Urban Equity blogs

How an encounter with an Uber driver allowed me to become more culturally aware

15 August 2022 by André Darmanin0

One sunny weekday morning, I was on my way to see my new family doctor. I chose to take an Uber to my appointment. My driver was a Black male from an African nation. I did not ask him which country, although I could have assumed it was from one of the French-speaking ones since he had a song playing in the background that was French.

He initially piqued my interest when he discussed the number of bike lanes, construction and road closures due to the extended patios on Toronto’s streets. Of course with my city building background, it got my back up. As a driver, their first defense is their car, but never the built environment. So we differed in that respect. Where we concurred was working from home and building a better transit network. I mentioned where I am currently employed and my professional background in urban planning. I also mentioned that I am an equity practitioner.

We got talking about racism in the office and what has transpired in terms of some employers mandating a return to the office, even in a hybrid capacity, and what that has entailed for employees of the Global Majority and women. While he agreed with much of our discussion, he also mentioned that he didn’t see colour. This was based on his relationship with his neighbours in a suburban community and his daughters being university educated. Saying a statement like that would be considered a macroaggression. It is clear that such a statement makes racism worse, but also there is a sense of privilege and classism.

But during my conversation with the driver, it donned on me in terms of where he was from. In many African nations, while many experience sexism, homophobia , and ableism, their first encounter with racism occurs within their new countries. Yet there still, there seems to be a lack of cultural awareness and cultural intelligence among equity practitioners and inclusive leaders.

Cultural competence is a soft skill that is often dismissed by leaders. There are cultural differences not only in our social interactions, but also in our workplace. Nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, profession and organization culture are all part of an identity and have a profound effects on an organization. In our hyper-connected, globalized world, leaders cannot ignore this. Having cultural awareness of differences therefore is the first step to effectively manage people, projects and policies across cultural context.

It is common knowledge that an element of leadership has been their level emotional intelligence (EQ). This is an individual response to situations. With cultural intelligence, it is a further required step working in synchroneity with IQ and EQ.

Image credit: Karine Duranty and Catherine Wu

Cultural intelligence is having the capability to relate and work effectively in complex, culturally diverse situations. Watch a short video from Dr. Rumeet Billan providing a simple definition of cultural intelligence:

Cultural intelligence is a multidimensional construct. First is cultural knowledge which captures individuals’ awareness of how cultures differ and how cultures influence behaviour. Second are the cross cultural skills that refers to individuals’ ability to modify behaviours appropriately to the respective cultural context including acuity and cross cultural interactions. The third and final dimension is meta cognition. This reflects the individuals’ awareness and control of their own thinking, behaviour and learning in situations encompassing cross-cultural interactions.

In addition, it is important that leaders pause before responding to cultural occurrences. It has been common knowledge that we are asked to pause 30 seconds before provide a response. Being culturally intelligent definitely means we must fully be cognizant of more scenarios before making a decision. Therefore it is suggested that we have a 90 second pause before a response. The image below indicates steps in doing this.

via @doodlewellness

Not immediately reacting to the Uber driver’s response right away was an indication of being culturally aware of the scenario by using this 90 second pause.

Doing a deeper dive into cultural intelligence, David Livermore indicated there are 4 capabilities – drive, knowledge, intelligence, and action.

CQ Drive is your interest, drive and confidence to adapt to multicultural situations. Basically it is about how you respond to intercultural scenarios under stress and time pressures. In my scenario, I was not under any duress to respond, but it is good to still good to use the 90 second pause as a basic first step in dealing with any trigger.

CQ Knowledge is understanding differences and similarities. A Black person from the Caribbean has cultural differences than that of someone from an African countries. That was my understanding of the scenario with the Uber driver when mentioning his family’s livelihood as a new immigrant to Canada. So equity practitioners and leaders should learn to go beyond simple generalizations about Chinese and Eastern European cultures, for example, but understand cultural differences when they encounter them.

CQ Strategy is just like it sounds. Planning and interpreting an intercultural encounter. Livermore states this is the most valuable component because provides a way to strategically work through the many nuances and complexities of intercultural situations. For example, if a work colleague makes a racist statement or refuses to participate in training exercises, how should an individual respond.

CQ Action is what you do to apply your learning towards an intercultural scenario. Livermore states that over adapting to another culture is inauthentic. It often reduces the power of cultural differences and could compromise yourself or the organization you represent. It is important for individuals to balance organizational values while adapting enough to be respective and effective. Dr. Oliver Phillips provides a brief explanation of CQ Action.

I admit that I still am not fully culturally intelligent, yet. For now, I would say I am culturally aware. I strongly believe this a useful tool to add to an equity practitioners box as there is a clear link with CQ and equity and inclusion work. The ability to work, lead, and communicate efficiently in a culturally diverse environment strikes as an essential behaviour for leaders aiming to be – or become – more inclusive. Also one of the traits of being inclusive leader is having the competency of being culturally intelligent.

My recent encounter has opened the door to becoming more culturally aware and opens the door to add CQ to my toolkit.


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