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Interculturalism and DEIB: starting a shared conversation

In January, I presented a webinar for the SIETAR (the Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research), NY-NJ-CT Tri-State chapter, that now seeming ridiculously wordy. I called it “Embedding Intercultural Fluency Training in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Transformation.”

It was my first webinar and my first virtual presentation in a while to a US-based audience, which, in these days of borderless Zoom events, was also drawing in interculturally-minded participants from around the world.

For me, it was also my first response to stage a conversation between two bodies of work. The first was around intercultural training (which includes intercultural competency or fluency training and Intercultural communication research and education), which I had begun to embrace and immerse myself in the last few years as a teacher of an elective on Intercultural Communication and a novice of a taking students on Study Tours abroad (in my case, in India and Italy, with Spain and Portugal shelved due to the pandemic). Intercultural communication and research, with its attention to cultural frames of reference, communication and conflict styles, verbal and nonverbal cues and face needs and more, provides a rich repertoire of concepts to talk about differences in behaviours and perspectives in our multicultural, global world.

At the same time, like seemingly everyone else in affiliated with institutions and organizations, I was learning more and participating in various initiatives around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Many of these initiatives connect to notions of anti-racism and social justice, and define institutional-specific and -relevant measures to transform organizational culture. While some of these initiatives remain ensconced in strategic plans and vision statements of their respective organizations, others are being tested, critiqued, reformed, in response to external events. Importantly, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB if I may), the terrain of advisors and manages, often linked to human resources (HR), has had a different focus than intercultural communication and training. In my experience, with its quantified language of audits and metrics, removing barriers for “equity-deserving” groups (formerly known as “equity-seeking”), HR DEIB initiatives speak a very different language than the interculturalist.

My webinar’s goal was to offer my take on a cross-cultural encounter (in English!) of how the two different languages could begin to have a conversation and perhaps learn something from each other. At the very least, I saw potential for infusing some of the gleanings of an interculturalist approach to cultural difference to complicate the difficult conversations that are needed to have DEIB that ‘stick’ and go beyond performative gestures and box-checking.

Here’s a link to my webinar, in case you’re interested:

It’s long to digest, so in the next few blog posts, I am going to be dissecting the pros and cons of both interculturalism and DEIB.

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