Blog Post

Cultural Intelligence Unpacked: A Conversation with Dr. David Livermore

By Krista Lindsey and David Livermore
January 3, 2024

On January 30, 2024, we are delighted to host our first member conference of the year, centered on Advancing Global Strategy. This event marks a significant milestone as not only the first conference of the New Year for our DBP partners but also the first in-person member conference option since the onset of the pandemic.

We are excited to have Dr. David Livermore, a renowned expert with more than twenty-five years of experience in cultural intelligence research, as our keynote speaker. Dr. Livermore’s work includes founding the Cultural Intelligence Center and writing several influential books, with his latest due to be released this fall. Our Marketing Associate Director Krista Lindsey recently spoke with him, offering a sneak peek into the deep impact of cultural intelligence on global DEI strategies, setting the stage for our January Member Conference.

Dr. Livermore pictured with his family in Botswana
Dr. Livermore pictured with his family in Botswana

Krista Lindsey (KL): David, it’s a pleasure to have this conversation with you today! To lay the foundation for our discussion, I’m keen to understand from your perspective: What exactly is cultural intelligence?

Dr. David Livermore (DL): Thank you, Krista. Cultural Intelligence, or CQ as it’s commonly abbreviated, refers to one’s proficiency navigating and working effectively across various cultural contexts. It’s a skill we can actually measure and develop, and it’s particularly vital for leading teams that are not only geographically dispersed but for any team composed of individuals from diverse backgrounds. There are several research-based outcomes for leaders who use CQ to ensure that teams are inclusive, globally dynamic, and responsive in today’s interconnected world.

KL: Moving forward in our discussion, I’m intrigued to know, based on your extensive research, what has been one of the most unexpected findings regarding the role of cultural intelligence in DEI initiatives?

DL: One of the more surprising findings is the limitation of things like unconscious bias training or teaching people about things like systemic racism for actually improving inclusion. Learning about these realities is important, but as noted in others’ research, we found that by itself, this is an insufficient way to create change. But what surprised me most was that it can actually be worse to provide this kind of training than not doing any DEI training at all. Simply exposing people to concepts like bias, micro-aggressions, and systemic racism without providing concrete strategies for action can lead to a sense of overconfidence or complacency. It ends up inoculating people with just enough information to make them think: Okay. I get it. I’m good. This is something I’ll dig into more at the upcoming conference with you all on January 30. It will be fun to unpack the research further so we can all invest in training that works.

KL: What preliminary steps do you recommend organizations take to effectively leverage cultural intelligence in promoting equity and inclusion within diverse global teams?

DL:  That’s an essential question, Krista. The critical first step is to start with leadership. It’s imperative that senior leaders weave cultural intelligence into the very fabric of the organizational strategy rather than bolting it on as an added program. Leaders, both those in the C-suite and middle management, have to personally commit to developing their own CQ and then integrating it with how they lead. Middle managers, in particular, are crucial since they bridge the gap between upper management and the rest of the team. They’re instrumental in ensuring that cultural intelligence moves beyond theory into practical, everyday application within the organization.

KL: I’m eager to learn about what personally motivates you to keep furthering and sharing your work in the cultural intelligence field.

DL: My inspiration really stems from an insatiable curiosity about people and the world. When I find myself in a room full of people, I gravitate to those who differ most from me, whether that’s different in terms of age, gender, appearance, background, or something else. It’s these varied interactions that ignite my curiosity and deepen my understanding, fueling my passion for the work. To be honest, the complexity of this work means that it’s sometimes awkward for me as a cisgender white male to speak into this work. I try to approach this with the understanding that I don’t have the lived experience to fully grasp the realities of exclusion and discrimination. But neither does it seem right to put the sole responsibility for that on those who are marginalized. Their lived experiences are invaluable. And the research I’ve been part of can also play a part. So together, we can provide useful strategies that make a difference. I’m inspired to think about how to strike a balance between contributing to the conversation and creating space for diverse voices to be heard and valued.

Dr. Livermore pictured with a member of the CQ Fellows
Dr. Livermore pictured with a member of the CQ Fellows

KL: Very well said! I’m curious: from your expert viewpoint, how can each of us as individuals contribute to creating a more inclusive environment, both in society and professionally?

DL: First, in a societal context, one of the key ways we can contribute to inclusivity is by speaking up whenever the opportunity arises. This is particularly crucial for those of us who belong to a dominant group in our communities. It’s not about always having to be the loudest voice or acting as the “diversity police,” but it’s more about challenging established thinking and encouraging openness to different perspectives.

On a professional front, I think we have to acknowledge that as individuals, we can’t address every concern with equal intensity. If a senior leader puts out a statement every time there’s breaking news about something going on that connects to DEI, they’ll spend little time fostering real change. We need to identify specific causes where we can make the most significant impact as allies. This process involves deep learning, empathy, and a balance of proactive and reactive approaches.

KL: The one-year fellowship program you lead seems like an extraordinary opportunity. Could you tell us more about it and any other exciting endeavors, perhaps including your upcoming book?

DL: Absolutely! CQ Fellows is a yearlong program for individuals who want to expand their thought leadership in DEI and cultural intelligence. It’s a highly selective program—this year we had nearly 400 applicants from around the world for only 20 spots. Through a series of monthly virtual meetings and two in-person retreats, we spend the year digging deep into the research on cultural intelligence. Each fellow chooses a niche where they want to focus on developing a practical solution for translating the research for that niche, which could be a book, a podcast, a course, app, or another innovative project.

Members of the most recent CQ Fellows cohort meeting in Singapore
Members of the most recent CQ Fellows cohort meeting in Singapore

And thank you for asking about my upcoming book, which is the third edition of my best-selling book, Leading with Cultural Intelligence. The book will be released on September 17, 2024. This is much more than just an update to the previous editions; it’s a complete overhaul. The landscape of DEI and work as a whole has evolved drastically over the past decade, and this book delves into what it means to lead with cultural intelligence in our rapidly changing world.

Leading with Cultural Intelligence

KL: Both sound like great opportunities to further education in this space! As we look forward to your keynote address at our DBP Member Conference, what are the key takeaways you hope the event attendees will gain?

DL: First, I hope to provide a deeper understanding of how the research on cultural intelligence can support and amplify their DEI efforts, backed by solid evidence. Secondly, we’ll look at some concrete examples of how cultural intelligence can effectively support and enhance DEI initiatives on a global scale. I want us to go deeper together so that we can make our DEI efforts in 2024 have a broader and deeper level of impact.

Enhance Your Leadership Toolkit with Diversity Best Practices

If you haven’t registered for our January Member Conference yet to hear Dr. Livermore and other subject-matter experts speak about how you can Advance Global Strategy within your organization, it’s not too late! Click here to secure your spot at this exclusive event, already included in your membership benefits.

Not a DBP member yet but curious about what we offer? Our membership comes packed with perks such as cutting-edge research, heritage month webinars, quarterly member conferences, and direct access to our suite of industry experts. To discover more and join our community, please reach out to us for detailed information. We’re excited to welcome you.

About the Authors

Krista Lindsey
Krista Lindsey
Associate Director, Product Marketing
David Livermore
Cultural Intelligence Center and Professor, Boston University