Cultural Intelligence Training: Managing The Risks of Diversity Training

Cultural Intelligence Training: Managing The Risks of Diversity Training

by Felicity Menzies

Cultural Intelligence avoids the common pitfalls associated with diversity and cross-cultural training:

Reliance on stereotypes

Approaches to diversity training that focus on the cultural characteristics of broad cultural identity groups (for example, nationality or gender) overgeneralise and minimise the complexity of culture. A group-based approach to diversity ignores the various subcultures and individual differences that exist within a wider cultural group.


Training that focuses on understanding the “other” without reflecting on one’s own cultural identity, assumptions, and beliefs encourages “us vs. them” social categorisations. This approach perpetuates stereotypes, with negative implications for attitudes and inclusion. Programs that focus on “the other”, while omitting self-awareness and critical self-reflection, are lopsided.

A better approach: managing cultural complexity

Cultural Intelligence training avoids these problems by fostering an awareness that cultures are never monolithic, homogenous groups, and by addressing the risks and fallacies of cultural stereotyping. In addition, Cultural Intelligence training develops self-awareness of one’s own culturally limited interpretative frameworks and reveals how associated biases and prejudices impact exchanges with diverse others.

Cultural Intelligence training does not exclude insights on broad cultural differences such as national cultural values. Such content is useful for understanding how culture contributes to differing frameworks for interpreting and responding to the world. But the Cultural Intelligence approach emphasises that group-level differences are not necessarily predictive of the attitudes, values, or behaviours of any particular individual.

Broad cultural differences are pieces of the puzzle that connect in often unpredictable ways to form a unique cultural identity. During diverse exchanges, individuals with high Cultural Intelligence are able to detect cultural nuances to determine the specific combination of puzzle pieces that together form the unique cultural identity of their interaction partners.

Solving this puzzle cannot be accomplished by relying on cultural generalisations or stereotypes. These may be a useful starting point, but rarely do they accurately represent a person’s cultural identity.

Cross-cultural programs that focus on teaching cultural differences at group level, without emphasising the complexity of cultural identities at the individual level, can foster an inflated sense of self-competency that does not map onto actual skill. A person with high Cultural Intelligence can move beyond stereotypes and country-level generalisations to form a more complex and accurate understanding in any new cultural setting.

Chao, M. M., Okazaki, S., & Hong, Y. y. (2011). The quest for multicultural competence: Challenges and lessons learned from clinical and organizational research. Social and personality psychology compass, 5(5), 263-274.
Earley, C. P., & Peterson, R. S. (2004). The elusive cultural chameleon: Cultural intelligence as a new approach to intercultural training for the global manager. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 3(1), 100-115.


Felicity Menzies is CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, a diversity and inclusion consultancy with expertise in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, cultural intelligence and inclusion, gender equity, empowering diverse talent. Felicity is an accredited facilitator with the Cultural Intelligence Centre and the author of A World of Difference. Felicity has over 15 years of experience working with and managing diverse workforces in blue chip companies and is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. Felicity also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.