Having been a resident in Dubai for many years, I have rarely needed to look far to witness diversity all around me. Dubai is a rich and extraordinary mix of people, cultures and languages; our stores are brand names that hail from all over the world; it is possible to eat from any cuisine from any corner of the globe; worldwide businesses have made a home in Dubai. It is the epitome of a globalized environment.

Dubai has over 200 nationalities interacting alongside each other on a daily basis and is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities. Yet, even here it is not straightforward to create a workplace that fully encompasses diversity and harmony. There are many challenges that come with bringing together so many different perspectives, attitudes and beliefs from a mosaic of cultures into the workplace. Interpersonal conflicts and discomfort are not uncommon.

However, Dubai is also known as one of the world’s most innovative cities and it is by no means a coincidence. Research clearly shows that diversity in the workplace brings innovation and creativity. Often, workforces will include at least 15 different nationalities, and while it might seem that reaching a consensus with such a diverse group could be hard work, the incredible variety of perspectives that are brought to the table can ultimately lead to incredibly powerful and creative results.

So how do the best organizations harness this incredible creative power while avoiding the stressful situations that a diverse workplace can bring? The key, quite simply, is to learn to understand one another. And how do we do that? Well, it actually starts with better understanding ourselves through assessing and improving our level of cultural intelligence, by which we mean our knowledge and understanding of key cultural similarities and differences.

Cultural Quotient (CQ) was developed by Professors Soon Ang and Linn Van Dyne as a way of measuring cultural intelligence and predicting intercultural performance. Those with a high CQ are attuned to the values, beliefs, behaviors and body language of people from different cultures, and they use this knowledge to interact with others successfully.

CQ looks at four capabilities in detail:

  • CQ Drive measures our motivation to learn about new cultures.
  • CQ Knowledge tests our knowledge of how cultures shape others’ beliefs, behaviors and values.
  • CQ Strategy measures our ability to make culturally sensitive plans for different contexts, as well as our ability to adjust our our own assumptions and behaviors accordingly.
  • CQ Action draws on the other three capabilities to measure our ability to act appropriately in cross-cultural situations.

CQ is of critical importance to organizations which require individual employees to connect with others across real or perceived borders, and to those which hope to expand into new regions successfully. Organizations need leaders with high CQ to build and lead diverse teams. A positive work environment  of trust, adaptability and empathy is created by a workforce with high CQ. In essence, it is vital for a company’s sustainability in intercultural contexts.

The good news is that CQ can be developed in many different ways. Once you have assessed your own cultural intelligence, it is very possible to develop strategies to further your capabilities. Aside from the benefits of coaching and mentoring, an efficient way is to make a concerted effort to be open to learning about different cultures through friends and colleagues, by reading widely, and by researching destinations and customs before travel.

The businesses we see thriving in Dubai have not underestimated the importance of cultural awareness and the ability to adapt to working alongside others from different cultures. And, by harnessing CQ fully, they have become some of the most creative and innovative businesses worldwide.



Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project. She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program.

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