June 2, 2015
Sara Taylor

Jessica couldn’t understand it, how could it be that equality wasn’t the right answer for her as a leader. She had always been taught that equality was a good thing and when I suggested that it is actually ineffective, she wasn’t buying it.

Jessica had been diligently working with her team to increase her cultural competence and was committed to becoming more effective in her interactions across difference.

She had made great progress in the several months we’d worked together, but this point had her stuck and that made her frustrated.

She’s not alone, many leaders believe that equality should be a foundational value for them and their leadership. If I respond in a certain way to one of my staff, I need to respond the same way to all the rest of my staff. If we say our client-facing departments have to work a strict 9-5 schedule, then our administrative departments have to work that same schedule. It just wouldn’t be fair to do otherwise.

Another common comment I hear from leaders in this regard is, “I know my staff member needs more help in this area, but I don’t want to spend all of that time with him. It just wouldn’t be fair to the others on my team that are high functioning on their own.” 

The reality is we are not all equal. We have very different strengths, preferences, work styles and needs. To be our most effective as leaders, we must respond to those differences differently.

One reason we typically hold on to the concept of equality is that we see it as an alternative to favoritism and discrimination. If that were the only alternative, then yes, equality would be a good option. But, there’s a third alternative which is to acknowledge the complexity of differences and respond accordingly.

Responding to everyone differently may seem inconsistent, but in one very important aspect we build consistency and reliability.

Since we all have different needs and perspectives we need to respond to others differently depending on the person and situation. When we’re able to do that, we meet everyone’s needs. That’s where the consistency comes in. Others can count on us to regularly see and respond to the their specific differences and needs.

We can’t do that until we let go of the myth that treating everyone equally should be our ultimate goal.




April 29, 2015
Sara Taylor

You might think I’m crazy telling an organization they shouldn’t do Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) work. I am a Diversity consultant after all. How could I not encourage them to do D&I work?

Well it’s true. I have…in situations where they weren’t ready to take on the work. When organizations aren’t ready, starting D&I work, even with the best of intentions, can actually do more harm than good.

How many of us are familiar with D&I work that has failed or that comes and goes without systemic effect. A client of mine used to refer to this as the “Diversity Wave.” He would say staff knew they could just stand at the shore disengaged as one D&I initiative after another would roll in and roll out again leaving the organization unchanged.

That persistent ineffectiveness erodes trust in any future organizational change work and thus leaves an unrelenting long-term impression the organization will have to break through in order to begin any successful D&I work. There are a few root causes of the ineffectiveness, one of them being a lack of organizational readiness.  

That’s why we start with a readiness assessment. Using twelve measures of both capacity and commitment or skill and will we can determine the level of organizational readiness. Even more important, if readiness is low, we can pinpoint the areas that need to be strengthened before starting any D&I work.

Those measures range from overall leadership team effectiveness to an understanding of D&I stages of competence and a willingness to commit resources. Where does our organization stand? Take our readiness assessment to find out.

D&I Organizational Readiness Assessment












Tally up your total. How did you do? The above breakdown lists the percentage brackets.

Once you find where your organization lies, your next likely question will be, “What does that mean for our D&I work?”

That’s where working with this assessment becomes more of an art than a science.

Ideally, we’d love to see an organization scoring at least 95% on this assessment before they begin their strategic D&I work. Each of these measures is crucial to the success of organizational D&I work so none can be overlooked.  Many times, however, 95% just isn’t realistic.

So we start with leveraging the strengths and filling the gaps that make the biggest difference. Because every organization is different, we can’t look at the numbers alone. We need to find out what’s the story behind the number. That helps us to better understand next steps.

Most importantly, when our organizations are not ready that doesn’t mean we give up the D&I work, it just means we have more preparation work to consider. If that’s the case for you, use this assessment to identify the areas that you need to focus on and make sure that when it comes to your organization’s D&I work, ready comes before aim and fire.




March 16, 2015
Sara Taylor

“It’s like the Wizard of Oz!” This is how Cheryl described her change in mindset. “You know the scene where it changes from the grainy black and white images to the full high-definition color?” Cheryl was a leader that had worked to develop her Cultural Competence. She described how she didn’t even realize that she was blind to the rich complexity of differences around her until she changed her mindset. Once she was able to see that complexity she was able to respond to it more effectively. “It’s not that it wasn’t there before, it’s just that I couldn’t see it. When I couldn’t see it, I was missing out.”

Cheryl could easily see that it’s about effectiveness. Today’s Cultural Competence isn’t just about teaching when you should bow or shake hands, it’s about our ability to interact effectively across difference. It’s also what every workplace needs more of. As we can see in Cheryl’s example, building Cultural Competence requires more than just developing a skillset. It also requires we change our mindset. In that way, it is unlike building any other competence we work to develop in the workplace.

Think of any other area you are competent in—photography, creating a spreadsheet, gardening. In each of these competencies, we can define distinct levels of ability from beginner to advanced and professional. The number of levels may vary, but what is consistent is that you can clearly distinguish those distinct levels. The same is true for Cultural Competence. In fact, we can distinguish five distinct levels of this ability. As we move through those levels our effectiveness increases.

Here’s where the similarity ends. Unlike photography or spreadsheet building or any other competence we build, with Cultural Competence as we develop our skillset we are also changing our mindset. When we move from beginner to advanced photography we don’t have a different worldview. With Cultural Competence we do. Our worldview actually changes from one stage to another.

This is why building our Cultural Competence is so complex. We have to pay attention to both the mindset as well as the skillset. Building a skill is more of a transactional activity while changing a mindset is more transformative.  Since we know that higher stages of cultural competence are more effective, that means that if you want to be more effective, you have to change your mindset.

We’ve taken the five mindsets and labeled them A-E and mixed them up. See if you can put them in order of development from least effective to more effective. (The answers are below)

Mindset A: “A focus on differences divides; A focus on similarity unites” 

Mindset B: “I have my own unique cultural background, and so does everyone else. No one point of view is better than another; the more different voices we can include, the better off we’ll be.”

Mindset C: “Some cultures and points of view are obviously more right than others. If you deny that, you’re just being dishonest.”

Mindset D: “It’s important to approach people from where they are, so I shift my behavior when appropriate. The last thing I want to do is to unknowingly force my cultural view on someone else.”

Mindset E: “I’m not really interested in experiencing ‘cultural differences.’ I’m fine just the way I am, thanks.”



Answer: E, C, A, B, D



January 17, 2014
Sara Taylor

Trying to get from point A to point B quickly? A map is usually a good idea. Fortunately, in our Cultural Competence work today, we have a great map that tells us both where we are as well as where we want to be. It’s Milton Bennett and Mitch Hammer’s Intercultural Development Inventory. It marks our stage of development based on the Cultural Competence framework of Bennett’s DMIS. Unfortunately, that map of the IDI also tells us that over 95% of us are not where we want to be. That is, we want to be much more culturally competent than we actually are. In fact nearly 70% of us are stuck in the third of five stages of development, lacking the ability to move into the culturally competent fourth and fifth stage where less than 15% of the population resides. It’s almost as though when we enter into this third stage we fall into a quagmire that slows our development and holds us in this last of the ineffective stages.

 The difference between the third and fourth stage is significant. In fact, when I lay out the stages on a continuum, I draw a line between the third and fourth stage and refer to them as left side/right side. It is only when we are operating on the right side, the fourth and fifth stages that we are effective in our interactions across difference. We begin to see the full complexities of differences that are at play and, eventually, are able to adjust to them. On the left side, the first three stages we take on a monocutlural mindset while the right side we take on a multicultural mindset.

So how do we advance this seemingly immovable mass of 70% of the population from the ineffective left side to the more effective right side? We focus on the key developmental shifts that need to take place in order to advance the mindsets and skillsets. These key developmental shifts are:  

Left Side  

Right Side  

Conscious or sub-conscious determination of right & wrong

Awareness, accountability and non-evaluative assessment

Bias is bad; I’m not biased

Intentional preference

Treat everyone equally

Complex differentiation

Inability to see behavior/value decoupling

Ability to decouple behaviors and values

Discomfort with identifying or focusing on differences

Comfortable pointing out differences

Golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated

Platinum rule: Treat others as they would like to be treated

Committed Dualism

Committed Relativism

When we fully understand each of these key developmental shifts and continually drill the right side mindsets and skillsets we can be much more efficient as we develop our Cultural Competence. Much like the new GPS that not only warns of the delays where everyone else is getting stuck in traffic, the key developmental shifts also offer alternative routes to get me much more quickly to where I want to go: greater effectiveness and competence.

October 24, 2013
Sara Taylor

This is for the well-intentioned: those of you that don’t want to offend, those that aspire to be fair and treat others respectfully. In my experience, that’s the vast majority of us. The harsh reality for the well-meaning is that, regardless of our intentions, our biases often and unknowingly determine how we perceive others, the situations we’re in and how we respond and interact.

The fact that this happens many times unintentionally is the frustrating reality. Our brains operate so quickly and innocently jump to misperceptions. The question then becomes, how can we be faster than our brains? To dissect what goes on in that split-second, we can look at the three levels of observation. At deepSEE, we use the SEE model to explain those level and we start with a simple activity. Keep in mind that as you read through this activity you are aware that it is an activity used to illustrate bias. In that regard you will likely be more conscious of biased perceptions. However, when we do this activity with groups, they are unaware of the purpose and thus approach it, as we all typically approach every moment and situation, with our biases unchecked.

We begin by showing the picture below and ask participants to describe the picture with as many items or statements as they can.

We’ve shown this image to hundreds of groups. Each compiles a long list of descriptions and usually those descriptions are fairly similar. The typical, though slightly abbreviated list looks like this:

•    Happy family
•    6 people and a dog
•    Grandmother sitting on the floor/ground
•    Loving son and father
•    Angry boy in the back
•    Dog-lovers
•    Tattered rug and picture on wall
•    Warm climate
•    Ethnic family, possibly African or Caribbean
•    Woman on floor is more stylish

After generating the list, we show them the SEE model: See, Explain, Evaluate to describe the three levels of observation. Only the first level of See is without bias. It is the level of objective information gathering and limited only what we actually see. The second level, Explain, adds the first layer of bias. It is more subjective based on our experiences, culture and values, to name a few. This level is what we think we see or observe. The final level, Evaluate, adds even more bias and judgment. It’s how we think and feel about what we think we see.