Charlottesville, Google, and why some need CQ more than others

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Aug 21 2017 by David Livermore Print This Article

From the Google engineer who attributed inequality in tech to gender differences to the U.S. presidentís soft response on white supremacy groups, our commitment to the work weíve been called to do has never been stronger.

Cultural intelligence, or CQ, is most often lauded for its academic rigor and the emphasis on developing skills for working effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. But at its core, cultural intelligence is a deeply human pursuit. Itís about how the 7 billion of us get along together.

Families need CQ

Anthropologist Oscar Lewis says children form their basic values by the time theyíre six or seven. CQ begins at home. Conversations about people who look, think, and behave differently begin on the playground and over the dinner table.

Peers need CQ

Our friends are the ones with whom weíre most unfiltered. And for many of us, the opinions of our friends matter more to us than anyone else. Most of us donít know a single person who would be caught anywhere near a KKK rally. But comments about ďthose peopleĒ or the questions about ďsafetyĒ when seeing certain groups need to be addressed. Donít be a bystander. Speak up when discrimination and bias rears its ugly head.

Schools need CQ

School is one of the first places many individuals enter a more diverse world. Some of our partnering universities in the U.S. tell us they have incoming students who never had a conversation with a person of color before they arrive on campus. Yet as students begin to be bombarded with messages about privilege and bias, these programs can further marginalize underrepresented students and embolden white students to feel like theyíre the ones experiencing discrimination. A strategic approach for building a culturally intelligent campus is essential.

Workplaces need CQ

Companies have cultures of their own that dictate what kind of behaviors are deemed appropriate and acceptable in the workplace. Many of us spend most of our waking hours at work. Effective training programs are an important part of this but the bigger need is creating an overall environment where meaningful conversations can take place about how to understand and effectively use differences in the workplace. Donít roll out an unconscious bias program or diversity initiative too quickly. If not done well, these programs backfire and perpetuate stereotypes and reinforce biases.

So we all need CQ. but some need CQ more than others!


The words, actions, and decisions of leaders carry more weight than othersí. What Trump, Netanyahu, and Larry Page say in these moments of truth matters more than what the average person says. Leaders play a critical role in responding with clarity, vision, and compassion for all.

These arenít the times to defend yourself or protect your personal image. Itís about owning the weight of leadership and calling people to something more transcendent than nationalism or the bottom line. The CQ needed in how you use 140 characters is directly tied to the scope of influence you have.

Dominant Group

Language is never neutral. Two people saying the exact same thing carries very different meaning. A Muslim comedian making fun of white guys or an African American mocking the way white people dance is not the same as me making jokes about Arabs or people of color. Whatís up with that?

Our words happen within a long history of inequality and oppression therefore the dominant group needs to weigh the impact of our actions and words more carefully. In reality, most underrepresented groups feel like the greatest onus of responsibility for CQ is on them. Everyone needs CQ but dominant groups need it more.

No-one is Born Hating

Despite the heartache that can come from watching the news, Iím incredibly hopeful. The most ďlovedĒ tweet of ALL times was the Mandala quote posted by Barack Obama last week. "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.Ē

Hate crimes and racism live on all across the planet, but thatís not the trajectory of the people I encounter across the globe. The incoming MBA students I met at University of Michigan last week voiced their desire to be culturally intelligent leaders of the future. The executives I was with at Goldman Sachs earlier this summer talked at length with me about how they can promote cultural intelligence across all levels of the firm. The special forces officers I talked with a few weeks ago owned the very real struggles they have to view certain groups with dignity and respect.

Who needs CQ? I do. And so do you. So letís get to work.

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About The Author

David Livermore
David Livermore

David Livermore is a thought leader in cultural intelligence (CQ) and global leadership and the author of "Leading with Cultural Intelligence". He is president and partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan and a visiting research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.