Cultural intelligence and tolerance is vital to modern business, despite what Trump says

To lead an international business with a multitude of languages and networks, you must have the intelligence to understand other cultures and embrace diversity – or risk being left behind – writes Ogilvy’s Kieran Moore

As we move into the third week of Donald Trump’s presidency of the United States there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of discussion about gender and diversity. Everyone living in an alternative fact-free world would agree that the role of women and the role of minorities (and their place) in American society has never been in greater focus. Mexicans, Chinese, Muslims, and women have been discussed, maligned and vilified as part of what can only be described as a grubby start after an appalling campaign.

Closer to home, Donald Trump’s views have been supported and extolled by the One Nation political party in Australia. It similarly supports anti-immigration and whips up Islamophobia at every opportunity. And it is here that I realise that the role of women in the debate on diversity is less important than the greater issue of diversity in its entirety.


For we have been having the wrong conversation. The argument has got to change. We have to focus on diversity in all its forms including religion, culture, sex, age, sexual orientation and ability.  

Kieran Moore, CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations Australia

Kieran Moore, CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations Australia

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Mai Chen. Mai is a New Zealand constitutional and administrative law expert, managing partner of Chen Palmer Public and Employment Law Specialists, professor (adjunct) at the University of Auckland School of Law, director of the Bank of New Zealand and bestselling author. And for the purpose of this piece, Mai Chen is also a Taiwanese woman.

Mai was raised in a traditional Chinese way, on the North Island of New Zealand. She was educated in NZ and is married to a Scottish man. She believes that a true understanding of diversity by those in management means that they develop CI or CQ; a cultural intelligence or cultural quotient.

In Australia today, and to be honest most places where diversity is discussed, the focus has been on gender diversity when 28 per cent of Australians were not born in Australia and 47 per cent of Australians are first or second generation Australians. Diversity is clearly broader than the subject of men versus women. Yet why is this still the one thing that ends up on the discussion table?

According to Mai, CQ (as it is defined by author Julia Middleton) is different from IQ. It is the ability to lead people from cultures other than your own. She believes that the key issue is how to move the cultural intelligence lines in institutions, companies, marketing agencies and societies – and on boards – to maximise the benefits of diversity. Mai argues that CQ is a skill that will only become more important as increasing numbers of Australians are born overseas and “as we push for great diversity in our teams”.

The literature shows that greater diversity across management and around the board table gets you better answers and drives innovation as well as bottom line profitability, and the productivity, of an organisation. And while it is great to hear about male champions of change and all the work that great organisations are doing to celebrate and realise the potential of women, it is also encouraging to hear from Mai how diversity, in all its forms, is disrupting us.

She challenges all business leaders to make sure all of our organisations are culturally capable and truly diverse. “Companies will need to know how to manage people not born here, speaking multiple languages and having different cultural networks,” she says.  She believes that CQ or CI requires an understanding of your own culture, of what is core to you and of where there is “flex” – which she says is the capacity to accommodate difference. It also requires an understanding of the “knots” in your core values that are based not on judgement, but pre-judgement and bias.

It also requires an understanding of the core and “flex” of those different from you, who you are trying to lead or work with. So when we as nations look at ourselves in the mirror and staring back at us we see hundreds of different colours, cultures, languages, ages and socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds – how do we respond? If we can answer that, then we really are talking about embracing and understanding diversity; in all its forms.

Kieran Moore is CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations Australia


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