new way.
  • Higher Job Satisfaction. When we’re not afraid to constructively disagree at work, we are happier going into the workplace, satisfied with accomplishments, and enjoy interactions with colleagues. When minimization isn’t in play, that daily feeling of ‘walking-on-eggshells’ is eliminated, allowing you to focus on getting work done.3

How to Have Constructive Disagreements

When someone disagrees with us, there is an assumption of malign motives or that the other side it totally wrong. One response is to speculate on the person’s motivations and intentions and shy away in silence or lash out in anger. Another possible response is one of curiosity and wonder, that of Cultural Intelligence. Cultural Intelligence is the ability to appreciate another’s perspective and change our words to show genuine respect. With Cultural Intelligence we seek can to learn what the person thinks and how they came to hold that opinion. With an open-mind, these are three tips to encourage dialogue:

  • Use language that encourages ongoing conversation: “That’s an interesting point. I hadn’t thought of that before. What do you think about…”?
  • Make sure you understand what the speaker is saying: “What I understand you’re saying is…”
  • Ask permission to offer a different point of view: “May I offer a different perspective?”

How to Gather Ideas from Every Team Member

Critical to corporate innovation is ensuring everyone’s voices are heard and making it safe to propose novel ideas in meetings. When a person feels comfortable speaking up and, “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.”4

Rather than outcomes, Culturally Intelligent meetings are about process. To encourage every team member to participate in a way that is comfortable for them:

  • Ask participants to write down as many ideas as possible about the topic before the meeting. They can do this individually or in small groups, depending on their cultural style. And with advance warning, team members are likely to have more thoughtful input.2
  • Assign one member of the meeting the role of “process leader” to curb dominance of any individual. Have them invite participation from those who are more silent and interrupt those talking on behalf of more reserved members hesitant to speak up.5
  • Hold a systematic discussion, whereby:
    1. All the ideas are first shared,
    2. Other options are explored, and then
    3. There is open deliberation.

Encouraging different perspectives offers one of the biggest challenges to and opportunities for innovation and collaboration in a corporation. Research shows that it’s worth the effort because diversity managed with cultural intelligence can increase profit margins by as much as 43%.

Just before the last Workshop in our series got started, the Chief Marketing Officer came up to me to let me know that he and his sister had their first conversation in years without argument. I asked him what had changed. For just a moment, he hesitated and looked down. Then he looked back up and quietly said, “I realized I didn’t have to be right.” -Amy S. Narishkin, PhD


  1. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  2. Livermore, D. (2016) Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity. New York: American Management Association.
  3. Gallo, A. (Jan 23, 2018) “Why We Should Be Disagreeing More at Work.” Harvard Business Review:
  4. Hewlett, S., Marshall, M. & Sherbin, L. (December 2013) “How Diversity Can Drive Innovation.” Harvard Business Review:
  5. Distefano, J & Mazevski, M. (2012) “Creating Value with Diverse Teams in Global Management.” Organizational Dynamics.
  6. Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S. & Yee, L (2017) Delivering Through Diversity. New York: McKinsey & Co.
Civil, Right?

Civil, Right?

“There are no such things as micro-aggressions.” Charles Bryson said in his talk. It was a curious statement from the Director of the Civil Rights Enforcement Agency for the City of St. Louis. Then he went on to say, “Remarks which leave a person feeling labeled aren’t micro or small; they are aggressive. Such comments are unconscious bias showing up in some form. They hurt the person and they hurt the organization.”

What hurts is a comment like, “You speak really good English for an immigrant,” or “You have a mental disability? You seem perfectly normal to me.” While seemingly small observations made with an intention to praise, these remarks come across as aggressive to the receiver. They leave a person feeling invisible, like they don’t belong. Hurt or angry, they ignore or downplay their feelings because they need a job. This is one of the ways discrimination shows up in the workplace.

Civil rights include protection from discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, color, age, political affiliation, ethnicity, religion, and disability; the ensuring of people’s physical and mental integrity, life, and safety.

Protecting those rights is an essential part of the democratic values of the United States. They are the subject of hard-fought battles for their expansion for many groups over the last two hundred years. Civil rights are all our rights and are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and state and local laws. Historically, the “Civil Rights Movement” referred to efforts toward achieving true equality for African Americans in all facets of society, but today the term “civil rights” is also used to describe the advancement of equality for all people regardless of race, sex, age, disability, national origin, religion, or certain other characteristics.

The mission of the Civil Rights Enforcement Agency for the City of St. Louis is to “monitor and enforce equal employment, public accommodations and fair housing within the City of St. Louis; and investigate complaints of discrimination as they arise.” Over coffee, I asked Charles how his office works.


“My office and I work as a neutral third-party. We do an investigation once a claim has been made. We work toward reconciliation or mediation for both the person and the oraganization. People’s fear of retaliation for reporting cases of discrimination is becoming more and more of an issue. People are typically afraid for one of three reasons:

  1. St. Louis is a small city, everyone knows everyone in a specific field.
  2. Fear of financial loss and/or health benefits
  3. Hanging on until retirement. If they’ve been on the job for a number of years, they don’t want to rush their 401(k).”

“To a certain extent, we expect some retaliation when there is a complaint. Where the uncertainty lies is how it’s going to play out. For example, after a complaint, an employee might say, ‘You’re retaliating against me,’ to which the supervisor responds, ‘No, I actually need you here on second shift.’ However, the supervisor knows that the employee needs to be home for their children at night and will be unable to do the job.”

AMY: What do you want new hires to know?


“First, learn the culture of the company, as well as the departmental culture. Culture is the shared values, goals, and practices that characterize every organization of people. It takes many conversations to learn the written and invisible practices and procedures of an organization. Don’t wait to be told what to do. Ask your supervisor and colleagues what is expected and how things are done. Don’t be afraid to regularly check in with your boss. Provide the space to get feedback.”

You can ask a question such as:

  • This is what I’m doing, am I on the right track?
  • Do I need to be doing anything differently? If so, please show me how.

“Second, employees are not powerless. Keep a journal or written record of what’s happening at work, especially in cases of suspected discrimination or retaliation. That journal is important in making your case.”

AMY: What do you want CEOs to know?


“First, don’t simply trust your managers. Check your managers’ production numbers. Check on workflow, what’s shipped and production levels. It’s in those numbers that disgruntled employees or attrition can show up. Get out among your employees and listen to them. Do it in a way that is not staged. Walk the shop floor at different times of day; cover each shift. Ask, ‘Kathy, how are you?’ If possible, shake hands and give eye contact. Don’t be in a rush; people may have something to share. If you’re there, and you listen, conversations just happen and stuff comes out.”

“Second, review your hiring process. Does your process allow for the possibility of a diverse workforce in both hiring and promotion? While a company can’t set a numerical objective, it can set percentage goals.”

You can ask:

  • How are you advertising for this job? Consider publications that serve minority populations, like the St. Louis American.
  • Where’s your pipeline? Consider Better Family Life, Ferguson Youth Initiative and Harris Stowe State University
  • What are the job qualifications? Consider equivalency rather than degree. It’s important to ask if every position needs a degree or if someone can do the job equally well with five-years’ experience.”

“Third, employees should not be surprised by their evaluation.” At a quick weekly meeting, managers can check-in and ask their direct-reports:

  • What are you working on?
  • What are your next steps?
  • What can I do to help?”

Typically we don’t intend to make remarks at work that belittle others. But if you’re unsure how a remark comes impacts another, whether is comes across to them as complimentary or aggressive, you can say, “I wouldn’t intentionally hurt someone but I’m not sure how that sounded. How did my words impact you?” And then listen. Remember, your impact is more important than your intent in cross-cultural conversations.

Rather than merely working to enforce civil rights, an organization can use Cultural Intelligence to not only create equal opportunities but also create a culture where everyone feels valued, heard and engaged. Cultural Intelligence is the ability to appreciate another’s perspective and change behavior to show genuine interest and respect. Employee safety and belonging is the means to an end for more productivity, innovation and profit in any organization.  –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 developing the skills for Cultural Intelligence. Learn the skills in five 1.5-hour long Workshops

How to Diversify Your Talent Pool Pipeline

“There’s nothing I can do about those people if they don’t want to show up for work,” a Chief Executive Officer remarked. The statement made me wonder if that were actually true. A leader may well feel there’s nothing he or she can do about the hire-ability of a group of people; however, after talking with a number of other community leaders, I learned that if a CEO is willing to create a pipeline for jobs (a training ground), they may be able to successfully employ a person from a different demographic and help their company too.

David Walters, CEO of HY-C said, “There’s work to be done in our factory. Starting positions won’t be highly paid but they are far better pay than a fast food chain can offer and can lead to a career.” David explained that, “What’s important to realize is the real work at HY-C happens on the factory floor. The person at the machine is why we have a business. This is where the rubber meets the road. Everyone else in the company has a higher paid, less repetitive and more comfortable job. At HY-C, it’s understood, and is actually a core belief, that the employees on the factory floor need to feel valued and respected. This respect and care is manifested in our low turnover rates, and why we don’t have attendance and tardiness problems.”

HY-C is a St. Louis-based manufacturer that has been protecting homes and families since 1947 with home improvement products. David explained that with the U.S. unemployment rate at 3.9%, labor will be scarce for at least another decade. Thus, he recognizes, “We’re going to have to go a little further and create a process that allows people who don’t have typical preparation to join the company. Rather than focusing on biases and stereotypes assigned to groups of people, HY-C is shifting cultural perspective and adapting their behavior to allow for differences to come aboard.

Diversity + Intercultural Competence = Inclusion 

  1. Diversity is the mix of differences that may have an impact on an interaction between individual and individual, individual and organization or organization and organization. Diversity goals are usually assessed by looking at the representation of people from various identity groups at the various levels of an organization (Hammer, 2016).
  2. Inclusion occurs when people from various groups, including those of majority culture, feel valued and engaged. The organization is encouraging people to bring to the table their unique experiences, preferences and strengths; without sacrificing or minimizing core aspects of their background and experience. Inclusion goals are measured by climate surveys, turnover rates, grievances filed, and conflict (Hammer, 2016).
  3. Intercultural Competence is the link; it’s what makes a diverse environment an inclusive one. By changing from a mono-cultural to multicultural mindset, individuals and organizations develop the capacity to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt their behavior to cultural differences and commonalities (Hammer, 2016).
  4. Bonus: The byproduct of intercultural competence is more productivity and innovation. Individuals and teams that communicate and collaborate increase profit lines for organizations by as much as 43% (McKinsey & Co., 2017).

David is not attempting to bridge these cultural differences alone. His company is working with Ferguson Youth Initiative (FYI) to create a pathway for people to develop the skills they need to be successful at HY-C.

Founded in 2011, Ferguson Youth Initiative is a nonprofit organization serving the youth of the Ferguson and surrounding communities, empowering them to become even more productive, positive, and contributing members of the community. Co-founder Dwayne James explained that FYI is looking for business partners, like HY-C. With their Next Steps program two teens will intern after school from 4 to 8 pm, two-three days a week in the e-commerce department at HY-C. This provides the teens with a job after school that can lead to a career. Dwayne explains that at the very least, the students will learn the language of business, develop basic work disciplines and have a strong line item for their resume. At best, the intern can develop a career with HY-C.

What Else Can a Leader Do?

Respect and care have to come from the top and be prevalent throughout the company. Supervisors and line managers on the factory floor need to know how to engage with and talk with people with a posture of compassion. Major Berry, Director of Business Development for St. Louis Community Credit Union, said, “Don’t strip someone even more of their power by just being an authority over them. It’s important for a manager to communicate care.” When Major first became a branch manager, he explained he had no idea the responsibility of running a profitable company. Learning about profit and loss, he suddenly understood the need to turn the lights off when a room is not in use. A manager shouldn’t assume their employees understand such issues. Supervisors need to clarify expectations for behavior and, equally important, why those expectations are in place. For example, Major suggested that a supervisor sit down with an hourly employee and explain the impact on the business when a person doesn’t show up or is late for work. Explain how much it costs the employee and how much it costs the business. When a supervisor takes the time to clarify expectations for behavior and why, they are communicating that they care about the person beyond the job. This will translate to lower turnover rates and more commitment to the company.

Four Steps a Supervisor Can Take

Sit down with an employee and…

  1. Clarify expectations for behavior.
  2. Explain why those expectations are in place; how they impact the employee and the business.
  3. Take time to communicate genuine care for the employee’s well-being by listening to their issues and discussing what barriers they may be experiencing either coming to work or at work.
  4. Work with the pipeline organization to remove those barriers that hinder engagement at work. Don’t attempt to work in a silo; there are many organizations that want to help.

By forging relationships with employees, we answer the question, “Do I bring value to this organization?” Whether a person is sweeping the floor or writing checks, at the end of the day, we all need to know we add value. Major reminded me that because the CEO at PepsiCo was willing to listen to his janitor and hear his idea, the company was able to bring Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to market with great monetary success, and today that janitor is an executive with PepsiCo and travels across the country as an inspirational speaker. -Amy 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 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 intercultural competence. Learn the skills in six 1.5-hour long Workshops

Degree Inflation Doesn’t Always Pay

In less than a year, Gail went from cashier to coder and she didn’t need a bachelor’s degree to do it. Here’s how:

My mom recommended LaunchCode after she heard about it on the radio. I applied to their program and passed the screening tests, which look for aptitude and problem-solving ability, not computer knowledge. In July 2016, I enrolled in LaunchCode’s LC101. Like all of their courses, it was free. When I finished 20-weeks later, Express Scripts hired me as an apprentice. After 90 days, my apprenticeship ended and I became a regular full-time employee.

Getting hired at Express Scripts allowed me to quit the supermarket; I love being at Express Scripts. I’m a problem solver, which is what a programmer does. I also was able to become a teaching assistant for LaunchCode. They pay me for my time, but I’m so grateful to LaunchCode, I would do it for free.

Gail’s non-traditional educational path is counter-cultural in the United States. The majority cultural norm in the U.S. has evolved such that job candidates are required to possess a four-year college degree. That’s how degree inflation happened.

This tendency to honor formal education over alternative paths can hinder corporations’ opportunities to connect with, hire and retain unique talent. Cultural awareness includes the ability to shift cultural perspective, understanding that degree inflation is not only limiting business innovation and productivity but also the ability for company employees to relate to consumers, clients who also have non-traditional career paths. The research shows that when the employees reflect the end-user, there is 153% more likelihood to understand that market (HBR, 2013).

The Problem with Degree Inflation

Part of the problem with degree inflation is that not all jobs require or benefit from a bachelor’s degree. According to a Burning Glass Report (2014), employers are often seeking a bachelor’s degree for jobs that formerly required less education, even when the actual skills required haven’t changed, or when it makes the position harder to fill.

Because the preference for a bachelor’s degree has increased, employers often rely on a B.A. as a broad recruitment filter that doesn’t always correspond to specific skills needed to do the job. This makes it harder for companies to find and retain affordable talent. The Dismissed by Degrees report (Fuller, J., Raman, M., et al., Oct 2017) asserts that employers often pay 11-30% more for college graduates to do jobs also filled by non-degree holders without getting any material improvement in productivity. They’ve also discovered that non-graduates with experience perform nearly or equally well in critical areas; such as, the time it takes to reach full productivity, time to promotion, and amount of oversight required. Moreover, college graduates demonstrate higher turnover rates and lower engagement levels.

One Solution

Not only does degree inflation hurt companies, it can also hurt potential candidates. “There is a misperception out there that in order to find career success, you need a four-year degree,” said Haley Shoaf of LaunchCode. “But, because a four-year degree can be cost, time and situation prohibitive for some people, a college degree does not necessarily correlate to success.” St. Louis-based LaunchCode offers a non-traditional path to career success.

LaunchCode is an innovative non-profit organization providing opportunities to enter the field of technology by providing free tech education and apprenticeship job placements. Founded in 2013, over 4000 people have boosted their tech skills and over 1100 careers have been launched. Haley explained, “If both a job candidate and employer are willing to think outside the norm, a person with a high school degree and a LaunchCode 20-week course can be ready in six months for a 90-day job apprenticeship.” And 80% of all LaunchCode apprentices are hired on as full-fledged employees.

LaunchCode is one of the solutions to our growing technology gap. The Department of Labor reports that by 2020, there will be 1 million unfulfilled technology jobs in the U.S. Web developers, along with nuclear power reactor operators, transportation inspectors, and aerospace engineering and operations technicians, are on Business Insider’s list of 27 highest-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree. These jobs have a median annual salary of at least $60,000.

What a Leader Can Do?

To address the skills gap in your organization and reverse degree inflation, the Forbes report recommends that business leaders can:

  1. Identify which occupations are prone to degree inflation
  2. Explore alternative paths for job-training
  3. Identify the specific hard and soft skills required for critical jobs, and develop in-house or external training programs, apprenticeships, and internships to impart those skills.
  4. Evaluate the hidden costs of hiring degreed workers versus non-degreed workers.
  5. Invest in strategies that help the company attract and retain workers with the right competencies rather than credentials alone.
  6. Seek partners in the community, such as community colleges or nonprofits like LaunchCode to build talent pipelines and attract non-traditional candidates, who are eager to learn and prove themselves.

Traditional education is not the only path to a successful career. Companies that are willing to shift cultural perspective and adapt their behavior outside the norm can discover an abundance of qualified candidates with non-traditional educational backgrounds. Companies that do, experience lower rates of attrition, equivalent levels of productivity and reports of higher job satisfaction. And those same companies know the added value of having employees who relate to consumers with similar backgrounds, further increasing opportunity for a broader market reach and more profitability.

For Gail, the practical training she received came with a bonus. LaunchCode has an agreement with St. Louis Community College. By completing LC101, Gail earned 12 credit hours toward her Associate’s degree in Software Development.  -Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

To recruit and retain top talent from diverse backgrounds, leaders need to create a culture of safety and belonging for everyone. With a PhD in Adult Education, Amy works with CEO’s, management teams and those who take the lead in organizations to effectively implement the tools for intercultural competence. Learn the tools in our 6-session Workshop Series. To increase workplace productivity, innovation and profit, contact Amy.