Recently, I had an opportunity to sit in on a vendor presentation. The vendor presented on cultural intelligence (CQ) and research as it relates to consumer behavior. This is an area that I am extremely passionate about. The manager who scheduled the meeting knows me pretty well to have included me on the invite. He is also very strategic. Looking around the room, I didn’t see the normal faces that would typically be there. There were no executives and none of the other limited demographics often seen in board and conference rooms. Of the eight of us attending, only two were directors. Everyone else was below director-level. And while the titles of the people attending are interesting, what was more interesting was the diverse mix of cultural backgrounds and ethnicities.
To most folks, it makes sense to have a cultural mix attending a presentation on cultural intelligence. Or so you would think. There have been several national campaigns that have failed miserably by alienating different groups and cultures. More than likely the reason has been the creative minds and decision-makers were not diverse. They did not have the right mix of diversity in the room.
The diverse mix of people in the presentation I attended included me, the African-American woman, two women of Hispanic/Latin culture, two men of Asian descent and there was someone on the phone who I didn’t know. What I noticed during the Q&A part of the presentation was no one focused on how the research applied to their individual cultural alliance. Instead, we all considered how the topic and available research and insights would apply to the work we are doing.
So why is it still an issue to get the right people in the room when working on new strategies and corporate directions? I did something deliberate when I wrote the previous sentence. I included the word “right.” Part of the problem is how leadership determines who is “right” for the meeting. Most of the time, the “right” people are those with a title. But are those really the “right” people? The other issue is that so many don’t look around the table to see who’s missing. This highlights the problem when people say “they don’t see color.” We need to you see color. When you see color, you can better determine and identify when a lack of color at the table and in the decision-making process is missing.
I previously mentioned the manager who planned the presentation was strategic. He sees color and culture and also, opportunity. He understands that diversity influences innovation. Granted, he and I talk about it often. And we aren’t the only ones. Diversity and innovation are two major topics the Harvard Business Review writes about in their magazine and online. A 2016 article cites
“a 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies and found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean” (HBR, Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter).
That was in 2015. Can you imagine how those numbers have changed in a few short years?
When I hear of the backlash due to cultural insensitivity in an advertising campaign or specific consumer products, I always wonder who was in the room where it happened(my Hamilton reference). The Pepsi commercial with one of the Jenners, Heineken’s “Lighter is better”, Prada’s blackface products, H&M, Gucci, Nivea, and Dolce & Gabbana are some of the instances and brands that have shown the apparent lack of CQ. When I see these stories, I can’t hwlp but wonder who was in the room. Or, who wasn’t.
“Diversity shouldn’t enter the conversation only after a brand or an advertising campaign offends people”
Unfortunately, having cultures represented in the room is not enough. The people at the table must also have a voice, an opportunity to speak and share their insight. They must be viewed as resources not just for the cultural aspect but for their overall input toward organizational effectiveness.
To better understand consumer behaviors, brands have to accept and embrace the different buying behaviors of different cultures. Ask questions. Conduct focus groups. Business should enlist and rely on their employees from all cultures and backgrounds. I believe the solution is pretty simple…
Open the invitation to have others at the table and in the room.
Want to know more about cultural intelligence (CQ)?
- Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success by David Livermore
- GLOBE Study (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness)
- Harvard Business Review article: “Cultural Intelligence”
- ThoughtCo. article: What is Cultural Capital? Do I Have It?