10. Enhance your Cultural Intelligence. Interview of Rhonda Singer, Vice President Global Talent at Global Learning
A few weeks ago, at the occasion of a diversity conference, I attended a workshop facilitated by Rhonda Singer, Vice President Global Talent at Global Learning. With more than 17 years of experience, Rhonda counts among the trailblazers in the field of Cultural Intelligence. Also called Cultural Quotient (CQ), Cultural intelligence can be understood as the capability to relate and work effectively across cultures, and applies to all contexts (national, ethnic, organizational, generational, and others).
I discovered Cultural Intelligence about a year ago, and I recently had for the first time the opportunity to learn directly from a professional of this field. Being myself passionate of cultures, I was eager to hear more from Rhonda, who enthusiastically accepted to answer my questions.
Rhonda, when was the first time you heard about Cultural Intelligence?
“It was around 1998 when I was President of PCPI* sitting in my office with my two direct reports. We were meeting about a client’s strategy for employability. At that time the Conference Board of Canada (CBOC) had just published their employability skills.
As we were discussing the issue it became clear to me that clients did not know what the CBOC “employability skills” looked like, sounded like or felt like. And I thought “We are doing this all wrong. We are doing it from our perspective, trying to force them into our lens, and they don’t get it.” I wanted to help them understand what Canadian employers were looking for through their own cultural lens.
So I started to do research and I found the term “Cultural Intelligence” or “CQ”. I had already been sensitized to a culturally diverse environment while I was working in various manufacturing companies. The term to me conveyed an organizational strategy versus the term “cultural competency” which sounded only HR focused.
“Cultural intelligence does not feel like work. This is what drives me”
Back then, what motivated you to step in this new field?
Cultural intelligence does not feel like work. This is what drives me. When I was a kid, I had been called names because of my religion. I understood what It meant to be non inclusive in a very personal way. This led me to developing admiration for people who left their home country and face significant challenges in rebuilding a new life here. There, they had a status, family and a network. Here, they need to start again. I wanted to create a forum for them where they would feel honored and welcomed for coming to Canada and contributing their professional gifts to us.
Out of that vision came the creation of the IEP conference, whose purpose was to help Internationally Educated Professionals (IEP) ask questions, be inspired and get connected for professional success. We brought in culture in a variety of ways recognizing that skills such as networking and communication could be profiled to better understand how to navigate through country, professional and organizational cultures. PCPI orchestrated the 12th annual IEP conference in April for over 1000 attendees and once again successfully maintaining the values it was built on (see www.iep.ca). The proceedings for the past 11 years are posted on the website so the vast amount of relevant information can be shared.
“Innovations come from diversity of thinking”
Innovations come from diversity of thinking. And in a Global Economy, Canada has a huge opportunity to increase its competitive advantage by employing IEPs. We have the world on the streets of Toronto. Lets not waste this opportunity.
You are now the VP of Global Talent at Global Learning. Can you tell me more about your company and the types of services that you offer?
Global Learning is a privately-held, woman-owned strategic consulting and learning organization founded in 1996, specializing in diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias and cultural intelligence.
Here is a short video to understand more about “unconscious biases”.
Working with a vast array of both unionized and non-unionized organizations on both a local, national and international scale, we are known for our collaborative approach, customer- focus and out-of-the-box solutions. Elaine Newman, the founder and CEO, is a very dynamic values based professional and I am delighted to work with her and the team.
Among the additional services we offer are strategic consulting, a huge suite of e-learning modules, Diversity Moments (click here), and training in the wider area of Diversity and Inclusion topics, all customized to the clients’ needs.
What have been your two most memorable experiences in terms of cultural intelligence? (The best and the worst ones)
At the beginning of my career I was working with a Health and Safety company. When out in the field at clients, I noticed how some employees would not give me eye contact when engaging in a health and safety discussion. In those early days I did not understand why but sensed it must be something to do with their culture. Subsequently I learned it was not respectful when communicating with someone considered more senior in status.
“I learned it was considered respectful to sit there and just ‘be’ with the other”
While CEO of PCPI I was trying to set up a Cultural Intelligence Think Tank. However I was finding it difficult to get a representation from the Aboriginal community. One day, a colleague told me that he knew someone from that community and invited me to meet Robert over a cup of coffee. When I arrived, he was sitting, patting our host’s dog. I extended my hand to shake which he did, but did not say anything. I started talking to him but he did not answer. So for some reason I intuitively knew I should sit quietly -my Cultural Intelligence was developing.After a few minutes, which felt like a long time, he engaged in conversation. Robert initially was a wonderful help and then kindly introduced me to Brenda, a colleague who was Anishinobe. Brenda did become a valued member of the CQ Think Tank and it was from her that I learned it was considered respectful to sit there and just ‘be’ with the other- a valuable lesson.
After years of experience in this field, what would you say are the most and least enjoyable parts of your profession?
For the best, I would say working with companies that “get it” and want to integrate Diversity and Inclusion, Unconscious Bias and Cultural Intelligence into their strategic goals. When all employees feel valued and as a result can access the diamond within the individual and the organization wins in a myriad of ways.
For the worst, I really don’t like selling; I like to build long lasting relationships.
What are the three main advice you would give to someone who wants to become a Cultural Diversity professional?
1) Learn your own Cultural intelligence and unconscious biases
2) Develop other skills that work along with Cultural Intelligence, such as Change Management
3) Practice and live the four capabilities of Drive Knowledge Strategy and Action.
What is your favourite quote?
It is one from Eric Hoffer: “In times of change, learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
Thank you Rhonda
* Progress Career Planning Institute is a not-for-profit business focused organization that aligns career development and cultural intelligence services and products to enhance performance in a multi cultural workforce. Source: http://maytree.com.