Supporting DEI Through Cultural Intelligence

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Monday, November 14, 2022
By Jenny Darroch, Gillian Oakenfull
Illustration by iStock/Giii
Miami University’s Farmer School of Business takes several key steps to help students become comfortable with diversity and difference.
  • At the Farmer School, a dedicated center provides a place for students and faculty to develop their skills in cultural leadership and social change.
  • Two different assessment tools help students understand their own cultural biases and how their perceptions differ from those of their classmates.
  • Faculty receive training in cultural intelligence and cognitive diversity, so they are able to incorporate these elements into their coursework.

Today’s business students will participate in an increasingly diverse workforce and marketplace, and they are part of a generation that is hungry for social change. Therefore, it is essential that they have the ability to flourish in environments defined by difference.

To this end, many business schools have worked hard to increase the diversity of their student bodies to reflect the general population. But is this approach active enough? What happens when schools’ recruitment efforts fall short of their marks? Are diverse student bodies enough to keep differences of opinion from turning into explosive campus confrontations?

At Miami University’s Farmer School of Business (FSB) in Oxford, Ohio, we believe we can do more. That’s why, in 2015, we launched our First-Year Integrated Core (FYIC) for all first-year business students. Students work in small cohorts to complete four skills-based courses that cover critical thinking, creative thinking, and computational thinking—abilities that employers often say new graduates are lacking. Through these pragmatic, actionable, and programmatic courses, students also learn how diversity is reshaping business priorities and innovation.

Through the FYIC, we are working to create a new generation of business leaders ready to promote equity and inspire change. Below, we share with other business schools four key takeaways we have gleaned from our efforts.

1. Have a Dedicated Space

It’s one thing to say you are committed to a cause. It’s another to show it.

2021 was a tumultuous year in the U.S., as the country contended with upheavals caused by social injustice, political divisiveness, and the pandemic. That made it the perfect time for the FSB to establish the Center for KickGlass Change (KickGlass), which is dedicated to providing cultural leadership and social change skills to all students, faculty, and staff at Miami University.

KickGlass provides the resources and the space for our community to carry out the necessary but challenging work ahead. The center offers workshops, events, and programming on topics such as career development and professional advancement. It is staffed by its founding director and several affiliate faculty from across and outside the FSB. The center also collaborates closely with other programs across the university that are focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

2. Make CQ a Measurable Skill

Through the expertise and resources provided by KickGlass, we are able to embrace cultural intelligence (CQ) as a key performance indicator. CQ captures an individual’s ability to adapt and function effectively in environments characterized by cultural diversity.

To know if our programs are having an impact, we first have to evaluate students’ baseline competencies. At the beginning of the semester, all first-year students take an online CQ self-assessment based on the Cultural Intelligence Scale developed in 2003 by P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang. All students receive full assessment reports that detail their scores on each of four key dimensions: CQ Drive (motivation), CQ Knowledge (cognition), CQ Strategy (metacognition), and CQ Action (behavior). Their scores also show them how they compare to global norms. Students review their results and are required to submit a self-reflection essay on their strengths and areas for growth.

Once students understand their own cognitive and cultural biases, they can grow their sense of self while also becoming more aware of others and the world around them.

In addition to the CQ exercise, students take the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) self-assessment, which allows them to view differences among people through the lens of cognitive diversity. As part of the assessment, students complete a “Digital Journey” that provides them with a comprehensive understanding of the theory behind the tool and expounds upon their individual results. The Digital Journey illustrates how their own thinking preferences, and the biases attached to them, may impact the efficacy of their communications, collaboration, problem solving, and decision making. Students also compare how their thinking preferences and biases relate to those of other students.

The Cultural Intelligence Scale and HBDI do more than establish baselines and reduce students to numbers on charts. These assessments allow students—often for the first time—to become aware of their own cognitive and cultural perspectives. Once they understand their own biases, students can grow their sense of self while also becoming more aware of others and the world around them.

3. Create Actionable Development Plans

The best learning outcomes are often self-directed. We emphasize that fact to students during their first year as we introduce them to the idea of what a college education can and should be at its heart. During their coursework in the FYIC, students use their CQ assessments to create plans for developing their own cultural intelligence. Academic advising staff at the FSB are trained to discuss students’ progress on their CQ Development Plans during advising meetings.

We use our Beyond Ready CQ program to connect all existing curricula within the FSB so students know where they can go to obtain CQ skills. These options include extensive study abroad programs, required diversity courses within the business core, elective courses within the FSB curriculum, and certificate programs on global readiness and business in global markets. Students also can participate in curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular offerings throughout the university. Often, these activities stretch them out of their comfort zones and into their learning zones while providing them with opportunities to experience difference.

While many business schools offer similar learning opportunities, our goal at the FSB is to use the CQ development framework to show students how these experiences round out their skills in cultural intelligence and cognitive difference. We want to give them the language and the tools they need to clearly communicate the skills they are developing and actively track progress against their personalized goals.

4. Identify Community Leaders and Partners

We all know that any meaningful work isn’t done alone. In both higher education and corporate activism, we need to break down silos to build collaborative partnerships and empower organic community leaders.

At the FSB, our first step in translating CQ ideas into meaningful action has been to work with faculty to create relevant materials and activities. We know that cultural intelligence—like any other skill students develop in the FYIC—is something students will master only if they encounter it throughout the FSB core. And faculty will be able to integrate CQ knowledge into their courses only if we support their efforts.

Therefore, we provide faculty with the training they need to introduce CQ to the FYIC as a measurable and attainable work skill. Faculty complete the CQ self-assessment and learn how to extract actionable insights from their results. They take the HBDI assessment and learn how to introduce students to difference and implicit bias through an awareness of thinking preferences. Finally, they become familiar with the business case for organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion, which enables them to create buy-in from their business students.

Students will master cultural intelligence only if they encounter it throughout the core. And faculty will be able to integrate CQ knowledge into their courses only if we support their efforts.

All FSB faculty and staff can take advantage of KickGlass’s professional development opportunities centered around cultural intelligence, cognitive diversity, and difference. After taking this training, some FSB professors have recently become affiliate faculty of KickGlass. They will lead professional development workshops and develop innovative teaching and workshop materials.

In addition, as we continue to build out our road map to organizational cultural intelligence, we encourage all FSB staff and administrators to participate in professional development offerings that are less focused on the classroom and more focused on personal cultural self-awareness. These offerings give them a foundation for working with cognitive difference among students and colleagues in all work settings.

Our second step has been to look outside of the business school—and outside of the university—for opportunities to broaden students’ experiences. For instance, KickGlass collaborates with Miami University’s Center for American and World Cultures to provide intergroup dialogue programs to students. KickGlass also works with corporate partners such as Proctor & Gamble to give students experiential learning opportunities that position business as a force for good.

KickGlass has begun to offer co-curricular credentials that provide students with programmatic opportunities to develop skills related to each of the four components of CQ. In addition, the center is building a clear link between the acquisition of CQ skills and career opportunities with the KickGlass Careers program. Through that program, students who earn KickGlass credentials are exposed to employers who place value on DEI skills in the workplace and the marketplace.

Proof of Achievement

Our employer partners routinely tell us they are looking to hire business students who have “soft skills” such as empathy and the ability to work with people from different backgrounds. By establishing a CQ baseline for all students and then reassessing their progress, we can ensure that they show evidence of growth and masterful competency in these abilities.

We measure student growth in the four dimensions outlined above—motivation, cognition, metacognition, and behavior—and we consider a growth of 15 percent to be significant. In the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters, our new CQ curriculum for FYIC helped students achieve aggregate growth of well over 20 percent in three of those areas. Our students came into the program with a high level of motivation, but they still grew 9 percent in that dimension.

Students who successfully complete the required activities receive a CQ Foundations credential from KickGlass. This digital badge shows future employers that students have acquired marketable DEI-related knowledge, perspectives, and skills. The badge also allows students to celebrate their achievements with each other and motivates them to participate in KickGlass co-curricular credentials as they progress through the Farmer School curriculum.

We know that diversity, equity, and inclusion require an ongoing commitment, which is why we encourage students to continue to evolve their action plans. As they get closer to graduation, we also provide them with opportunities to re-evaluate their growth so they can optimize their Beyond Ready CQ Scores. By providing them with an empirical way to measure their CQ growth from first year through graduation, we give students another narrative they can share with potential employers.

We believe that our holistic approach to understanding and appreciating diversity will enable our students to become inclusive and empathetic leaders in the communities and the organizations they serve.

Jenny Darroch
Dean, Farmer School of Business, Miami University
Gillian Oakenfull
Professor and Faculty Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Farmer School of Business, Miami University
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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