Diversity is overrated! Why leaders need cultural intelligence | Lili Gil Valletta | TEDxWaterStreet

Lili Gil Valletta | TEDxWaterStreet | #reset21

Diversity it’s overrated. Before you walk out, let me tell you it’s because it’s often underestimated, because we keep chasing representation, listening sessions, good intentions, but is that enough? Does that deliver its full power and everything we can gain from it? And that is exactly why today, I am going to introduce you to maybe a new mindset or a new framework for this, maybe we’ll get some results this time around called “Cultural Intelligence” as a new superpower that each and every one of you can activate, and that I discovered, who knew, from the day I landed in this country.

So, here’s a bit about the back story of how discovered this whole notion of cultural intelligence. I’m originally from Columbia. And I came to this country with a student visa, a pocket translator, not speaking award of English at the age of 17. And of all places in America, I ended up in the great state of Texas. Keen Texas with 6,000 people in it.

Now, talk about an American experience, right? So, when you are supposed to be an immigrant that speaks Spanish, guess what? Everybody looked at me and they were like, “Uh, are you Mexican?” And they said, “Liliana, by the way”. And I’m like, “Why am I supposed to be Mexican?” Now, here’s the catch. I didn’t get offended, I guess is when you’re young and oblivious, right? I’m like, “Well, I’m from Columbia”. “Oh, Columbia, Paulo Solan”. And I’m like, “Okay, these people really need some lessons”. And I’m like, “Fine. It’s great. Why is it that nobody’s calling on Columbian coffee?” Everybody knows it. You all probably had a cup today, or most of you did. And now it’s so much easier for the Colombians of today because they can call on takeeda. I didn’t have takeeda back then. I’m that old. She was still back in Colombia. You all were in dancing, you know, hips don’t lie and all that good stuff.

But here’s the deal. Thanks to my friends, from Netflix, I’m explaining myself all over again after I had recovered for 30 years of like over and over explanations about Columbia. Thank you narcos. That’s not Columbia. You can visit when the economy opens, whatever.

But you may be wondering, “What is this stuff and where does the cultural intelligence come from, Lilly?” Well, I realize that clearly there was a cultural gap, and I could get offended with people’s misunderstanding of culture or take it as an opportunity to fill their gap and rise above and create a bridge and actually explain with the facts, the stuff they didn’t really know. And here’s the deal. As I was sitting in my corporate job, this is back in the day, I was at J&J for 10 years, in marketing and I’m looking at the numbers and I’m trying to think “There’s something here with this cultural stuff”. Right?

And here’s the other thing. The number one condiment is not ketchup, it’s salsa. That’s a lot of money that Kroger, supermarket, Walmart, and everyone is selling, and they know it and they track it, and it keeps winning. Now, but there’s so many other references, this another fellow Colombian, Sophia Vergara, to this day, 10 years in a row continues to be the highest paid television actress in the world, making 43 million a year. And she owns our culture and her accent. Right? And we all love it. There’s something valuable there. Beats, the analyst here in this town couldn’t understand the math. How in the world was Apple going to pay 3 billion for this headphone company? Did they buy a headphone company, or did they buy the cultural equity of this company that had valuation? And the highest rated superhero movie of all time, Black Panther. Now, was it because it was a great black movie? No, it’s a great movie that happens to be black, and the world loved it. We still love it. We miss him.

And music from Tokyo to Sydney, London, New York, despasito. I bet you all have dance to it. And you probably don’t even know what the chores says. It’s pretty raunchy if you look at what the says. Yes, yes. But you all kept dancing it. It broke every record. The first video to hit 5 billion, YouTube streams. And last year’s most stream artists according to Spotify was “Bad Bunny”. Let me remind you, “Bad Bunny” sings in Spanish. Now, all of this is a new mainstream so much so that Latin music is more popular than Country music in the United States. I got to tell that to my friends back in Texas. They’re going to be like, “What?” But that’s exactly right.

Now, I’m telling you this because I’m not here to talk about the altruistic nature of culture, that is beautiful, I live it, I breathe it, but there are cultural economics, that if we pay attention to the numbers, graduate us from the usual construct of what diversity and inclusion means, because the numbers are there to back it up. By the way, anyone can Google this chart. But most of the times when I show it, people are like, “What?” By the year 2040, America is going to be a majority minority nation. Now that means, again, back to the numbers, any Wall Street analyst is going to tell you, “You bet on growth. You want to win in the market. You look at a trend, you jump ahead”. Maybe there’s some of you all here in this room, that’s what you do to win, to deliver profits, to grow. So, you tell me, how else are we going to drive growth if not tapping into the segments of the population that are driving all the growth? It’s just pretty dumb not to.

But here’s the catch. A lot of people get comfortable when I show these numbers. They’re like, “Well, 2040 seems so far out”. When we look by generation, the younger the generation, the more diverse it is. So, when I hear people talk about the general market, I’m like, “What does that mean?” When I’m looking at millennials and gen z who already are majority minority, this is the new mainstream. This is the total market. And if I talk to any marketer who tells me again, how important millennials are, I’m like, “Well here, look at your charts. Let’s know where the numbers are”. But here’s the deal. All of that makes it quite simple for us to realize that is mathematically impossible for us to achieve our full potential as an economy in growth, for anyone who wants to win, for anyone that wants to capture market without an inclusive approach to their strategy. And this is math, but here’s what’s happened. And I don’t want to be disrespectful, 2020 sucked and we learned a lot from it, good, bad, and ugly. Right? I don’t have to go there. You can see it. You can feel it. We’re still trying to get over it. And here’s what happened. Corporations had an awakening. If I see one more letter and tweet and Instagram post about this, I’m going to ask and show me your receipts, because it’s not me, Harvard Business Review saying it here. Is your company actually fighting racism or just talking about it?

So, this is why I want to talk about it today. And when people are reading the titles, they are like “What’s she going to talk about with diversity being overrated”. Because, we keep tapping into the heart, and guess what? Trying to build consciousness, having one more listening session, trying to understand the context that we cannot deny gets people a certain way towards progress, but it kind of leaves us stuck in emotions. And I honestly rather motivate people instead of guilting them to reaction and motivate them really, really for action.

Now, how do we do that? Here comes cultural intelligence. That’s the superpower that I wanted to tell you all about, codified in three words. It’s the ability to be aware of, understand and apply cultural competence and inclusive data, insights, the numbers, into your everyday business. Not the person with the diversity word on the title, that’s everybody’s business because the numbers don’t work any other way. I just showed you the numbers. Show me any other path to growth, to winning to self-sustaining and future proof in your existence in this country. And guess what? There is a dance that comes with it. I’m Latin. I’m going to teach you some dancing. I’m very visual. I forget, you know, definitions, whatever. Cultural intelligence can be learned with the business makarina right here, us kids of the eighties. Yay.

So, the makarina goes in three moves. You first, this is how you check your strategy or how you’re thinking about this whole stuff. You have to first get to the heart to have awareness, consciousness. Are we empathizing? Are we having that human connection? Check, that’s important. But then you need to get to the mine and then the wallet. And if you, do it quick enough, it kind of becomes a makarina. So, the marketing makarina or the business makarina, should be our code for getting this right, all the way to the finish line, beyond the reaction, into the sustainable action of the impact on results that we can and generate as an inclusive nation. And guess what? This works because we are selfish.

Philosophers in the era of Plato and the Republic talk about this. Even when we are doing things that are great for society and social good, we humans have an instinctual, kind of underline selfish motive behind it. You want to be noticed. You want to be accepted. You don’t want to be judges, la di, la do, da. Well, in this case, especially in corporate world, I want to get my bonus at the end of the year. And guess what? Compensation drives behavior. If all of a sudden, the only way you’re going to get your full market share and achieve that growth and whatever you told us street guys during the earnings call, you’re going to do this because there’s something to be gained. Now, I’m not being the capitalist heartless. I’m a conscious capitalist. I told you, there’s makarina, starts with the heart.

So, with that, we need to pay attention because we keep talking about diversity. Every news outlet, every headline, every CEO with their letters. But when we do a sentiment analysis of how Americans feel about diversity, this based on 20 million data points for the last 12 months, we are split, even our people. Black and Hispanics, one in four says, “You know what? This sounds really cute, but it’s a lot of optics and not so much of real change”. This is our own voices, unsolicited digitally when nobody’s asking. And one in two whites are saying, “You know what? There are other things that are more important. And let me just focus on those because you know, this is going to generate exclusionary outcomes”.

Now, that’s pretty objective. See, you’re looking for outcomes for results, but what if I show you once again, you will not get that bonus at the end of the year, unless you tap into the full size of the market. It’s shifting the conversation. It’s going from the heart, my wallet it’s activating on cultural intelligence. So, get a reset, reset for growth because the numbers just make no sense.

Lili Gil Valletta | TEDxWaterStreet | #reset21

I was talking to a Silicon Valley company. We’re looking through their strategy and they’re telling me, “Well, we’re doing mentoring programs with underprivileged children in Silicon Valley”. And I’m like, “That sounds like an altruistic mission that is very kind. But what if I told you, 30% of kids in the high schools of Silicon Valley are Hispanic, yet only 4% are Hispanics in the Silicon Valley careers. And if those kids are the ones that are driving all of the growth, if we don’t set them up for success today, we’re not going to have a pipeline and we’ll lose our competitiveness, the nation. So, are you just being kind and so good in your mentoring program? Or are you just fueling the workforce of the future?”

It’s different. It takes a different energy. It can empower you. It doesn’t guilt you into it. It motivates you because we want to win. We want to win. We want to stay ahead. Again, maybe this is a bit of a business twist to this topic, there’s many other human things that need attention, I don’t want to undermine them, but we got to graduate. Because once again, one more listening session that really people walk in and out without any result or real budget allocations, it’s going to be like, it’s going to take another decade for us to get this right. This is the fundamental shift. This is what cultural intelligence does to the people, looking at the budgets at the new product development pipeline, at who to hire and where to invest. Because it’s not doing multicultural marketing on this special little project over here, it is about winning and marketing in a multicultural America. And that is fundamentally different. It goes from small to big. It goes from niche to mainstream. It’s everybody’s job to get this right because the numbers don’t work any other way.

So, here’s my words to those that are watching. I don’t want to be your charity project. I want to be your growth project. Because there’s much to be gain and everybody wins. The numbers are there. It’s return on inclusion. And not doing anything is return on ignored. Because, you will be leaving opportunity, money, votes, profits, whatever you’re chasing on the table. It’s a different formula. And instead of just chasing that check on the box of your diversity scorecard, I want you to who unapologetically cash in that check that comes with return on inclusion when everybody wins. Because guess what? And maybe this sounds weird. It’s like “What’s she’s saying?” Yes, you can generate purposeful profits. Why not? We can do well and do good. And then, our communities are not in the ones in the rescue mission of somebody’s agenda, but we’re in the winning mission together because the numbers don’t work any other way, and that takes cultural intelligence. So, hopefully, and thankfully you didn’t walk out of the room when I said “Diversity is overrated. And maybe you can say it now with me”. Because anyone that has diversity in their titles today in the world of corporate America should be going from the CSR discussion and the talent discussion into the MNA discussion, the budget allocation discussion, the earnings call discussion, because the numbers don’t work any other way.

That is why I say that it’s overrated because it’s often underestimated. And until we get this right and activate and elevate the power of cultural intelligence, being aware of understanding and applying the numbers, the consciousness, the heart mind wallet embedded into everyone’s decision, we will miss out on the greatness that this country has to offer to the world. And it’s beautiful, it’s colorful and you all can turn on that superpower too. Thank you so much.

More about TEDxWaterStreet

TEDxWaterStreet brings together like-minded individuals who are intentional about resetting as thinkers, leaders, friends and community members to bring about a new perspective on how we press forward. The event aims to challenge human discomfort with obstacles and instead celebrate the strength that accompanies curiosity and the ability to dream. TEDxWaterStreet leaders will speak the language of possibility and foster a rediscovery of what the future holds for our shared humanity. Speakers are chosen through a highly-curated process by a select team that takes into consideration the best ideas. Founded in 2019, TEDxWaterStreet aims to put the NYC community onto a new type of global activity map that is being watched, shared, and talked about by the world’s top thought leaders.

This talk was given at a TEDxWaterStreet event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

Watch the full talk below:



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store