A Case for Upping Kid's Cultural Quotient

Last Updated by Diane Thomas on

Does it seem at times that Millennials are natives when it comes to digital technology? One would think they were born with an Apple TV remote in their hand, a smart phone in their bib pouch, and a Facebook profile taped to their hospital nursery crib! If they are indeed “natives”, then Mom and Dad are more than likely “immigrants” when it comes to technology. One could even make the case that Nana and Grandpa never even left the “Old Country!” Most members of the latter two generations have had to work hard to learn how to navigate an electronic universe that seems alien – and even intimidating – to them. 

A couple of generations from now, most of the developed world will be inhabited largely by these tech-savvy natives who will continue to embrace the ever-evolving world of technology and never cease to be energized by new advancements in the cyber universe. 

So while this new cyber culture with its very own language is taking hold, let’s take a look at what is happening on another cultural front - that is, the understanding of and appreciation for the rich cultural diversity that exists from nation to nation, and increasingly, within our very own community. This understanding and appreciation is anything but universal. 

Some cultural differences are quite easy to detect, while others are far less transparent but nonetheless quite real. Discomfort with or lack of appreciation for cultural differences often stems from a limited knowledge and understanding of those diverse cultures that are becoming increasingly present even in the smallest of U.S. communities. One might make the case that, as knowledge expands, so does appreciation. Yet at the very same time that our society has become advanced in its adaptation to technology, with an eagerness and hunger for more, it remains relatively immature when it comes to cultural competency. 

Why is that a problem? 

Millions of dollars are being channeled – and rightfully so – into STEM education efforts to provide American youth with a strong educational foundation to make them competitive when they complete their education. Hopefully that education will include at minimum a technical certification or, for many, a four-year baccalaureate degree and perhaps an advanced degree. The goal is to qualify and prepare them for stable, high-paying jobs with growth potential so they might support themselves and their families. But are our graduates prepared to compete successfully in a global economy fueled by many of the same technical advances referenced earlier? 

Many of today’s youth will find a career in companies that operate on a global scale. It may entail working with offices and/or travel around the world. It may be working from a single location but growing a significant global export business. It certainly will mean having customers, owners, employees, clients and/or investors from other countries and cultures, resulting in communication and transactional challenges. 

In fact, 9 out of 10 leading executives from 68 countries around the world named cross-cultural leadership as the top management challenge for the next century, according to David Livermore in his book Leading with Cultural Intelligence. He went on to say that up to 40% of all managers given foreign assignments end them early, and that nearly 99% of those early terminations are a result of cultural issues, not job skills. 

Is there a solution? 

Indeed there is, and it starts with the recognition that an underdeveloped sense of cultural competency is a problem that could put Americans at a competitive disadvantage if we don’t address it now through education. It may be true that, in the absence of any concerted effort to provide cross-cultural education and training, the passage of time and the transition of one generation to the next may eventually lessen the level of bias and naivety that stands in the way of global literacy. But time really is of the essence. 

We should convene groups of people now who can impact (or are impacted by) shifts in global competency and develop creative ways to introduce cross-cultural education into our schools’ curriculum. But not at the expense of the critical core studies. Cross-cultural education should start with current K-12 students along with Millennials and Generation Z-ers who seem to embrace cultural differences in their midst more readily than their parents or grandparents. 

By so doing, we can accelerate the evolution to an American society that can comfortably embrace cultural diversity and that lets it work for (as opposed to against) them in this global economy. It might happen more quickly than it would by allowing it to evolve strictly on its own, perhaps by as much as half a generation span, or potentially a full one. That translates into 50 to 100 years! 

We already know that cultural incompetency can be a roadblock to business success beyond the U.S. borders. Let’s not also allow it to be a significant roadblock to our children’s success which will, undeniably, be tied to their ability to function successfully within a global economy.

Learn more about the work of The International Center, and Center volunteer, Betty Bledsoe, an American Graduate Champion.


What benefits do you see for global comeptency? How can we ensure our students are becoming global citizens? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and on Facebook and Twitter using #AmGradIndy.


Diane Thomas.jpg Diane Thomas has employed rich leadership experience and expertisto guide The International Center through a period of unprecedented growth over the past nine years as its President and Chief Executive Officer. Fluent in French and Spanish, Diane was born to French and American parents and lived in Libya, Germany, France and the United States in her youth.  As an adult, she worked in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with petroleum industry leaders to strategize and craft public policy and public affairs platforms. Diane holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and French literature from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in philanthropic studies from The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. She has also been active in numerous initiatives and organizations, including serving on the advisory board of the Mayor’s Office of International & Cultural Affairs in Indianapolis, on the board of the National Council of International Visitors, and on the Tourism Advisory Board for Visit Indy, among others.

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