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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.

Season 1 of Urban Equity Chats was a success. I brought together a wide array of guests to discuss burning topics for equity practitioners. Some of the topics included:

  • Equity, inclusion and belonging should be an organization wide initiative rather than be a human resources function.
  • Ditching the D in EDI work, especially when practitioners are still discussing diversity instead of advancing equity
  • Mixed race equity practitioners navigating this space, why we feel like imposters and solutions to overcome it.
  • Organizational leaders who talk about diversity and being inclusive, yet are not being held accountable to their words and are therefore being performative.
  • Self-care strategies for equity practitioners

Now I am introducing Season 2 with the theme of Global Conversations. My conversations for the most part have been biased towards North American perspectives and responses to racial and social justice. Equity, fairness and justice are global issues.

My colleague, fellow Canadian, and EDI in the Workplace instructor Diya Khanna forwarded me a Harvard Business Review article: “Do Your Global Teams see DEI as an American Issue” by Poornima Luthra. This article was met with some resistance because their organizations are local. Yet their customers, clients, citizens, and even their employees come from various cultural backgrounds.

For years within my previous profession of urban planning, we have benefitted from extensive research, data, literature and best practices from the United States, to which Luthra concurs. But if our organizations want to be more Luthra mentions, leaders and middle managers must be cognizant that biases, discrimination and inequities are not just an American (or Canadian) issue, but expression is contextual. Equity practitioners need to be less insular, and think more globally and become more culturally aware.

Cultural intelligence or CQ, a topic I am planning to have a discussion on, according to the Cultural Intelligence Centre is “a globally recognized way of assessing and improving effectiveness in culturally diverse situations. CQ is the strategic link for EDI efforts.

Other topics will include:

  • Inclusive Leadership
  • Neuroinclusion
  • Data equity
  • Nomenclature in EDI

Stay tuned for dates and future topics. As well, if there is a global conversation you would like to see being discussed, drop me a line.

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