Epic Remedies for a Cultural Fail

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

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

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

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

Background information

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

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

Five stages of cultural intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can be done differently

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

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

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

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

What a leader can do

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

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

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

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


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

WoManifesto: The Backstory

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My family gets involved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WoManifesto in the Workplace

Meryl Streep, in her 2010 commencement address to the graduating class of Barnard College, explained that in high school, a different form of acting took hold. She wanted to learn how to be appealing to boys. She recalled, “I adjusted my natural temperament, which tends to be slightly bossy, a little opinionated, a little loud, full of pronouncements and high spirits, and I willfully cultivated softness, agreeableness, a breezy natural sort of sweetness, even shyness if you will, which was very very very effective on the boys.“

Why did she take on that role? Streep explained that successfully convincing someone bigger than you are of something he doesn’t know, is a survival skill, this is how women have survived through the millennia.(1)

If women have survived by pretending to be someone else in order to be heard and recognized, organizations are missing out on a lot of talent. This means they’re missing the opportunity for innovation, productivity and profit that is already present in the talent pool and just waiting to be tapped.

Organizations that cultivate cultural intelligence enable people to navigate conversations across differences of identity and culture including those of gender. This increases employee safety and belonging as the means to an end for more productivity, innovation and profit in every business.

How we got here

In her book, Rage Becomes Her, Soraya Chemaly writes, “We learn as girls to read faces and other body indicators, and we develop tactics for lowering the temperature of encounters, a process known as de-escalation. The ability and inclination to take this approach is supported by socialization and the practical reality that women are often physically smaller than the people threatening them.”

In the face of threat, we often learn that the “normal” physiological response is flight-or-fight. But that’s a “normal” if you’re a man. While women, too, experience faster pulses and elevated blood pressure, our bodies produce different chemicals which lead to “tend-and-befriend” responses.(2)

The cultivated feminine habit of prioritizing the needs of others and putting people at ease frequently puts women at a disadvantage and can be perceived as weakness. Layered on top of these habits of de-escalation is a pervasive silence around the fact that women are constantly making these assessments. This leaves the men around us at home, school and work often unaware of this constant adjustment women have to make.(2)

Men’s influence is popular media

Men’s dominance is also apparent in popular media. Books, movies, game and popular entertainment feature men and boys 2-3 times more often as protagonists, more often white than not.(2) And men, overwhelmingly white, hold roughly 70-73% of the roles in top U.S. films, as well as a majority of the speaking parts and creative and executive positions on-screen and off. That gender breakdown in films is equally skewed in other countries.(2)

The fact that men garner twice as much speaking and screen time applies equally in our day-to-day lives. Studies indicated parents interrupt their girls twice as much as their boys. Observations of children on playgrounds also show that despite girls’ earlier language acquisition, by age six, boys dominate chatter – with teacher encouragement.(2)

Both men and women are more likely to interrupt and talk over girls and women than they are boys and men. One of the studies of legislative deliberations shows that women need to constitute a super majority, or roughly 70 percent of a room, in order to achieve parity and influence. If they don’t, they have a difficult time being perceived as powerful, influential, or important speakers.(2)

How this impacts women

This reality takes a toll on women. The most fundamental bias we face-the one underlying all the others-is the message that women are inherently less worth listening to than men. This message takes its toll on women as subterfuge and self-denial tend to do, and we pay with an internal dialogue of self-criticism. Not smart enough, not pretty enough, not a good enough mother, not a good enough professional.(5)

This message takes its toll on organizations. Without acknowledging women’s unique perspectives and seeing them as an asset, companies will not realize the value their diverse voices promise. The global workplace nonprofit Catalyst found that, “companies with the most women board directors outperformed those with the least on return on sales (ROS) by 16 percent and return on invested capital (ROIC) by 26 percent.”(6)

And beyond that to diversity in general, “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.”(7)

The trap

Ironically, what gets in the way of that diversity-fueling success is a well-intentioned desire to be fair. We want equality and fairness, and we often think this is best achieved by treating everyone essentially the same at work. We do this because people in the developmental stage of Minimization – who actually represent the majority of the US population – tend to assume we all have the same experience. We don’t realize that two-thirds of people who take the Intercultural Development Inventory® world-wide are unknowingly stuck in this middle stage of cultural development.(8).

And because we don’t want to go against cultural norms and upset a status quo that favors male voices, leaders inadvertently silence and sideline dissenting opinions and different perspectives, including women’s. As a result, we’re often blind to the cultural systems in our organizations that keep women feeling left out or pushed out. This is opposite of cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence is the ability to shift perspective and adapt behavior to navigate conversations across cultural differences, such as gender, so that each of us feels valued and heard. In a previous blog (What’s a Guy to Do? written in light of the #metoo movement), I explained how men can use their cultural intelligence to help women not only share their opinions and perspectives but also get ahead in an organization. So, what can women do?

Options for women

I wanted to learn what a woman can do and how an organization can ensure their employees and leaders feel valued and heard. I spoke with Ty Shaffer, Activist, Lead Graphic Designer & Social Media Manager at VoteRunLead.org, the largest and most diverse campaign training organization in the country. VoteRunLead trains women to run for political office and win. They specialize in helping women gain the resources and confidence to find their voice and take action – as campaign directors and community organizers as well as policymakers. The organization has trained more than 33,000 women and plans to train 1.2 million by 2020.

At VoteRunLead, Ty has learned that everything women go through in life is only heightened in politics – one of the most public professions. Because of that most fundamental bias-belief that women are inherently less worth listening to than men and the resulting internal dialogue of self-criticism–women often and inadvertently second-guess themselves.

Many women go to VoteRunLead knowing they want to run for but hesitate because of messages they get that they’re only qualified to be home with their kids, no one will take them seriously, and they’re either too attractive or unattractive. VoteRunLead does not teach women how to look or how to win over other people, but rather how to use their voice. Ty says, “Confidence is what makes people follow leaders.”

How women demonstrate that confidence

Women can:

  1. Find a mentor. Studies show that people with mentors are likelier to get promotions. Mentors show women the ropes and help them navigate office politics. They introduce them to decision-makers who help their mentees get high-profile assignments. So much of what gets you noticed at work is who you know and who sings your praises.(10) Don’t be afraid to shoot higher than you should — senior executives often love sharing their wisdom with others, and they’ll respond really well to someone who asks simply, “Can I learn from you?”(11)
  2. Cultivate community. Because women are not the norm in the workplace or public office, they need people in their corner. Like men, women need validation; it’s important to have people around that lift women up. Nobody succeeds alone; we are all part of a much greater fabric. So it’s okay to look to others for help, but by the same token, don’t let anyone steal your power and make your story theirs.(11) Ty says, “To unlearn any false narratives imposed by society, create one huge support group.”
  3. Believe in your mission. Own your expertise. Claim your title. And if you’re not yet completely sure, know that your passion becomes our expertise. Give it time, do the research and you’ll discover how important your voice is. And Ty points out, “So often it’s women who live in both arenas, family and work, so they naturally have this unique perspective of understanding both spheres. As politicians running for public office or leaders in a conference room, that perspective needs to be heard.” Very, very often that perspective is that of our customer.
  4. Bring your whole authentic self. To really get to know yourself, try doing a mental review of your workday every night, especially if things have challenged you or made you uncomfortable. Ask yourself, “Was I doing my best and acting in accordance with my personal values today?” If so, that’s a source of strength; if not – no self-judgment necessary, just keep working on it. Ty explains that by sharing their truth and expertise, women gain trust.
  5. Develop your voice. Come prepared to all meetings. Know what you’re there to discuss, and if you have something to add, speak up. If needed, give yourself a pep talk before the meeting, and memorize a couple of your talking points so you’re free to make eye contact with others in the room when the opportunity arises to speak. Positive self-talk can help.
  6. Build allies. While research shows that female executives are very efficient, arriving to meetings on time and rushing off to the next meeting, men are more likely to spend time connecting with one another to test their ideas and garner support. They arrive at meetings early in order to get a good seat and chat with colleagues, and they stay afterward to close off the discussion and talk about other issues on their minds. Women could go a long way toward addressing the problem of timing and feelings of isolation if they sounded out colleagues and built allies by attending the pre- and post-meetings, where much of the real work happens. Informal conversations can help clarify the true purpose of a meeting, making it much easier to take an active part in the ongoing conversation.(11)

As Meryl Streep articulates, women have survived through millennia by pretending to be someone else. As a result, organizations are missing out on tremendous opportunity for innovation, productivity and profit that is already present within their talent pool and waiting to be tapped. But because our culture has buried women’s voices so well for centuries, even women don’t always realize they have internalized it. Cultural intelligence enables us to shift our perspective and adapt our behavior to ensure everyone’s voices are heard. Employee safety and belonging is the means to an end for more productivity, innovation and profit in every organization.


  1. Streep, M. (2010) Tips and Inspiration for Achieving Success, Barnard College Commencement Speech: https://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0069-streep.htm
  2. Chemaly, S. (2018). Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, New York: Atria Books.
  3. National Sexual Violence Resource Center: https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics
  4. MeToo.: https://metoomvmt.org/
  5. Quindlen, A (2012). Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. New York: Random House.
  6. (2013) “Why diversity matters.” The Catalyst Information Center: https://www.catalyst.org/system/files/why_diversity_matters_catalyst_0.pdf
  7. Herring, C (2009). Does diversity pay? American Sociological Review, Vol 74, Num 2: https://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/savvy/images/journals/docs/pdf/asr/Apr09ASRFeature.pdf
  8. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  9. Interview with Ty Shaffer. (Jan 2018)
  10. Heath, K., Flynn, J., Hold, M. (June 2014) “Women, find your voice,” Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2014/06/women-find-your-voice
  11. Chatzky, J (1 Aug 2018) How to find your voice at work (and use it), according to these female CEOs,” NBC Better: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/business/who-are-you-how-5-female-ceos-found-their-voice-ncna895901#anchor-Ilearnedtoembracemyownauthenticity

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: https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation
  2. Troiano, E (July 23, 2013) “Why Diversity Matters,” Catalyst: https://www.catalyst.org/research/why-diversity-and-inclusion-matter/
  3. Herring, C (April 2009) “Does Diversity Pay?: Race, Gender, and the Business Case for Diversity,” American Sociological Review: https://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/savvy/images/journals/docs/pdf/asr/Apr09ASRFeature.pdf
  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: Amy@EmpoweringPartners.com

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: https://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/chapter-2-immigrations-impact-on-past-and-future-u-s-population-change/
  3. Cohn, D & Caumont, A (March 31, 2016) 10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world. Pew Center Research: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/31/10-demographic-trends-that-are-shaping-the-u-s-and-the-world/
  4. Cilluffo, A & Cohn, D (April 25, 2018) 7 demographic trends shaping the U.S. and the world in 2018. Pew Center Research: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/25/7-demographic-trends-shaping-the-u-s-and-the-world-in-2018/
  5. O’Mara, J. & Richter, A (2017) Global Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarks. The Centre for Global Inclusion: http://centreforglobalinclusion.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/GDIB-V.090517.pdf
  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: Amy@EmpoweringPartners.com