A Deeper Dive Into Diversity By Willette Neal

cultural intelligence deep dive dei diversity inclusivity jan 2022 newsletter Jan 17, 2022

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a predominant topic in today's private and public sectors. Organizations seem to be inundated with opportunities and suggestions about diversity training, the benefits of training, and the need for the training. Often the outcomes of DEI training are linked to the financial benefits for the company, whether directly or indirectly. The bottom line or the monetary gain may increase, but this is not directly linked to the DEI program. Especially for international companies, DEI's indirect link is buffered by the ability of culturally diverse teams to engage and interact on a more cohesive level to increase the team's performance–thereby increasing the bottom line or financial gain of the company. Cultural intelligence, or the ability to adjust in culturally diverse settings, is proving to be academically sound for improving the performance of culturally diverse teams (Ang,Koh, Ng, Rockstuhl, Tan, and Van Dyne, 2012).  

Cultural intelligence is built around four factors: Cognitive, metacognitive, behavioral, and motivational dimensions of cultural intelligence. These four factors are further divided into sub-dimensions. I will focus on one sub-dimension in particular to discuss an aspect of DEI. Planning. Planning is a sub-dimension of metacognitive cultural intelligence and is used to explore how individual plans for culturally diverse interactions.

Interestingly enough, the amount of planning that goes into culturally diverse interactions is often inconsistent. How do companies prepare for culturally diverse encounters? As trainers and consultants, what should we consider when preparing personnel for culturally diverse interactions?

I believe that sharing our experiences provides an excellent learning opportunity. Additionally, I—along with all SIETAR USA members—pride myself on being a lifelong learner. Cultural intelligence is my research area and the topic of my dissertation. Still, I recently had an experience that brought to light how researching, reading, and discussing a topic is very different in the implementation phase.  

In October of 2021, I led a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion panel in Las Vegas for several Employee Resource Group (ERG) Presidents. My meeting was very diverse with Presidents from several organizations. The keynote speaker was legally blind, and this is a segue into the metacognitive cultural intelligence planning sub-dimension. I was diligent in the details of the planning process. However, I wasn't as intentional in metacognitive planning. For instance, I corresponded with my keynote speaker through an assistant to avoid emails. When there was a need for more communication, I used Zoom or Microsoft teams. I coordinated the logistics for the arrival time and the placement of the teleprompter. I changed the seating on the stage from tall chairs to smaller chairs to accommodate the guests' different heights. But I still failed to use my understanding of the cultural intelligence research in a more personal manner. On the day of the event, I had not coordinated an individual to assist the speaker in navigating the stairs located behind the stage (there was limited lighting in this area, and the handrail was needed by all the participants). Next, I failed to place the keynote speakers' chairs closest to the podium to eliminate the need to navigate the stage. Finally, the bright lights facing the platform were not considered. What is the lesson that I learned and want to share? We are bombarded with information on DEI, but our real-world ability and need to implement an inclusive environment requires more from me—from us.

As a manager in the federal government, I took this opportunity to reflect on what day-to-day knowledge (cognitive cultural intelligence) is needed to provide an inclusive environment? Definitely, we will need to hire and include diversity in several parts of the organization, but what does this mean in real-life, everyday activities? Recently, I attended a philosophy presentation at a local university. I noted the statement that some people have a way of getting "real think in the thin." This means that oftentimes people get extremely involved in things without having a clear destination in mind. It is exactly how DEI can resonate throughout an organization. We can get really involved in needing a DEI program and fail to come full circle in realizing what this looks like in the daily operations in an organization. Inclusive environment — I want it, we want it, but how do we actually get it? What does inclusive implementation resemble as a manager or leader, and how do we become inclusive without being exclusive? Communication and feedback are key. We will have to ensure that the individual we want to include is part of the conversation on inclusivity. For instance, in all my planning, what if I had asked my speaker the specific needs for the presentation instead of incorrectly assuming that I knew what they were.

As we take a "Deeper Dive into Diversity" at SIETAR USA, we will ask these questions and encourage informal conversations and seek meaningful feedback. We will seek to learn from each other to set a standard in contributing sound advice to the diversity dialogue.


Ang, Soon, Koh, Christine, Ng, Kok Yee, Roskstuhl, Thomas, Tan, Mei Ling, Van Dyne, Lynn (2012), Sub-Dimensions of the Four Factor Model of Cultural Intelligence: Expanding the Conceptualization and Measurement of Cultural Intelligence; Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 295-313.