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In my latest Urban Equity Consulting blog post, I delve into how culturally appropriate health hubs are carving a path to health equity and fostering social inclusion. Drawing on real-world examples, I shed light on how these inclusive models create healthier, more equitable futures for all. #HealthEquity #SocialInclusion #InclusiveCities

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.

I have a few things to get off my chest. Now this isn’t really a soapbox, but rather experiences of how we engage with professionals in the equity and inclusion space.

While on vacation in Montréal last week, my partner and I experienced a bit of an unconscious bias. After we were seated in a prime spot on a rooftop, the waiter mentioned that we had to move because someone else had that seat and we could sit anywhere else. Now the situation could have been translated a couple of ways. There could have been an unconscious bias (by class and race) from the server because the people who were seated were a White couple or it his tone could have been misconstrued because Québecers, like the French, a direct. So this could be a situation of cultural awareness. Either way, after threatening to leave, we ended up getting free drinks and apologies from the manager and the server in question.

I mentioned this situation to a group of colleagues to where I thought would have been a safe space, had a twist. I did mention that the situation was crippling because I didn’t know how to respond and remained silent. An individual downplayed the situation and immediately mentioned that how I should have used more inclusive language. I responded to say that was not the time and place to mention such a situation. This is the discomfort we are in as equity practitioners.

Words and phrases such as crippling, grandfathered, powwow, etc, have undertones that can be offensive and have overall implication for those communities of ability, class, races and gender. Also, someone wanted a confirmation of the use of “800-pound gorilla” to describe a large overarching organization, to which I corrected him because of how the phrase impacts Black communities.

In any other circumstance, I would have done the same thing. Just the week before I listened to a recent Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox episode on inclusive language in everyday business.

I thought the timing to be “called out” was inappropriate and believe there needed to be an awareness and some emotional intelligence in response to the situation.

Another situation I seem to be having some difficulty with is the nomenclature of equity and inclusion. I have had conversations about using Global Majority over visible minorities, BAME and BIPOC, and EDI over DEI.

Let me get something out of the way. In my practice, I do not use acronyms to describe the work that I do. I am an equity practitioner because I value my work. Mentioning acronyms like EDI, BAME and BIPOC not only cheapens the work and the outcomes we are trying to achieve, but dampens its practicality. Using these acronyms so loosely are excellent examples of inadequate performative correctness. Jill Stoner says that “by conflating groups to single set of initials, we ignore important distinctions and forestall constructive debates”. Further, Stoner states:

Acronyms invented in military contexts support cultures of secrecy, irreverence and tribalism. All of these are understandable survival mechanisms within groups under extreme stress and needing solidarity. The acronyms invented in government and corporate contexts, as shortened names for agencies and companies, save the “valuable” time and space that would be required to say the words and spell them out. In each case — a need to solidify the culture of a group under stress through coded language, and the desire for greater convenience in day-to-day operations of business and government — are the antithesis of what is needed in promoting social justice.


On top of this, I concur with Rosemary Campbell-Stephens on how annoying it is to continue to use BIPOC, BAME and visible minority. Instead as equity practitioners, we should be using Global Majority. The Global Majority refers to the collection of cultures – Black, South Asian, Asian, Indigenous and mixed race. As a group, we make up over 80% of the global population. Continuing to use those acronyms, “limits the capacity to have honest authentic non-coded conversations about race and racism” as Campbell-Stephens asserts.

Furthermore, in an attempt to decentre whiteness, moving away from those terms allows us to acknowledge the collection of lived experiences felt by various communities, notably Black and Indigenous folks who distinctly continue to be marginalized. It may also imply that white folks are devoid of race, which is part of the ideology we are trying to overcome. Importantly, in an increasingly globalized movement and world, many people may not identify as POC as it’s an American social and cultural construct that does not translate universally.

I am glad to see Global Majority being used more frequently within our practice.

The vernacular is changing, especially being in the globally interconnected world we live in. How we respond to situations is sometimes context dependent. Some will continue to use these older terms out of convenience. Some will call out others because it is the easy thing to do. In essence, as equity practitioners must be culturally aware of the environments we are in while not being a part of the oppression Olympics, we sometimes experience.

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