David Livermore, author of Cultural Intelligence, The Real Secret to Success cites empirical evidence which indicates that “a diverse workforce, whose members have developed their cultural intelligence, is a more productive workforce—and a diverse team with high cultural intelligence will outperform homogeneous teams.” The research finally validates what the field of social work has always championed – that diversity is value added. In addition to the workforce, it’s important to acknowledge that there is value in a diverse church, diverse school, diverse community, and diverse country.
One of the most controversial issues in the United States in regards to diversity is affirmative action. Affirmative action was originated in 1961 by Executive Order:
On March 6, 1961 President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which included a provision that government contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” The intent of this executive order was to affirm the government’s commitment to equal opportunity for all qualified persons, and to take positive action to strengthen efforts to realize true equal opportunity for all.
The original 1961 executive order of affirmative action has been frequently revised and updated through the years to more fully capture the spirit of equality and opportunity and to ensure protection of certain populations in the United States.  President Johnson made an impactful graduation speech in 1965 in which he emphasized the importance of affirmative action with this statement – “Freedom is not enough. … You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “You are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.” Keep this in mind as the importance of cultural intelligence is explored in relation to the current political attack on affirmative action.
There has been an undercurrent of negative affirmative action rhetoric in the United States from white citizens since its inception. However the government has continually supported its intent. That is until August 2017 when policy information from the Justice department leaked to the news media “the Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.” This proposal, which essentially suggests “reverse discrimination” is occurring at universities is short-sighted. There is a frequent and pervasive effort from people to position America as a “force for good” without accurately accepting/portraying history. “Everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” It’s challenging for people to recognize the ways in which white supremacy was built into this country. “It’s in the law, it’s in businesses, it’s in educational canons, what you have to study, who you have to study. It’s in the so-called justice system. It’s just so baked in. And then on top of that, white people have fought to maintain that in so many ways through so many periods of history, including now. It’s miraculous that it’s even controversial to bring this up.” If the United States would incorporate the values and teaching of cultural intelligence in our K-12 schools (which incidentally is also a Biblical principle “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28) perhaps we could reap the benefit of systemic societal transformation. This transformation would impact our views and attitudes towards people who are different – ethnically, race, religion, nationality – which ultimately impact relationships and behaviors.
Not only is cultural intelligence important for dealing with diversity of our own citizens in the United States, it’s also essential for understanding and accepting immigrants and refugees. Livermore has developed a four stage program – drive, knowledge, strategy, and action – which is highly acclaimed and rarely criticized. Gary Yuhl, author of Leadership in Organizations does extrapolate the following unanswered questions/areas of concerns with Livermore’s theory:
- How does the behavior of leaders differ across cross-cultural value clusters and for different countries?
- How are the leaders values and behavior jointly influenced by personality (and developmental experiences), company culture and national culture?
- How useful is the distinction between leadership and patterns of leadership behavior?
- How difficult is it to change organization’s cultural values when they are not consistent with the societal values where the organizations facilities are located?
- How fast are cultural values changing, and what are the primary determinants of culture changes that are relevant for leadership?
- What types of leadership traits, skills, and development experiences are most useful to prepare someone for a leadership assignment in a different culture?
While Yuhl offers valuable feedback and concerns, Livermore’s theory and research resonates with me personally, professionally, and academically. I challenge each of you to examine your own cultural intelligence – are you too comfortable in your whiteness that you fail to see the benefit of/and ensure the inclusion of diversity? Be the change you want to see in this world. Ghandi