Why Cultural Intelligence is Key to Creating an Inclusive Workplace

Cultural intelligence, or CQ, is the ability to function effectively across cultures—and it deeply impacts our ability to lead, relate, and serve in an increasingly multicultural world. By training yourself and others to interact well with people from different cultures, you can cultivate an inclusive workplace that elevates both the employee experience and your organization’s mission. We talked with Rahn Franklin, Jr., vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Bethel University, to learn more about the four dimensions of cultural intelligence and how they can help build belonging in the workplace. 

CQ Drive

People with high CQ Drive are eager to learn about and adapt to new and diverse cultures. They recognize the value of diversity, and they seek out opportunities for multicultural interaction. To motivate your employees to increase their CQ Drive:

  • Encourage them to uncover their biases. Provide employees with a list of questions to guide self-reflection, or encourage them to complete some of Harvard’s implicit association tests, which reveal preconceived notions about skin color, weight, age, religion, and more. Helping employees recognize hidden biases can motivate them to pursue a fuller understanding of people from different backgrounds.
  • Connect cultural intelligence with existing interests. Look for opportunities to show your team that cultural intelligence is relevant to their chosen career. For example, if you lead a marketing team, invite an expert to discuss how culturally sensitive photos and inclusive language can improve brand affinity and engagement. 

CQ Knowledge

People with high CQ Knowledge have a deep understanding of culture and how it impacts the thoughts and actions of others. They can see how cultures are similar to and different from one another, including their own. To improve your employees’ CQ Knowledge:

  • Implement diversity training and seminars. It’s a good idea to provide broad diversity training for new employees, taking care to communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion to the organization’s mission and goals. But don’t stop there—existing employees can also benefit from regular, more targeted seminars on topics that intersect with their work. 
  • Create a work environment that supports global awareness. Keep your office break tables stocked with major newspapers, or—if you work remotely—provide your employees with online subscriptions to international news publications. 

CQ Strategy

People with high CQ Strategy are able to both plan for and learn from multicultural interactions. They use their knowledge of other cultures to prepare for and perceive meaning during the interaction, and they reflect on their experience afterwards. To help others enhance their CQ Strategy:

  • Provide resources like planning checklists before multicultural interactions. It’s easy to become uncertain or disoriented while working cross-culturally—and it’s important to know when it’s appropriate to adapt and when it is not. Help your employees prepare for high-stakes meetings by identifying potential pitfalls and critical business interests. 
  • Debrief multicultural team projects. It’s often most comfortable for employees to reflect on their experience in a one-on-one setting. Ask open-ended questions like, “What did you learn during this encounter?” and “How will you use that knowledge to adapt in the future?”

CQ Action

People with high CQ Action utilize their drive, knowledge, and strategy to effectively adapt in multicultural settings. They can modify their verbal and nonverbal behavior—like tone of voice, physical distance, and gestures—when the context calls for it. To support the development of your employees’ CQ Action:

  • Connect cultural experiences with team-building. Schedule lunch outings in different communities or initiate quarterly service projects in partnership with diverse organizations. These touchpoints will encourage your team to set their drive, knowledge, and strategy in motion. 

The Benefits of Cultural Intelligence

The sum of your organization’s CQ Drive, Knowledge, Strategy, and Action is a measure of its effectiveness in spaces characterized by cultural difference—and that effectiveness is a key driver of success in a globalized world. Research shows that high CQ predicts:

  • multicultural team effectiveness
  • profitability and cost savings
  • becoming an employer of choice
  • productive global assignments
  • speed and efficiency
  • quality service to diverse constituents
  • expansion into diverse markets

Most importantly, high cultural intelligence helps create inclusive cultures where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. At their core, inclusive workplaces value both individual and intergroup differences—and in doing so, they improve both the employee experience and organizational performance as a whole. By equipping yourself and others to collaborate effectively in multicultural settings, you can unlock the creative, innovative, and problem-solving power inherent in our world’s growing cultural convergence.

At Bethel, we’re committed to preparing culturally intelligent leaders. Learn more about creating inclusive workplaces in our Master of Business Administration (MBA) and M.A. in Strategic Leadership programs, offered in person or online. 

Livermore, D.A. (2011). The cultural intelligence difference: Master the one skill you can’t do without in today’s global economy. New York, NY: American Management Association.

Miller, F.A, & Katz, J.H. (2002). The inclusion breakthrough: Unleashing the real power of diversity. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.