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Connecting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belongingness with Intercultural Competence

Connecting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belongingness with Intercultural Competence

Authors: Tessa Sutton, Ph.D. & Chris T. Cartwright, MPA, Ed.D


The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging space is brimming with stellar insights into how to find and root out systemic inequities. These insights are also often North American-centric and need clear evidence of effective implementation rather than concepts on paper. For the deep changes we seek to take hold in our global organizations and society, we must consider individuals’ role in creating cultures of inclusion from a broader, more global perspective. In this chapter, we explore insights from an in-depth review of how organizations and individuals can learn to build inclusive organizations and simultaneously cultivate intercultural competencies.

People hold and reveal the culture of their organizations and societies. As social beings, we create values, norms, and behaviors that can foster a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, as we create ‘in-groups,’ we by default create ‘out-groups’; the effect is often devastating to societies and organizations and debilitating for those who fall in the out-group in any given context. To break negative out-group patterns and foster societal and organizational belongingness, we need to engage in the deep work of culture change, which requires building capacity for individual change and systemic organizational development. We can cultivate the change we need by connecting organizational systems of transformation with people skills to intended goals, outcomes, and desired changes.

In any community and organization, there needs to be a structured and intentional way to change organizational behaviors and patterns. Organizational Development (OD) is a network of systemic practices and structures designed to connect individuals to support the desired changes and outcomes of the institution and meet their unique dispositions (Durkheim, 1973). Hofstede (2001) corroborated individual need disposition within an organizational culture in remarking, “When people are moved as individuals, they will adapt to the culture of their new environment; when they are moved as groups, they will bring their own culture along” (p. 201). OD practices empower individuals and groups to think differently but act together (Hofstede, 1982). The core OD elements for systemic change are values, goals, structure, and climate. These informal systems enable leaders to steer the formal organizational systems (Jones, 1981) to ensure equity and belongingness. These elements form a diagnostic system that helps leaders build individual, administrative, and organizational capacity, such as imparting skills, developing cross-cultural competence, and providing coaching and funding to enact cultural transformation, resulting in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness (DEIB). OD sustains cultural transformation and bridges the gap between diverse individuals or group dynamics and expected strategic outcomes (Rothwell et al., 2015, p. 9). OD also involves individuals in the change process, promoting diverse perspectives and resulting in high-level engagement, ownership, and motivation. The contemporaneous OD challenge, however, is to use DEIB and the unique strengths of generations while understanding complex group nuances and intersectionality in intercultural contexts. With DEIB at the core of an organization’s strategic plan, its values are embedded in systems and become the culture–the way we do things around here–each member has equal opportunities and skills to perform their best work and feels valued.


The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging space is brimming with stellar insights into how to find and root out systemic inequities. These insights are also often North American-centric and need clear evidence of effective implementation rather than concepts on paper. For the deep behavioral changes, we seek to take hold in our global organizations and society, we must consider individuals’ role in creating cultures of inclusion from a broader, more global perspective. In this chapter, we explore insights from an in-depth review of how individuals and organizations can learn to build inclusive organizations and simultaneously cultivate intercultural competencies with inclusion practices.

People hold the culture of their organizations and societies. As social beings, we create values, norms, and behaviors that can foster a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, as we create

‘in-groups,’ we by default create ‘out-groups’; the effect is often devastating to individuals, organizations, and societies because a superior or siloed mindset leads to extreme microaggressions and exclusionary behaviors that can be debilitating for those who fall into the constructed out-groups in any given context and are best described as “… pin pricks, a psychic assault, and death of a thousand cuts” (Sue, 2005, p.100). To break these negative out-group patterns and foster societal and organizational belongingness, we need to engage in the deep work of culture change, which requires building capacity for systematic individual change and systemic organizational development. Individuals and organizations need to believe, act and behave differently. We can cultivate the needed change by connecting organizational transformation systems with people skills to intended goals, outcomes, and desired changes. Equally, to address the negative impact of socially constructed “isms” such as racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, classism, and homophobia, we need individuals and organizations to possess intercultural competencies and enact inclusive priorities, policies, and practices to counter them. These “isms” are rooted in culture, laws, communities, behaviors, and attitudes–and historically in governing constitutions that hinder the full participation of certain populations in organizations and society. Paradoxically, isms also negatively impact the so-called “in-group” because organizations and society are interdependent ecosystems that disrupt all societal participants.

Organizational Development (OD) is a network of systemic practices and structures designed to connect individuals to support the desired changes and outcomes of the institution and meet their unique dispositions (Durkheim, 1973). Hofstede (2001) corroborated individual need disposition within an organizational culture in remarking, “When people are moved as individuals, they will adapt to the culture of their new environment; when they are moved as groups, they will bring their own culture along” (p. 201). OD practices create structures and space for individuals and groups to think differently but act together (Hofstede, 1982). The core OD elements for systemic change are values, goals, structure, and climate. These informal systems enable leaders to steer the formal organizational systems (Jones, 1981) to ensure equity and belongingness. These OD elements form a diagnostic system that helps leaders build individual, administrative, and organizational capacity, such as imparting skills, developing intercultural competencies and inclusive practices, and providing coaching and funding to enact cultural transformation, resulting in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness (DEIB). OD sustains cultural transformation and bridges the gap between diverse individuals or group dynamics and expected strategic outcomes (Rothwell et al., 2015, p. 9). OD also involves individuals in the change process, promoting diverse perspectives and resulting in high-level engagement, ownership, and motivation. The contemporaneous OD challenge, however, is to use DEIB and the unique strengths of all diverse populations while understanding complex group nuances and intersectionality in intercultural contexts. With DEIB at the core of an organization’s strategic plan, its values are embedded in systems and become the culture–the way we do things around here–each member has equal opportunities and skills to perform their best work and feels valued.

Our purpose in writing this chapter is not only to outline the need, value, and possible paths for types of organizations and individual-level changes required for effective DEIB work, but to discuss the value and possible paths toward bridging these two silos of thought and practice in a more global context. The act of building the bridge that will connect individual and organizational development for DEIB is a place where sustainable growth and change can be realized.

The premise behind leveraging diversity as a value and an outcome of systems change work is that representation of a broad spectrum of people, perspectives, and the cultures they hold to the benefit of organizations and society. It is a form of demographic accounting with a lens for equity and inclusion. Throughout human history, patterns of exploration, trade, or wars that have resulted in migration, refugees, and even slavery have consistently emerged. These movements of humans have acted as conduits, introducing individuals, organizations, and societies to new and diverse people and cultures. Unfortunately, the introduction of people, organizations, societies, and cultures to new ones has not always gone well (Bennett, 1993). In the current context, a person can rarely live in a truly culturally homogenous place anywhere in the world; there may well be a cultural preference or bias to believe this is possible, but connecting with differences is unavoidable. To engage difference effectively, we need to ask ourselves three questions: ‘Am I a neutral being without diversity?’ ‘Is there only one way of knowing?’ ‘Are these differences seen, heard, and valued in all contexts?’ And the answer is, ‘No.’

Equity is a value designed to redress long-standing inequities that impact marginalized populations, meet people where they are, and redistribute resources so individuals and groups can fully participate in a community–a value that supports the population’s needs. This is different from equal participation. The leadership body that values equity recognizes patterns of inequity and seeks to remedy them. Comparatively, the leadership values of equality assume that all individuals and populations within organizations and society can fully participate, and our human history clearly indicates that this has never been true. Just as there have and always will be in-groups and out-groups, power and privilege have always been held unequally. So, the need for reframing this value and commitment to equity and redressing inequities in our organizations and societies is essential.

Inclusion is an action or behavior that flows from the value sets of diversity and equity. The Ford Foundation defines it as follows:

Inclusion is the act or practice of building a culture of belonging by actively inviting the contribution and participation of all people. Every person’s voice adds value and creates balance in the face of power differences. No one person can or should be called upon to represent an entire community. – Adapted from Ford Foundation

This practice can and needs to be learned by individuals and organizations to foster sustainable organizational and societal change. It is the space where the culture can be witnessed.

Intercultural competence is the ability to engage effectively across difference (Cartwright, 2020), and we assert that it plays an essential role in cultivating inclusion and belongingness. If an individual and organizational or societal preference is particularly mono-cultural (has a strong preference for cultural homogeneity), seeking, engaging, valuing, and supporting diverse people and perspectives will be impossible. Instead, intercultural competence must be cultivated at the individual, organizational, and societal levels to grow a more multicultural or pluralistic society. The path toward bridging the more Western-centric DEIB field to the global context with intercultural competence is a level of adaptability some would call humility or intelligence.

Interculturalists fondly use metaphors to describe the phenomena they observe in cultural groups. In the ‘Tree Metaphor,’ the roots are the unseen aspects of a culture, the history, values, and norms that ground the tree; the trunk can represent organizations or society that is the focus of observations; the branches are the behaviors that are exhibited by a member of this organization or society; the leaves are the members who are fed by and thrive on this tree; and finally the flowers or fruit are the benefits shared by the organization or society. In this instance, the practices of inclusion are the branches that can be observed, that hold the diverse spectrum of leaved (people) that can grow on this tree, and the flowers or fruit to be shared is that sense of belongingness that is the outcome of all this cultivation—yet one system. Recent biological researchers have learned that the roots of a tree are often three times the size of the tree’s canopy and that these root systems engage subtly and continually underground with one another. and our

Similarly, our cultural values are engaging with each other in subtle and profound ways, growing organizations and societies with behaviors and members of a full spectrum of outcomes. So, our challenge is to cultivate biodiversity instead of singularity and exclusivity.

Individual Development for Inclusion

We have seen too many times where a policy or set of procedures are enacted to attract and value more historically marginalized, diverse populations to foster and support greater equity; the effort creates no discernible change in any of the organization’s elemental OD systems.

The goal may have been to cultivate or nurture greater inclusion and, therefore, an improved sense of belongingness within an organization. However, some constellations of difference categorized by intersectional race, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation dimensions were not adequately included, and the overall outcome was incomplete. When we see why these changes have not had the intended impacts, we can see that the societal or organizational culture did not adequately shift to enact systems that cultivate the new levels of DEIB. Either peer community members, leadership, or national policies hold (consciously or unconsciously) a set of values, beliefs, and norms (a culture) that keep such endeavors from growing beyond the planning documents that map them out. As with OD interventions, intentional culture change at the individual level takes concerted effort and commitment from the facilitator and the members of the organization or society. That is why we assert that individual development of intercultural competencies and inclusion practices needs to be combined with OD initiatives to find a deeper systems-level change toward the full benefits of DEIB outcomes.

Again, Hofstede states (2000), “When people are moved as individuals, they will adapt to the culture of their new environment; when they are moved as groups, they will bring their own culture along” (p. 201). Both scenarios are possible, and the experienced DEIB professional will recognize these engagement patterns and tailor their interventions to be most impactful for their initiative. Interculturalists have been trained to guide individuals in learning about their own cultural preferences and those of others (Hofstede, 2001; Hall, 1976; Wursten, 2020). Intercultural competency development can be initiated by either learning one’s capacity to adapt to a new culture (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985) or by learning about the differing cultural practices and then gauging your capacity to stretch in order to engage effectively (Gundling, 2003); frequently, both approaches are recommended.

The visceral reaction to cultural difference is where biases (conscious and unconscious) and prejudice are witnessed. In order to address biases and prejudices, it is important to introduce inclusion practices, which are a close cousin to intercultural competencies. These consist of a specialized form of self-knowledge that is open to changing oneself based on our impacts on others, along with the adaptability needed to make those changes. We are always called to engage across difference. Leadership scholar Lipman-Blumen asserts that we live in an era “… where inclusion is critical and connection is inevitable” (Lipman-Blumen, 1996, pg. xiii). In connecting positively with others, we gain relationships that will support us in working effectively across difference. However, the nuance of reading another’s cultural differences can be complex. This is why our capacity to learn about our preferences and biases, especially in communication styles, is so valuable. Finally, inclusion practices require bridging difference, valuing diverse perspectives, seeking them out, and seeing that they are heard, understood, and valued, followed by being sensitive to power and privilege. Power is always present in all engagements with individuals, organizations, and societies; we practice inclusion by recognizing these phenomena and learning to read and finesse these differentials for the betterment of the whole.

At the core of individual development for inclusion is recognizing that we have a deep need to belong to civilizations and that this need requires us to live and work with strangers. Mother Teresa was fond of saying that the problems of humankind were due to our drawing the boundaries of our ‘family’ too tightly. Theologian Richard Mouw framed this idea as follows:

“… to be civil comes from “civitas” and it means learning how to live in the city. The origin with a guy like Aristotle, the ancient philosopher, who said early on, as little children, we have a natural sense of kinship. We have strong positive feelings toward those who are blood relatives, my mother, my father, sisters and brothers, cousins and the like. And then as we grow up, we have some of those same positive feelings that develop toward friends. So we go from kinship and we build on that to a broader sense of friendship where you have that same sense of bonding or something like it that isn’t just based on blood relative stuff.

But he said to really grow up, to be a mature human being, is to learn in the public square to have that same sense of bonding to people from other cities, people who are very different than yourself. And that’s not just toleration but is a sense that what I owe to my mother because she brought me into this world, what I owe to my friends because of shared experiences and memories and delights, I also owe to the stranger. Why? Because they’re human like me and I have got to begin to think of humanness as such as a kind of bonding relationship.” (Mouw & Tippet, 2011)

Psychologist Richard Pettigrew (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2013) conducted a meta-analysis of studies based on his mentor Gordon Allport’s (1954) work in Contact Theory. The basic premise of Contact Theory is that when individuals of differing races, ethnicities, and genders, for example, were caused to be together over extended periods, the participants’ mindsets could be changed and be more welcoming (read inclusive) of difference. Pettigrew found that there are stages of development that could be observed and intentionally facilitated by a DEIB professional. First, the participants need to establish safety; when they learn that no harm will come to them by engaging with strangers, they are more open to going deeper. Next, they need to establish mutuality, have reason or agency to engage, and the relationship can be reciprocal. Finally, in the third stage, they learn to hold multiple perspectives as possibilities for knowledge, values, and behaviors; psychologists call this ‘cognitive complexity.’

Facilitating intercultural competencies and inclusion practices is as varied as the people who might agree to participate. In the global context we need to be aware that the salience of differences, isms, and intersectionality varies greatly around the world; to assume that what is salient in one context or set of individuals is the same in another is naïve. The astute DEIB facilitator will take the time to get to know their participants  and understand the full range of intersectional identities that are salient to them, and then guide their participants to engage and learn through deeper and deeper levels of complexity across difference.

Purdue University’s Center for Intercultural Learning, Assessment, and Research (CILMAR) recently compiled a simplified guide based on the work of intercultural scholar Janet Bennett that combines Nevitt Sanford (2017) construct of ‘Challenge and Support’ in learning across difference with the Intercultural Developmental Continuum (Hammer, 2011) that offers a starting point for individual development for intercultural competency: (Yngve, 2023). For guidance on facilitating of inclusion practices is equally intentional and complex. For guidance on adding a layer of development focused on inclusion practices, Kincey, Zemrani, & Bailey, (2022) have a chapter on how they employed an assessment-to-development process employing personal development plans and reflection to support their learners.


Organizational Development for DEIB



Kurt Lewin, the pioneer of Organizational Development Theory (1946), and researchers Getzel & Guba (1957) emphasize the dynamic relationship between an organization and its members within a social system. This system encompasses political, cultural, and behavioral aspects. In this dynamic, two essential interactions occur simultaneously: the organization’s efforts to socialize individuals according to its objectives and values and individuals’ endeavors to influence and shape the organization to align with their own ideals and dispositional needs.

Organizational Development (OD) emerges as a pivotal catalyst in harmonizing these constant interactions and advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness on a global scale. OD serves as a powerful intervention to facilitate planned changes that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and a sense of belongingness within the social fabric of an organization or community. In today’s interconnected world, it is important to recognize how culture and context shape countries’ approaches toward differences. Lewin (1946) explains the interplay between the organization and inhabitants within a social system:

An attempt to improve intergroup relations has to face various tasks. It deals with problems of attitude and stereotypes regarding other groups and one’s own group, with problems of development of attitudes and conduct during childhood and adolescence, with problems of housing, and the change of the legal structure of the community; it deals with problems of status and caste, with problems of economic discrimination, with political leadership and with leadership in many aspects of community life. It deals with the small social body of a family, a club, or a friendship group, with the larger social body of a school or a school system, with neighborhoods, and with social bodies of the size of a community of the state, a nation, and with international problems. (Lewin, 1946, p. 36)

The significance of culture and context cannot be overstated in applying OD interventions. Each country and organization have a unique cultural fabric and social dynamics that shape its approach toward diversity and inclusion. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belongingness (DEIB) professionals must recognize and appreciate OD and these nuances to design interventions sensitive to diverse communities’ specific needs and aspirations. By understanding and adapting to cultural differences, leaders can effectively navigate challenges, leverage strengths, and foster inclusive practices that resonate across borders.

Organizational Development (OD) is crucial in building internal capacity to drive systemic change. It focuses on creating long-term practices and operationalizes the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness goals. It also bridges the gap between individual needs and organizational strategic outcomes. Moreover, OD interventions are designed to understand how success is measured, identify actions necessary for individuals to thrive, and recognize stakeholders’ importance to the organization or community’s success. This alignment between the organization and its members fosters a shift in mindset from individual or fragmented perspectives to a collective focus on broader organizational goals. It cultivates inclusive spaces that influence outcomes and experiences within a social system.


Historical Context and Global OD Considerations of Difference:


Understanding the impact of historical context is crucial when examining how different countries approach diversity, equity, and inclusion through organizational development. Historical events, cultural traditions, and societal norms shape organizational practices and attitudes. Exploring diverse approaches to diversity and inclusion across various regions is important to gain valuable insights into the nuanced cultural dynamics and allow Organizational Development (OD) professionals to address the specific needs and challenges different communities and societies face.

Leaders of organizations increasingly recognize the importance of gender parity and the development of women in their careers. By actively promoting workforce diversity targets and fostering inclusive environments, they can empower women to succeed and bridge the gaps that have historically existed between them and their counterparts. Organizations can support women’s career advancement and create a more equitable and inclusive workplace through organizational development approaches, such as mentorship programs, leadership development initiatives, and addressing biases.

In the United States context, it is essential to acknowledge the history of race as a social construct and its implications for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Recognizing the historical injustices and systemic discrimination experienced by marginalized racial and ethnic groups allows organizations to confront and dismantle these barriers. Organizational development initiatives can include anti-racist training, creating inclusive policies and practices, and providing resources for marginalized communities to thrive within the organization. By addressing race as a social construct and actively working towards racial equity, organizations contribute to a more just and inclusive society.

In other regions of the world, leaders of organizations increasingly recognize the importance of creating inclusive environments and ensuring equal opportunities for all individuals, including those with intellectual disabilities, as an example. By embracing diversity and actively hiring individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, organizations can tap into a valuable talent pool and foster a culture of inclusivity. Through organizational development approaches, such as providing training, accommodations, and support systems, organizations can empower individuals with intellectual disabilities to thrive in the workplace and contribute their unique perspectives and skills. Furthermore, as we progress towards more inclusive societies, it is essential to acknowledge and celebrate marginalized groups’ cultural heritage and contributions. For instance, recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day highlights the significance of indigenous cultures and their valuable contributions to our global community. By incorporating the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion into organizational development efforts, organizations can actively engage with and support indigenous communities, promoting a sense of belongingness and honoring their cultural perspectives and wisdom.

Organizational Development interventions can foster belongingness, address historical racial and other intersectional disparities, harness the power of diverse perspectives, and drive positive change on a global scale. Although multinational dynamics may vary, there exist universal principles inherent in OD interventions that can be universally applied to transform leadership styles, organizational structures, and individual behaviors.

Core OD Universal Elements for DEIB Systemic Change:


The four core universal elements of organizational development that can guide initiatives on a global scale, regardless of cultural differences, include values, goals, structure, and climate.

  • Values represent respect, fairness, and collaboration and serve as a foundation for fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness. These values should be upheld in all organizational contexts, transcending cultural boundaries and creating a shared understanding of how individuals should interact and work together.
  • Goals align with diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness objectives. While the specific goals may vary based on cultural nuances and regional contexts, it is crucial to ensure that they are aligned with the broader objectives of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. By considering and respecting the cultural nuances of each region, organizations can tailor their goals to address the specific needs and challenges faced by diverse communities, fostering a sense of belongingness and inclusivity for all employees.
  • Structures that facilitate inclusivity and provide equitable opportunities are a fundamental universal principle in global OD initiatives, creating systems and processes that support diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of the organization. By promoting diverse representation in leadership positions, implementing fair recruitment and promotion practices, and fostering a culture of inclusivity, organizations can provide equal opportunities for all employees to thrive and contribute to the organization’s success. These structural adaptations help create a supportive environment where individuals from diverse backgrounds can fully participate and feel valued.
  • The climate encourages psychological safety, open dialogue, and cultural sensitivity is essential in promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness. A climate that values and respects individuals’ diverse perspectives and backgrounds enable open discussions about sensitive topics and facilitates sharing of different viewpoints. Organizational leaders can encourage employees to engage contextually, contribute ideas, and engage in meaningful dialogues. This communication and cultural sensitivity foster an inclusive culture where everyone feels heard, valued, and included.

Building Capacity for DEIB through OD:


Building capacity for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness (DEIB) requires equipping individuals and organizations with the necessary skills and competencies. Organizational development (OD) interventions are crucial in developing intercultural competence among leaders and employees. Organizations can enhance their capacity to implement diversity and create inclusion by providing training and development opportunities that promote cultural understanding. Additionally, offering coaching and mentoring programs can support cultural transformation and empower individuals to become change agents within their respective roles.

Furthermore, allocating financial resources to initiatives that promote Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belongingness (DEIB) is a tangible way for organizations to demonstrate their commitment. By investing in a DEIB champion who leads, develops, and enforces DEIB strategies, organizations signal their dedication to fostering an inclusive and equitable climate. This financial commitment can be directed towards initiatives such as diversity recruitment programs, employee resource groups, and intercultural competency and inclusion practices training. By allocating resources to these endeavors, organizations proactively invest in creating an environment where all individuals can thrive and contribute their unique perspectives and talents.

Challenges, Opportunities, and Measuring Impact in Global OD:

Implementing organizational development (OD) initiatives in diverse cultural environments presents challenges and opportunities. Organizations must navigate power dynamics, address implicit biases, and understand the nuances of different cultures. Leveraging the unique strengths and perspectives of different generations and cultures can enhance the effectiveness of OD interventions. OD professionals should seek collaboration and knowledge-sharing opportunities with other global entities to broaden their understanding and advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness.

To ensure the effectiveness of OD interventions, measuring their impact on DEIB is crucial. Developing robust metrics and evaluation frameworks enables organizations to assess progress and make data-driven decisions, combining quantitative indicators, such as representation and retention rates, with qualitative assessments, including employee surveys and feedback. By capturing both tangible and intangible aspects, organizations gain a comprehensive understanding of the impact of OD initiatives on DEIB. Demonstrating the correlation between OD efforts and organizational success reinforces the importance of DEIB initiatives and helps secure ongoing support and resources.

Sharing best practices and lessons from successful global OD initiatives is essential for fostering continuous improvement and mutual learning. Organizations can benefit from the experiences and insights of others by engaging in knowledge exchange platforms and communities of practice. Collaborating with peers and industry leaders allows organizations to gain new perspectives, refine their strategies, and address emerging challenges. By actively sharing and disseminating information about successful OD interventions, organizations contribute to the collective knowledge in the field and inspire others to take action toward fostering DEIB.



Individual development for intercultural competence and inclusion practices is essential to an overall DEIB intervention, where the culture of exclusion can be transformed into one of belongingness. Without appropriate attention given to individuals, their culture, biases, prejudices, and the power and privilege that reinforces organizational and societal structures that limit full participation by all members, we cannot expect to make deep systemic change. This is particularly true when we consider global contexts where the salience of intersectional identities can be complex and held in ways very different from the ways that DEIB professionals are trained to view in North American-centric ways.

Organizational Development (OD) is equally vital in globally promoting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belongingness (DEIB). Organizations can create inclusive environments by embracing universal principles while respecting cultural contexts. Ongoing research, collaboration, and knowledge exchange are crucial for advancing DEIB through OD practices. The core elements of OD—values, goals, structure, and climate—form the foundation for operationalizing DEIB. Inclusive structures, equitable opportunities, culturally relevant communication interactions, and intercultural acuity are essential. Building cross-cultural competence, measuring impact, and sharing best practices further enhance DEIB efforts. Implementing OD in diverse cultural environments requires addressing challenges while leveraging strengths for effective DEIB change. Together, these two sets of practices (individual and organizational) inform each other and form a strong foundation for deep systematic change for inclusion



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Interpretive and critical perspectives: which additional comprehension of Diversity management?

Interpretive and critical perspectives: which additional comprehension of Diversity management?

Mette Zølner, Professor of Intercultural Studies, Aarhus Universit
  1. Introduction

Since its emergence in the U.S. in the 1990s, Diversity management (D.M.) practices have spread worldwide (Köllen, 2021). Diversity practices consist of various initiatives for enhancing organizational Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. D.M. offers to empower marginalized groups, but it also carries a progressive ideal and rhetoric on ‘differences’ as being potentially enriching for organizational performance and decision-making (Ely and Thomas, 2001; Risberg and Søderberg, 2008). That is, U.S. practices of D.M. are carried by two arguments simultaneously: one is social justice and anti-discrimination and the other is that Diversity has positive effects on the financial performance of firms (the business case) (Kelly and Dobbin, 1998; Ely and Thomas, 2001).

Yet, in recent years, diversity practices have been criticized in societal debates and by management scholars. For example, Dobbin and Kalev (2022) put forward that to achieve the diversity bonus, organizations need to enhance a sense of belonging for all employees regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. Dobbin and Kalev (2022) further argue that doing so necessitates a consideration of the particular historical and societal context in which organizations implement D.M. practices. Also, scholars from within Critical management and Organisational studies point to a lack of consideration for the influence of contingent dimensions of organizational dynamics on the outcomes of D.M. practices. They attribute this failure to the positivist epistemological ideal of producing de-contextualized, abstract and generalizable knowledge that still prevails in D.M. research (Hearn and Louvrier, 2016; Holck et al., 2016; Köllen, 2021; Tatli and Özbilgin, 2012).

This raises the question of how to include contextual (ideographic) aspects in diversity management research. And a second question, just as crucial, is how contextual aspects can advance our comprehension of D.M. practices.

To address the question of contextuality, the present paper suggests drawing on the literature on Cross-cultural management (CCM). CCM literature conceives of Diversity as a valuable asset for organizations on the condition that a shared organizational culture is put in place to value and support Diversity. While the positivist/functionalist approach to cross-cultural management remains prevailing in the CCM literature, interpretive and critical approaches have gained terrain in recent years (for examples, see Gertsen and Zølner, 2020; Romani, Bousseba and Jackson, 2020; Romani, Mahadevan, Primecz, 2018a). For both approaches, contextuality is at the core.

The interpretive and the critical approaches share a social constructionist perspective implying that identities and differences are not given or evident but socially constructed within a certain societal and organizational context. That is, the meaning of a ‘difference’ – be it phenotypical traits, nationality, language, religion, social class, age, or gender and sexuality – emerges in and through social interaction within a particular situated context. Yet, while interpretive perspectives focus on the meaning of ‘differences’, the critical ones concentrate on how ‘differences’ are being positioned in relation to power asymmetries and interests.

Some scholars define functionalist, interpretive and critical approaches to CCM as belonging to distinct scientific paradigms that, according to Kuhn, are incommensurable (Kuhn, 1962). Yet, other scholars argue that the three approaches can be seen as being complementary in the sense that each one raises particular questions and provides insights that are of potential use for practitioners (Romani et al., 2018b; Primecz et al., 2023). The current paper is in line with the latter argument. Hence, it is in this light that we will examine which insights that interpretive and critical approaches bring when placing the question of contextuality at the core.

To illustrate the above, we will draw on the Danish example of Diversity. Denmark is generally considered a socially progressive country with a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion in all aspects of society. Also, though social and economic inequalities have grown in recent decades, they remain smaller than in most European countries. Private and public organizations have put various diversity practices in place since the early 2000s. Yet, statistics show that there is still a long way to go to ensure diversity and inclusion in organizations and the Danish labor market in general. For example, a recent rapport from Equalis (2023), a think-tank promoting gender equality, shows that women remain overrepresented in welfare-related job functions in the public sector, their salaries are lower and they are underrepresented in managerial positions in the private as well as in the public sector (Equalis, 2023).

  1. Interpretive and critical approaches to D.M.

Sharing a social constructionist approach, interpretive and critical CCM literature conceive of ‘differences’ and ‘identities’ as multifaceted, fragmented and constantly evolving in relation to the given historical, societal and organizational context in which they unfold. From this follows that identities are always in the becoming, but also that salient differences in boundary constructions between an in- and an out-group depends on the situational context. In other words, whether social actors draw on phenotypical traits or on religious, cultural, or any other differences are enabled and/or constrained by the situational contexts in which they attribute meaning to the selected difference. It follows that for both interpretive and critical approaches, ‘context’ is at the core when explaining and comprehending social practices. Context is conceptualized as multi-layered, encompassing both the situation and the interacting social actors (micro-level) as well as structures, cultures, or discourses that go beyond the situation in the sense of place and time (meso- and macro-levels).

However, interpretive and critical approaches also vary on several points. This includes the focus and aim of the research. Interpretive approaches aim at exploring how extant meaning systems shape the meaning that social actors attribute to acts and behaviors while also slightly modifying such systems. Paraphrasing Geertz (and Weber), man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun (Geertz, 1973: 166). Therefore, the analysis of culture is an interpretive one in search of the meaning that man attributes to acts, behaviors and events in a given context, that is, a thick description, still with the words of Geertz (1973: 166). Also, interpretive scholars consider meaning categories or frameworks of meaning as being collectively shared and as resulting from ongoing social interactions – or negotiations (see Salk and Brannen, 2000) – that determine which meaning is attributed to a given fact, practice, or event. Such negotiations of meaning are situationally and contextually embedded and preserve while also slightly modifying extant frameworks of meaning.

In contrast to interpretive approaches, critical approaches aim at showing how power asymmetries position ‘differences’ and ‘identities’ within a particular context. That is, critical approaches look to power and interest when explaining why some differences become salient as boundary markers between in- and out-group. Power asymmetries are conceived of in terms of political, economic and social structures as well as hegemonic discourses that endow some groups with power while marginalizing others. With Foucault’s definition, prevailing discourses systematically form the object of which they speak and govern who has the legitimacy to talk about it (subject position) as well as how to do so legitimately in a given historical and societal context (Foucault, 1972). However, the way in which hegemonic discourses constitute a given object is likewise being contested and challenged by counter-discourses that present different ways of talking about the same object.

From this brief presentation follows that while both interpretive and critical approaches conceive of ‘context’ as playing a core role in the analysis, their questions differ. Hence, while they both explore the historical, societal and organizational contexts, they are likely to provide different insights on the role of contextuality in diversity practices. For example, interpretive approaches may focus on the meaning that D.M. acquires when social actors make sense of it, drawing on the extant framework of meaning in historical, societal and organizational contexts that differ from the U.S. context in which D.M. was originally defined. This includes exploring the collectively shared meanings of ‘diversity’ and ‘equality’ (see also the concepts of ‘recontextualization and ‘semantic fit’ in Brannen, 2004). In contrast, critical approaches may raise the question of who has the interest and the power to implement D.M. practices as well as how such practices relate to existing discourses on equality and difference. Moreover, critical approaches are likely to raise the question of why some differences become objects to D.M. practices, whereas others are left out.

  1. Denmark as an illustration: insights from interpretive and critical approaches

In early 2000, D.M. travelled from the U.S. to Denmark, progressively becoming a recurrent management practice (Boxenbaum, 2006). Currently, 44% of Danish companies with more than 1,000 employees work with Diversity Management, while the figure is 5% for companies between 0 and 25 employees, and 4% for companies with 26 to 49 employees (Dansk Industri, 2010, quoted in Romani et al., 2017). From within organizational studies and diversity research, scholars have analyzed how a ‘particular’ Danish form of D.M. emerged from the 2000s onwards (Boxenbaum, 2006; Kamp and Hagedorn-Rasmussen, 2004; Risberg and Søderberg, 2008; Romani, Holck, Holgersson and Muhr, 2017). We will draw on this literature to illustrate the questions and insights with which respectively interpretive and critical approaches can provide.

The contextual meaning of ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ (interpretive)

All scholars comment that, in the Danish historical and societal context, the comprehension of ‘equality’ is distinctly different from the one that the US DM carries (Boxenbaum, 2006; Kamp and Hagedorn-Rasmussen, 2004; Risberg and Søderberg, 2008; Romani, Holck, Holgersson and Muhr, 2017). With an interpretive perspective, we may say that extant frameworks of meaning in Denmark infer the understanding of ‘equality’ as ‘being the same’. Hence, equality implies erasing differences and treating people equally. Equality as equalizing is illustrated in Boxenbaum’s quote from a project manager that comments on the implementation of D.M. in Danish organizations: “I think that the Danish tendency to equalize and homogenize is, in fact, an obstacle to diversity management and individual differences. In Denmark, we see it as a matter of fairness to treat people equally. We are trained to equalize”. (Project manager, quoted by Boxenbaum, 2006: 943). This quote also indicates that ‘treating people in the same way’ expresses a strong social norm of fairness. This understanding of equality implies that inclusion aims at making marginalized groups alike – by raising them to the norm of the majority society – in order to further their organizational integration and career advancement (Romani et al., 2017).

Another illustration of the norm of treating people equally is the strong resistance to quotas for women on the boards in Danish companies that the political and societal debates on gender equality have illustrated. This resistance is in contrast to, for example, Denmark’s Scandinavian neighbor, Norway, that already in 2003 adopted laws on quotas for female representation on the board of large companies. Finally, political and societal debates also illustrate a persistent focus on whether minorities are ‘just as good as’ – that is, alike – the majority. For example, debates on the labor integration of ethnic minorities of migrant origin tend to raise the question of whether ethnic minorities are ‘sufficiently good in Danish’ (implying speaking just as well as ethnic Danes) and/or ‘have the right competencies’ (meaning similar competences as the majority). In contrast, such debates rarely ask whether the ‘differences’ of ethnic minorities of migrant origin have the potential to enrich a given profession or organization thanks to their linguistic and cultural skills other than Danish. A similar observation can be made regarding gender inequality. Debates tend to discuss whether women have sufficient competences to enter boards and whether they have the will to make the sacrifices required (less investment in family life) to make such a career. In other words, the assumption is that women should adopt male career patterns. Less voice has to be been given to whether women can enrich the boards with alternative perspectives thanks to, for example, different career patterns and experiences of carrying the mental burden of family obligations that is still, primarily, the one of women in a Danish context (Equalis, 2023).

It follows from above that the Danish meaning of equality contradicts the positive perspective on differences that the U.S. version of D.M. carries. One may say that a lack of semantic fit – between extant Danish meaning categories of equality and those of the U.S. D.M. concept – led to a ‘recontextualization’ (Brannen, 2004) of D.M. in the Danish context. That is, D.M. acquired a different meaning and was practiced differently in the Danish historical and societal context, and this, to such an extent that some scholars talk about a hybrid form of D.M., quite different from the original U.S. version (i.e., Kamp and Hagedorn-Rasmussen, 2004).

Diversity in the interest of whom? And which Diversity? (Critical)

Adopting a critical perspective raises the question of who were the social actors that promoted D.M. in Denmark and in the interests of whom did the hybrid Danish version of D.M. emerge? Initially, it was a small group of progressive business actors that welcomed D.M. as a ‘fresh’ new way to address anti-discrimination and the integration of ethnic minorities that, in the 1990s, became a main political issue (Kamp and Hagdorn-Rasmuss, 2004; Romani et al., 2017: 270). However, a prevailing discourse on ethnic minorities of migrant origin as constituting social economic burdens rather than potential resources on the labor market constrained the implementation of diversity practices. Also, in the Danish universal welfare state model with corporative collectivistic labor market institutions, far from everybody was interested in favoring U.S. D.M. practices that were colored by an individualistic and neoliberal approach to social justice. Therefore, D.M. came to be promoted by more conservative and liberal groups of political and corporate actors that wished to place stronger social responsibility on private organizations and that, eventually, came to see diversity and immigration as a way to remedy to talent attraction and labor shortage. (Romani et al., 2017: 273).

These diverging interests in relation to D.M. give insight into the particular way in which the U.S. concept of Diversity was translated into a Danish practice. In top management, D.M. was promoted, emphasizing the positive effects of diversity on financial performance. The business case argumentation was also supported by Ministerial funding schemes (i.e., Diversity Program 1 (2007) and 2 (2008)) and put forward by consultancy firms, NGOs and state agencies (quoted from Romani et al., 2017). Moreover, firms connected D.M. with established practices of human resource management and aspects of corporate social responsibility as a way to legitimize D.M. in the Danish context (Risberg and Søderberg, 2008). However, at the level of middle managers and labor organizations, the focus tended to be on social justice – anti-discrimination and inclusion of marginalized groups (Romani et al., 2017).

Also, Romani et al. (2017) argue that, for lower-skilled and manual jobs, the privileged diversity category tends to be ethnicity, while in white-collar jobs and top management positions, the privileged diversity category is gender. The latter is illustrated by the Danish Diversity Awards for best practices (2023) in which the distributed prices primarily concerned gender equality, while other diversity categories were hardly addressed in the accounts justifying the nominations ( Handicap and age were mentioned only a couple of times, while ethnicity appeared to be almost absent in the 2023 celebration of the diversity agenda. Also, at the Danish Diversity Awards, several speakers regretted that Danish companies lacked behind companies in other Nordic countries and pointed to the need to reinforce diversity practices for gender inequality.

Indeed, statistics do confirm the need for increasingly addressing gender inequality in Danish organizations (i.e., Equalis, 2023). Yet, statistics also show the need for addressing other discriminations in the labor market – such as exclusion due to handicap, age, or ethnicity. The question is, therefore, why gender inequality dominated the diversity agenda as defined by the Danish Diversity Awards 2023? This question is particularly pertinent since the labor market integration of ethnic minorities of migrant origin remains at the top of the political agenda in 2023. However, we might speculate that the reason is simply the discourse on migrant groups of non-western origin – or of Muslim origin, such as these groups are recurrently referred to in political and societal debates group. The prevailing discourse still represents the ‘diversity’ of these migrants as an economic and social burden rather than as constituting a potential enrichment for the labor market. On contrary, ‘expatriates’ – that is, migrants of Western origin –are presented as enriching Danish companies with their talents and their internationalization.

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Gender inequality in the Japanese Workplace and the Influence of National Culture

Gender inequality in the Japanese Workplace and the Influence of National Culture


Gender Inequality in the Japanese Workplace and the Influence of National Culture

By Chika Miyamori & Reiko Tashiro, CQ Lab, Japan,



Gender inequality in Japan remains a significant issue, as indicated by the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2021, where Japan ranks 120th globally. The country lags in political representation and economic opportunities for women. Efforts are being made to increase women’s participation in leadership roles.

A survey reveals that only 22% of respondents feel they can express their uniqueness, while 35% feel a sense of inclusion. This suggests that many individuals experience assimilation rather than inclusion. Despite nearly 70% of Japanese companies recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion, the actual implementation is lacking. However, organizations that have embraced diversity report positive effects such as increased efficiency, productivity, and engagement.

Japan’s childcare leave system for men is one of the longest in the world, yet the actual uptake by men is low at 5.14%. Busy work schedules and an unsupportive workplace atmosphere hinder men from taking leave. This indicates a gap between policy and practice.

We argue that the cultural dimensions of Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance in Japanese society contribute to these challenges. Japan’s strong masculinity reinforces gender roles and societal friction, while high uncertainty avoidance hampers tolerance for diversity. To address these issues, promoting cultural self-awareness and creating an organizational culture that embraces uniqueness and inclusion are crucial.

To achieve this, the four competencies of Cultural Intelligence (CQ®) are proposed: CQ Drive (Motivation), CQ Knowledge (Cognition), CQ Strategy (Metacognition), and CQ Action (Behavior). Developing these competencies allows for effective collaboration and understanding across diverse backgrounds, fostering a culture that embraces uniqueness while bridging cultural differences.



Gender inequality,  Leadership roles, Inclusion, Uniqueness & Belongingness, Culture, Cultural Values, Hofstede, Cultural Intelligence



In Japan, the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society enacted in 2003 and the establishment of the Council for Gender Equality in 2004 triggered progress in gender-related diversity initiatives and discussions on the importance of supporting women’s social advancement and career development, as well as work-life balance.
In recent years, an increasing number of companies and organizations have begun to incorporate diversity as a management strategy as the concept of utilizing diverse human resources to enhance an organization’s competitiveness and ability to innovate is gaining ground. At the same time, however, the gender gap index in business and politics remains low.

In this paper, we describe the current status and challenges of inclusion in the Japanese workplace, focusing on the gender gap, and describe the DEI initiatives that have begun in the government and companies, their achievements, and their benefits. Then using the parental leave system as an example, the paper describes the reality and reasons why the system is not working even though it is in place. And we attempt to explain the cultural background that Japanese society is prone to assimilation rather than inclusion concerning diversity, using Hofstede’s 6-dimensional model. Finally, based on this, we will present the direction in which the government and companies should work using four competencies of Cultural Intelligence.

Gender Inequality in Japan: An Analysis of the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2021 and Gender Equality Efforts

In the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2021, Japan ranks 120th in the world. In particular, the index shows that progress in the political field, the economic field, and society as a whole is lagging.

In the political area, for example, the percentage of women in the Japanese Diet is on the rise, but the gap with other developed countries is large. In Sweden, the percentage is 44.7% (4th), while in Japan it is 7.9% (160th).

In the Economic Participation and Opportunity result, while women account for 42.2% of the Japanese workforce, the percentage of women in managerial positions is 11.9%, which is low by international standards, compared to 43.0% in the U.S. and 38.7% in France.

Currently, the government has set a goal of “increasing the percentage of women in leadership positions to 30% as early as possible in the 2020s,” and is promoting Positive Action, considered one of the most effective measures to increase women’s participation, by providing information, encouraging, and collaborating with related organizations.

On the other hand, according to a report on the status of gender equality in employment released by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the percentage of women in managerial positions and above is only 8.6%, which is far from the targeted 30% level.

Survey on Inclusion and Diversity in the Japanese Workplace and the Role of Belongingness and Uniqueness

According to a global survey on the inclusion of foreign workers, 44.0% of Japanese workers said they would like to work with colleagues from different backgrounds, a low figure compared to the global average of 79.4%.

According to L. Shore et al.’s inclusion framework, 2×2 quadrants can be drawn according to the degree of Belongingness to the workplace and Uniqueness (the degree to which people can express themselves)  (Chart 1) suggesting that the feeling of inclusion requires both Belongingness and Uniqueness.
It also argues that inclusion is an important factor to generate innovation through the active participation of diverse human resources and to achieve management benefits.

According to a survey of men and women in the Japanese workplace, although 64% of respondents scored very high on the item related to teamwork: “I frequently feel a sense of belonging”,  only 22% of respondents said they “frequently feel that they can demonstrate their individuality”, and only 35% said they “frequently feel inclusion”. In other words, it can be concluded that many men and women feel “assimilation” rather than “inclusion” in the Japanese workplace.

Chart 1



Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Japanese Companies: Survey Results and Impact on Performance

According to a survey of Japanese companies, when asked whether they place importance on diversity and inclusion in their management strategies, nearly 70% of the companies responded that they “somewhat place importance” or “place importance” on diversity and inclusion.

Furthermore, when asked about the effects of having a diverse workforce, the companies that responded that they are working on inclusion indicated that it has had high effects, such as “increased efficiency and productivity” (64.3%) and “increased engagement” (50.4%). The companies that responded that they “do not yet engage in inclusion but plan to do so in the future” also had high percentages of respondents for “improving efficiency and productivity of work styles” (55.6%) and “improving engagement” (42.2%).

A study by Boston Consulting Group found a strong correlation between innovation capability and management diversity. Examining perspectives such as gender, age, country of origin, career path, industry background, and education, as well as organizational revenue, the study found that organizations with above-average diversity generated 19 percentage points higher revenue than those with below-average diversity. The study also suggests that organizations with diverse management teams have better financial performance.

The Gap Between Policy and Practice: Exploring Japan’s Childcare Leave System for Men

So what is Japan’s work-life balance system and how does it work? Let us look at the childcare leave system for men.

According to UNICEF’s survey on the family-friendly policy in the OECD and EU, Japan leads the world in the length of childcare leave for fathers who receive the maximum childcare benefits, at 30 weeks. Japan is second only to South Korea in terms of the length of childcare leave for fathers eligible for childcare benefits, with a maximum of one year (52 weeks).

While the system is great, the actual rate of Japanese men taking childcare leave is very low at only 5.14% (2017). This low rate stands out in comparison to Norway with 89% and Sweden with 75%.

According to a survey, the number one reason why Japanese men did not take childcare leave was that their work was too busy and there was a shortage of manpower in the workplace, and the number two reason was that the workplace had an atmosphere that made it difficult for them to take childcare leave. The workplace and mentality have not caught up with the systems that have been put in place.

Inclusion and the Six Dimensions Model

We hypothesize that culture is a responsible factor for Japan’s significant gender gap and low inclusion in the workplace, and attempt to analyze it using the Hofstede Six Dimensions model. In particular, Japan’s uncertainty avoidance (92) and masculinity (95) are very high globally, and Japan is uniquely positioned in the world for the combination of these two cultural dimensions. (Chart2)

These two cultural dimensions have a significant impact on how diverse human resources are viewed, therefore we argue that Japanese society is likely to be characterized by a widening gender gap and difficulties in promoting inclusion.


Chart 2  Chart generated using Hofstede Culture in the Workplace QuestionnaireTM dashboard


  • Masculinity-Femininity Dimension: Gender Roles and Societal Friction

Hofstede describes the key difference in basic attitudes toward gender and sex between masculine and feminine societies as follows.

In a masculine culture, “there are double standards” for gender roles, with men being subjects and women objects, while in a feminine society, “there is a single standard”  for both sexes being subjects.

According to Miyamori et al., the more a society has social and emotional gender roles for men and women, the more likely there is to be friction between genders. For example, power harassment and sexual harassment, which are repeatedly reported in Japan, are attributed to their strong masculinity.

There are many examples of gender roles in Japanese society. For example, in Japanese school extracurricular activities, for “male” athletic teams such as baseball and soccer, the role of care, such as taking care of the health and daily life of the players, and support roles such as chores have traditionally been performed by “female” managers.

According to Hofstede, the masculinity-femininity dimension is also related to opinions about the right way of handling immigrants. He states that the percentage of those who defend “assimilation” (immigrants should give up their old culture) rather than “integration” (immigrants should adapt only to those aspects of their culture and religion that conflict with their new country’s laws) correlates with the score of masculinity.

  • Uncertainty Avoidance, Tolerance for Diversity, and Strong Masculinity Combined

According to Hofstede, cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance tend to view “What is different is dangerous,” resulting in increased ethnic prejudice, xenophobia, and a tendency to believe that “immigrants should be sent back,” compared to cultures with weak uncertainty avoidance.

Among them, Hofstede argues that cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance and masculinity are more likely to increase ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and aggression than countries with other cultural patterns, stating “Fascism and racism find their most fertile ground in cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance plus pronouncedly masculine values.”


Inclusion measures with a cultural perspective using CQ’s four competencies


As already mentioned, Inclusion requires Belongingness and Uniqueness of individuality. In the Japanese workplace, while many employees feel belonging,  not so many feel they are demonstrating their uniqueness and are included. Although the government and companies have made various efforts to promote diversity, results are lagging. We believe this is due to the lack of a “culture” in the perspective, especially the elements of strong masculinity and uncertainty avoidance of the culture.


Society as a whole needs to increase its cultural self-awareness as well as that of others. And only when that perspective is applied to our efforts will we be able to foster an organizational culture that allows minorities to express their uniqueness. When incorporating the cultural perspective, we propose a method based on the following four competencies of Cultural Intelligence (CQ).


CQ is defined as the capability to relate and work effectively with people who have different backgrounds and provides a practical, evidence-based approach for making sense of our differences and learning how to bridge our divides without forcing everyone to conform to the same thinking and behavior.
CQ comprises four complementary factors: CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ Strategy, and CQ Action.

CQ Drive (Motivation) is the level of interest, drive, and energy to deal with cultural differences. We often label people who do things differently from us as “weird” or “wrong”. For example, if you are part of the majority group in your workplace and you find the ways of foreign workers “strange,” you should ask yourself “To whom is it strange?”  Perhaps it simply comes from unfamiliarity. Even if a difference causes moral dilemmas involving human rights, we cannot develop effective solutions unless we understand the perspective behind it. And strong motivation is key to doing this.

CQ Knowledge (Cognition) is the understanding of cultural differences and their role in shaping how people think and behave. For example, if you are often irritated that some groups are routinely “unpunctual” or “impolite,” having evidence-based resources such as the Hofstede 6D model will be a great help in understanding how preferred approaches differ for things like communication, leadership, risk tolerance, time orientation, etc.

CQ Strategy (Metacognition) is the ability to “think about thinking.” It requires our ability to Suspend Judgement, and to plan, monitor, and assess our understanding and behavior. For example, if you are frustrated with a group of colleagues from a certain background not voicing their opinions in the meeting, you might check your assumption, and come up with a more constructive and inclusive way rather than forcing them to assimilate into the majority.

CQ Action (Behavior) is the ability to act appropriately in a wide range of intercultural situations (and also knowing when to adapt and when not to adapt.) Even if you have extensive knowledge about the culture of your new colleague who is struggling in the workplace, or can analyze the situation deeply, there is no use unless action is taken in real life. And if you have drive, knowledge, and strategy, you are in a good place to launch an action.


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CQ is a trademark of the Cultural Intelligence Center, LLC


Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in an international setting

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in an international setting

Diversity Equity and Inclusion in an international setting

Brigitte Opel,

with inspiration and contribution from Dr. Deanne de Vries

As an intercultural consultant, I was always bewildered when people would reduce “diversity” to the balance of males and females in a group.

Then I realized that also nationality or culture doesn’t cut it. There are so many different variations of diversity. There are those you can distinguish by visible factors: Gender, race, age, and abilities – unless you get fooled by your own misconceptions.

Religion is more difficult; Ethnic can also be tricky if we label too quickly and don’t know the possible differences.

And when it comes to variations by personality, the ice gets thin – as they say in the Netherlands. How do you ensure introverts feel invited to participate, just like the outspoken extroverts?

Because that is what we’re concerned with: We need to get to the point that we not only recognize the differences and learn to address them, we should see through the differences and make sure they all feel assured that they belong, they feel empowered, they’re not just invited to dance, but their dancing is natural, appreciated: is “normal”.

We all want to get to that point. The business case, the benefit is no longer questioned: with empowered diverse teams, we achieve a better understanding of the market, more creative solutions and more productive teams.

Our strategies and objectives are typically quite ambitious: we want to tick all the boxes by the end of the year. In businesses, we strive to have well-balanced teams representing all those diversities and everything is going smoothly.

Every organization and every team has a different starting point. Some struggle to increase the percentage of female teammates. Other groups find it hard to switch to English when new foreign colleagues enter the room – thus excluding them from the conversation. Colleagues that haven’t grown up with the idea of small talk might skip the networking event on Friday evenings. Some team schedules are more flexible than others to accommodate Ramadan meal schedules. Again other teams don’t know how to interact with the colleague they used to consider a ‘normal’ man: Since he introduced his husband at the last family barbecue, they’re not sure how to talk about their families and which jokes are still acceptable. In all these situations, we have expectations about communication, interaction, or life that aren’t automatically true for others. If we have learned to reflect on our cultural programming– as Prof. Geert Hofstede put it – then we realize that our upbringing has engrained us with an idea of ‘normal’ only true for a very small group of people. Once we leave our nest, we find that everyone’s ‘normal’ is different. It is, in fact, a very specific term with a unique meaning to every person that differs from every other person. There is no such thing as a ubiquitous idea of ‘normal’ – also not in the beforementioned situation of the normal = heterosexual man. Therefore, we better be alert not to talk about ‘normal’ or judge people and their behavior if it deviates from our idea of ‘normal’. We better accept it as ‘different’, learn from others’ experiences and broaden our own expectations.


DEI starts with the term Diversity. Diversity usually refers to a variety of different backgrounds, attitudes and approaches to problem-solving. These are some of the most common types of diversity that DEI strategies address:

  • Gender diversity
  • Racial diversity
  • Sexual preference
  • Ethnic diversity
  • Language diversity
  • Age diversity
  • Religious diversity
  • Cultural diversity

Bringing these diversities together in a stimulating environment should result in the most innovative solutions, most resilient organizations and most loyal teams (McKinsey, 2015)

It is a well-recognized fact that diversity is hardly seen or recognized as long as everything goes smoothly. Once things are not going as expected, that is the moment that we notice differences in any of the diversity types listed above. (Eungkyong Yu, 2013)

It is those situations of unexpected in which we suddenly start thinking and acting in ‘us’ and ‘them’. In most instances, these situations are unpredictable to us and others. Do we find ourselves holding on tight to our bags when somebody enters the bus who looks different than us? Do we keep listening to a story about an interaction when a person’s race, skin color or nationality is pointed out? Have you ever wondered if that information adds value to the story?

However, if you focus only on the differences, you might lose sight of the actual Equity & Inclusion efforts leading to belonging and psychological safety.


Various reports have shown that diverse teams are more productive and creative if they are empowered by their environment and their leadership (Jonson et al., 2007). That means that all team members should be empowered and feel empowered to flourish and contribute to the best of their capabilities. That means leaders and the environment must be supportive, empathetic and unbiased.

Looking inward, they must be aware, reflective and conscious of their perspective and the resulting actions.

Looking outward, they must demonstrate understanding and fairness in all their actions to their teams and peers.

That might sound like a sound combination of characteristics. But besides that, a leader needs to have a clear objective: What is his aim for his own leadership and what is his ambition for his teams and their results? This is where equity comes into the picture. Although the facilitation of diversity in the workplace has slowly increased since the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation in the 1960s, the growing awareness for active pursuit was triggered by the #metoo and the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement in the 2010s. The objective for this active pursuit is equity.

Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.

                                                         (Illustration: Interaction Institute for Social Change)

Or as Paula Dressel from the Race Matters Institute puts it: “The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.”

It seems that to achieve equity, everybody requires a different set and depth of approaches depending on the individual situation. At the same time, every organization has a different mix of teams, people and processes. Consequently, every organization requires a unique strategy, broken down into tactical steps and practical approaches.

As a result, organizations have different focus areas and objectives regarding the Inclusion of the Diversity they aspire to.


Inclusion requires the creation of a safe space where everybody feels heard and valued. In this safe space, everybody can be their true self and develop their own Identity.

When people are truly included, involved and accepted, they feel a sense of belonging to the team and the workplace. They develop an extraordinary sense of loyalty and dedication in return for being seen and treated as individuals. As they feel empowered, their self-esteem and self-conscience are strengthened, leading to more daring ideas and inventions.

It sounds easy, but the challenge is the awareness of our biases and blind spots. We tend to accept and trust people who look like us more – because we unconsciously assume they also think like us. That way, more CEO positions in the US are filled by a man called John than by women (Wolfers, 2015). The CEO’s name in the Netherlands is Peter (Equileap, 2020). Journalist Joris Luyendijk checked the background of Dutch leaders and found that they all match the following categories:

1) white, 2) male, 3) born in the Netherlands, 4) heterosexual, 5) graduated from highest level schools, 6) graduated from universities, and 7) have parents with higher level education (Luyendijk, 2022).

Although it seems outrageous that these prejudices and preferential treatment are possible in a country that considers itself liberal and progressive, it really isn’t unusual. A study performed by the Harvard Business Review revealed that employees face an average of 11 identity-threatening situations per week, resulting in a lesser sense of inclusion and belonging. (Slepian, 2020). The author reminds us to accept and respect people for who they are, consult them for their unique expertise and encourage them to get involved. Depending on their background and needs, everybody should be encouraged to connect to others with similar paths and preferences. It’s important to have leaders, mentors, sponsors and role models on the radar and to be able to interact and connect with them for inspiration and guidance.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Many organizations and institutions have cross-cultural communication or intercultural awareness in their Learning & Development curriculum. I have given these workshops at many colleges and universities, but I don’t know what happens with the awareness and communication skills when I leave at the end of the day. Several studies have shown that most DEI workshops do not result in any change in behavior or attitude. (Dobbin, Kalev, 2022).

To be effective, the interaction at the workplace needs ongoing coaching and moderation to ensure respect and appreciation. The team leaders and managers must be experienced in diverse environments to know how to read the signs of disrespect and marginalization. Their experience and empathy make them credible in their coaching role so that people will approach them for advice and guidance.

Suppose we don’t reflect on our biases and challenge ourselves and others in our decision-making and judgments. In that case, we tend to fall back into a pattern of decision-making that is rather habitual and quick than considerate and thorough (Kahnemann, 2011).

Diversity and inclusion are not just another HR strategy; everybody must review their biases and reactions. It requires a degree of openness of the entire organization to employ a diversity of coaches and staff. It requires constant awareness – if I find that your reaction or decision is tinted, then it should be ok for me to point it out (very respectfully, of course).

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are only successful if it saturates the entire organization. At the 2023 Year Event of the Agora Network, panelist Onur Sahin pointed out that the DEI officer needs to report to the Board of Directors to be effective. If it is just another HR staff function, it is often equipped with insufficient resources and impact.

If we want to enable long-term change in awareness, we need to implement policies that detect biases in our decision-making; we need to create an open corporate culture that allows constructive feedback in case of tinted comments and incentives that foster diversity and inclusion.

“Inclusive Intelligence is the meeting point of Emotional Intelligence and Inclusive Leadership” (Karayel, 2021).

The focus on inclusion starts at the top – with objectives, targets, and personal buy-in. Lip service and window dressing won’t work. A lot of money is spent on awareness-creating workshops and training. Still, inequality and discrimination in the workplace haven’t changed much for the better – unless the efforts address the systemic and structural issues that feed biases and inequalities. (Asare, 2019)

On the contrary: In several instances, anti-bias training has become such a politically loaded topic “that it can ‘backfire’ and create a negative response” (Coughlan, 2020).

Often, the little steps in the right direction make a difference.

Feeling seen and heard and free to speak up and contribute to the team effort are factors enabling psychological safety. Psychological safety allows the free flow of creativity and constructive teamwork. It feeds into people’s intrinsic motivation to keep learning and develop themselves. In an environment with psychological safety, individuals give each other feedback and reflect on their own behavior. The resulting bond leads to loyalty and resilience: A virtuous circle. (McKinsey, 2020)

One company that has quietly achieved a high level of Equity and Inclusion is SAP. Several employees have participated in “Inclusion in Tech” events and confirmed in discussion groups and private conversations that tolerance and support are very high. By coincidence, it was also the first company on my radar with a Diversity Officer reporting to the CEO.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in different settings

Every country has a focus area on DEI.

In Germany, the focus is generally on gender equality. The public debate is whether there should be quotas for women in leadership positions and whether that adds to equal opportunities.

In the USA, the focus of the public debate seems to circle more on the equality of skin color or race. Several words have been banned during that effort as they are considered derogatory. The struggle for ‘politically correct’ words has swept the world and is often connected to the woke movement (Purnell, 2021).

In the Netherlands, the public debate is on sexual orientation and gender equality. Often enough, the DEI discussion is reduced to tolerating homosexual marriages and questioning the need for gender-neutral toilets.

In many other countries, the social gap that requires closing is along the lines of belief systems or religions.

For India, we suspect that caste-related traditions form an obstacle to equity and equality. And at the same time, people seem to have developed ways to accept and cope with the inequality that we see as an obstacle to social mobility and perceive as an equity issue.

DEI in Africa

When we look at Africa, other aspects play a role. Whereas in many Western countries, you can achieve anything as long as you have a decent education, the level of education plays a much bigger role in African countries. There’s a strong ambition to achieve the highest possible level of education. Many young and smart people attempt to study at the best possible schools. I have interviewed quite a number of amazing students in their application process to study at the best schools internationally. They aim to learn about international business practices and acquire a diploma to help them be recognized as a serious business leader, domestically and globally. They all state that they plan to return to their home country to strengthen its economy and business position and make it a better place for those who live there. There is a strong sense of giving back to the country and even the continent, a trait that is probably related to the Collectivist culture prevalent in most of Africa.

This ambition to be educated and recognized internationally is true for students but is also about inclusion on a larger scale. Most of the African countries were colonized by European powers during industrialization. The European nations controlled the economies in their colonies, harvesting agricultural products and natural resources and exporting them for further processing in European factories. As a result, there was little industrialization and economic development during colonization. There was also very little social development among the indigenous people.

In many African countries, the level of education for the children of local families was considerably lower than the level of education for the children of the colonists. Due to this educational disadvantage, local families had little involvement in business or administration. If local families had any ambition to partake in business or politics, it was attempted along the lines of the order that the European colonizers established. In the 20th century, the dissatisfaction of the local population of being marginalized in all public affairs grew steadily. Eventually, the disadvantaged students started to unionize and rebel against this obvious form of segregation. What began as a struggle for equal education developed in the mid-1900s into demanding equality in political power and, eventually, their fighting for independence as a country (deVries, 2022)

The line of exclusion has moved to a different aspect now: At the GSBN (Global Business School Network) conference in 2022, I was honored to be a panelist on the topic of DEI in business schools. After the discussion, I was approached by a coordinator at the Business School Nigeria about her efforts to invite people with physical handicaps to participate in their courses. Physical deviations from the ‘norm’ are a stigma in many cultures and societies; they are seen as a curse, most likely by deities for bad actions in a previous life. As a result, these people are often considered a shame for the entire family and hidden in the house. They might be brilliant thinkers, but it is difficult for them to receive formal education.

This is very different in Western Europe and North America: If you cannot participate in the workforce with your physical strength, an academic degree is your best bet to make a living and have a career.

In an environment that values formal education, including students with physical handicaps is an important step to developing and employing the smartness of all people. Awareness is the first step on the way.

However, let us revisit the political landscape after they reached independence. In Africa, the country borders do not align with tribal boundaries. Since their independence, any political leader has to be very conscious of the ethnic diversity in the region and the country. They must demonstrate their leadership to all their people, regardless of tribe or ethnicity, to maintain peace in their country. As one of the Heads of State explains: “Political leadership is being able to deploy power on behalf of the disadvantaged, providing equity for and including them in society.” (deVries, 2023)

Besides this internal struggle to create an inclusive environment in the country, African leaders are also trying to improve their economic and political position globally. Very few business leaders from the Northern Hemisphere are aware of the competencies and capabilities of the African workforce. There is still a kind of post-colonial arrogance, the idea that the African economies are less developed, the political leadership corrupt and the infrastructure hardly reliable. Still, African countries are far from being seen, heard, respected, or valued globally. When we try to apply the terms that we connect to inclusion, we find that they don’t describe how countries and continents interact. The sense of Belonging in the global arena has yet a long way to go. (deVries, 2022)

Regional economic trade unions are meant to protect internal markets from international competition. That way, the trade unions’ markets and economies flourish while others are excluded from trade benefits. That makes trade with Africa difficult: African products need to comply with various standards, the passing of borders and payment of tariffs make the flow of people and goods difficult and time-consuming. There have been good reasons to create these economic trade unions, which might still be valid, but from a global DEI perspective, their existence is highly questionable.

Fortunately, Africa benefits from rare natural resources and a growing labor force. It is expected that the population will grow to surpass both India and China. At the same time, the need for skilled labor will grow in Europe and North America due to declining birth rates. Sooner rather than later, the dependence on Africa for the global workforce and for rare metals will empower the countries and their leaders to a level of Equality and Equity.

Another factor is the delayed industrialization that we mentioned in connection to the colonization of Africa. Many areas are highly industrialized. But there are also regions where mass-produced items are difficult to come by. Therefore, people must be resourceful to develop solutions for their everyday problems with whatever is available. In our industrialized countries, we could use this inventive resourcefulness well. It could help in finding solutions for the overload in packaging as well as the increase in garbage.

Besides that, there is more that we can learn from Africa: The Central bank governor in Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, has been very vocal in pursuing the requirement of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles that requires banks, including Nigeria’s Central Bank, to have

– 30% of female workers

– 30% female board members

– 40% of top management positions filled by women

This resembles the quotas on female representation currently discussed in many European and North American legislations. Some countries have adopted requirements along these lines. Unfortunately, the general acceptance and enforcement are not where they should be.

Let us take another look at the banks in Nigeria, where Mr. Emefiele monitors and publishes the banks’ status and success annually. With such an active promotion by a sponsor who is well established and well respected, it should be no surprise that the current situation (March 2022) has exceeded the targets set out by the Sustainable Banking Principles:

– 32% of the workforce in Nigeria’s commercial banks are female (exceeding the goal of 30%)

– 35% of the board members are female (goal is 40%)

– 8 out of 23 commercial banks in Nigeria are run by female CEOs = 35% (exceeded the goal of 30%)


The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts relate to every individual’s desire to be seen, heard, respected and valued. Moreover, the further development of human civilization requires innovative solutions for living together in harmony, producing food and goods, and responsibly using resources. Prof. Geert Hofstede coined very appropriately: “The Future of Mankind will depend to a large extent on the ability of People who Think differently to Act together.”

On a different level, businesses and organizations have proven to be more profitable and resilient if they embrace the diversity in their own people, allowing them to connect better to their customer base. Inclusive environments have proven to foster more creative and sustainable approaches. Teams that feel true belonging are more loyal and focused: they feel more empowered and less distracted by doubts or threats.

To ensure such a perfect world, we all must stay alert to hidden biases and prejudices and keep searching for inspiration and best practices. With the variety of situations and challenges, we need a variety of approaches and strategies.

Sometimes, the best ideas are in the most unexpected of places. And that in itself can broaden our horizons and open our minds.


Asare, Janice Gassam 2019: Your Unconscious Bias Trainings Keep Failing Because You’re Not Addressing Systemic Bias by Janice Gassam Asare, 29 december 2019 in focus magazine;

Coughlan, Sean 2020: “‘ Unconscious bias training’ to be scrapped by minister” by Sean Coughlan, 15 December, 2020 in BBC News;

DeVries, Deanne. 2022: Africa: Open for Business, Discover the ABCs of doing business in Africa by Dr. Deanne de Vries, Best Seller Publishing LLC

DeVries, Deanne 2023: Africa: Reframing Political Leadership, Discover new insights and the importance of leading from life through interviews with Africa’s Heads of State by Dr. Deanne de Vries, Best Seller Publishing LLC

Dobbin, Kalev, 2022: Getting to Diversity – What Works and What Doesn’t, by Frank Dobbin

Equileap, 2020: Gender Equality in the Netherlands, Special report 2020,

Eungkyong Yu, Alex, 2013: Personal Conversation: “As long as everything goes smoothly, you don’t notice cultural differences. It is when things don’t go according to expectations, that cultural behaviour and cultural reactions become apparent.”

Jonsen et al, 2007: “Unraveling the Diversity-Performance link in Multicultural Teams” by Stahl, Maznewski, Voigt, Jonson, INSEAD, France;

Kahnemann, Daniel 2011: Thinking, Fast and Slow, Penguin Random House

Karayel, Furkan. 2021: Inclusive Intelligence: How to be a Role Model for Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace by Furkan Karayel, Panoma Press

Luyendijk, Joris. 2022: De zeven vinkjes – Hoe mannen zoals ik de baas spelen Uitgeverij Pluim

McKinsey, 2015: Why diversity matters – Report on Diversity January 1, 2015,

McKinsey, 2020: Diversity wins: How inclusion matters – Report on Diversity May 19, 2020,

Purnell, Derecka. 2021: We need to discuss the term ‘woke’ The Guardian on Nov 9, 2021;
Slepian, Michael 2020: Are your D&I effort helping employees feel like they belong? In Harvard Business Review on August 19, 2020;
Wolfers, Justin 2015: Fewer Women Run Big Companies Than Men Named John March 2, 2015 in New York Times;