We are sometimes too quick in the voluntary sector to claim we are great at Cultural Intelligence (CQ). We are just not. None of us. And for the strange reason that I would call the "angelic factor".
Volunteers across the sector are incredibly generous with their time because they are great people, and staff have often taken big drops in salary to work in the sector because they believe in what we do. But this can give us all a sort of angelic blindness when our own values or behaviours are questioned. And they should be questioned because the world is changing fast around us and we need to adapt fast. The journey to equality, diversity and inclusion is not a simple one, even for us.
Over the years when I've pushed back on CQ issues I've sometimes got the impression that colleagues are thinking "you can't question my values, I am here after all". They tend not to disagree with you, and they say all the right things (because they're good people) but simply don’t do anything very different. A sort of passive resistance with a halo, perhaps.
Sometimes I hear it can be almost easier in the private sector where if you deliver the results people care less about how different you are. And in the public sector there is usually a more rigid approach but at least this puts the issues to front of mind.
When I worked in local government I would often wear my Shalwar Kameez to work—a symbol of my ancestral heritage, and not my place of birth—High Wycombe! Since I moved to the voluntary sector, I have very rarely worn it—and I'm wondering why—is it me, or something to do with where I'm now working.? And on the few occasions when I have, total strangers have approached me afterwards and thanked me for doing so, because they have found it difficult to do the same. And yet we pride ourselves—and quite rightly—at being an inclusive, values-driven sector! We have a long way to go and we will have to drop the blinkers of angelicism (is that a word?) if we are to get there. Why not start a 'bring your culture to work' movement? It would help some who may be feeling that they have to leave everything that is different about them at the school gates. And help everyone else too.
I believe that leaders get the best out of people by making them feel good about themselves, and that means all of themselves. Only leaders with CQ can do this.
The streetwise mba is a programme for leaders who want to be more inclusive: to lead diverse teams, serve diverse customers and work with diverse stakeholders. The programme is delivered by Common Purpose in partnership with Transport for London. Find out more