Developing a Culturally Intelligent Workforce

August 31, 2023 by Verified First

Developing A Culturally Intelligent Workforce

Over the past few years, we have seen many organizations commit to being more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Yet many are still struggling to make notable progress on DE&I fronts. What’s often left out of the DE&I conversation is the notion of belonging – not just creating a diverse environment, but an environment that supports and embraces diversity through cultivating belonging. That’s why leaders across every industry should be prioritizing culture intelligence. 

But what exactly is culture intelligence? Read on to learn more about culture intelligence in the workplace, why it’s critical to a modern organization’s success, and how you can create a culturally intelligent workforce. 

What is Culture Intelligence?

Culture intelligence, sometimes referred to as cultural quotient (CQ), is someone’s ability to understand and work effectively in culturally diverse environments. A culturally intelligent person is not just aware of diversity, they are able to connect with and relate to people of different ethnicities, genders, cultures, religions, ages, sexualities, political beliefs, socioeconomic statuses, and more. 

Similar to emotional intelligence (EQ), culture intelligence requires an individual to place the feelings, interests, and cultures of other people into context. In the office, people in different cultures have different working styles, communication methods, and lifestyles that can differ from other employees. Employees with culture intelligence understand this and use it to work more efficiently. 

Culture Intelligence and Success

Culture intelligence is essential to being an effective team player and impactful leader. Many experts agree that culture intelligence is as predictive of an organization’s and individual’s success as intellectual intelligence (IQ) and EQ. But how does culture intelligence contribute to success in the modern workplace? Let’s take a look at this scenario: 

According to McKinsey’s 2022 Women in the Workplace research, female business leaders are switching jobs at the highest rates we’ve ever seen. For perspective: for every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two female directors are choosing to leave their company. Many of these women are choosing to leave their current company to find one with a culture focused on DE&I. 

What does this have to do with culture intelligence? Culture intelligence encompasses a wide scale in understanding what you currently have in your organization and how to be in tune with its different cultures, from generations to race, to sexuality, and more. Understanding the needs of all your employees is a part of culture intelligence. Because women are voicing different needs in the workplace, it’s critical for business leaders to be aware and address how to solve these needs. 

Culture Intelligence works with every aspect of your business. Intentionally prioritizing or focusing on culture intelligence can help improve your bottom line, including even your finances. Here are some key reasons culture intelligence is critical in the modern workplace: 

  • Creates harmony and cohesiveness among teams
  • Improves communication
  • Strengthens and expands innovation
  • Encourages community and belonging 

How to Improve Culture Intelligence at Work

Improving culture intelligence doesn’t have to be hard. While it may seem overwhelming, you can start small and work your way up to tackling larger DE&I challenges through culture intelligence. By practicing culture intelligence with awareness and intentionality, you can help foster a more understanding and intelligent workforce. Let’s explore some ways to start strengthening your organization’s cultural intelligence: 

Get To Know Your Team

Knowing how to be in tune with your team and understanding its dynamics is culture intelligence. Take the time to learn about your team members, including their communication styles and the expectations of their leaders. A good way to build cross-cultural connections is through shared experiences. One way to do this is by sharing about holidays and important events relevant to your team members. 

Evaluate and Improve Communication

People from different cultures communicate differently. This can impact how you share information, give feedback, and receive responses from employees. By improving your cross-cultural communication, you can strengthen your culture quotient. Some cultures are uncomfortable being singled out with praise and prefer a quieter, more intimate form of appreciation. Learning these small intricacies among cultures will improve communication. 

Track and Manage Relevant Data

Believe it or not, it can still be challenging to gain leadership buy-in for DE&I and culture intelligence initiatives. The best way to do this is through data. Every effort you make to strengthen culture intelligence should go back to how it can shift and change the strategy of your organization, so using data can help you stay connected to your goals. Track all your efforts and data to help determine where you are improving and where you need more work. 

Diversify Hiring Practices

While teaching your workforce culture intelligence is essential, creating an actually diverse workforce will improve communication, efficiency, and innovation. By only hiring people who fit specific criteria, you miss out on the chance to create a culturally diverse and intelligent workforce. Some ways to diversify your hiring practices include: 

  • Remove identifying information from resumes
  • Use structured interview questions
  • Utilize diverse hiring panels and interviewers 
  • Partner with a background screening provider


With so many organizations focusing their efforts on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, it’s more essential than ever to prioritize culture intelligence. Understanding how to create a culture that embraces, encourages, and appreciates diverse cultures and people is a challenge company leaders often face today. But you don’t have to face it alone. 

We hosted Natasha Berry, Vice President of Human Resources at Smith & Nephew, to explore How Culture Intelligence Drives Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In this HR at the Table episode, we discuss in depth the importance of culture intelligence in the workplace, defining culture intelligence for your own organization, and steps to create a culture of awareness and acceptance. 

Watch On-Demand!

About Verified First
Verified First is known for delivering streamlined background screening backed by the best client support, and for developing the easiest, fastest HR system integrations, for free. Our client support team is U.S.-based, answers calls in seconds, resulting in hundreds of positive testimonials and a 96% customer satisfaction. Verified First's patent-pending, award-winning integrations include over 100 applicant tracking systems, and provide clients a turn-key experience.

Share This Post