Home > Leadership Reimagined > Episode 39: Lili Gil Valletta

Episode 39: Lili Gil Valletta

Power of Cultural Intelligence – Return on Inclusion

Janice Ellig, CEO and founder of Ellig Group, sits down with real leaders in this series of game-changing conversations, bespoke to fellow champions of change. Heralded by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of “The World’s Most Influential Headhunters,” Janice is often consulted for her expertise and commitment to gender parity, equity, inclusion, and diversity. We are honored to present this month’s episode of Leadership Reimagined, “The Power of Cultural Intelligence: Return on Inclusion (ROI)” with Lili Gil Valletta, co-founder and CEO of global cultural intelligence market research tech-firm, CulturIntel, and the cultural marketing agency CIEN+.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, please join us in honoring an extraordinary award-winning female entrepreneur, game-changer, cultural intelligence™ expert, A.I. tech innovator, and one of the few Latina women leading the way in tech!
Episode 39: Lili Gil Valletta
“My dream is that cultural intelligence becomes an elevated expression of leadership. That an inclusive approach to how you know and monitor your data becomes embedded in your organization. Just as Emotional Intelligence has become embedded in textbooks and MBA programs. It becomes the same for Cultural Intelligence…IQ, EQ and CQ” 

After a successful corporate career, including a 10-year tenure at Johnson & Johnson where she led global marketing efforts and pioneered diversity strategies, Lili co-founded CIEN+ and CulturIntel. She is a regular TV commentator, the recipient of numerous awards, and a champion of advancing women and underrepresented groups.

It is our privilege to present to you this episode of Leadership Reimagined “The Power of Cultural Intelligence: Return on Inclusion (ROI)” with Lili Gil Valletta!

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Show Notes: Lili Gil Valleta

Lili Gil Valletta on Cien+

Cien+, for those of you that speak Spanish, you may know that that’s the number 100. And it’s kind of a play on words because we believe that it is mathematically impossible for any organization to achieve their full potential in business and in impact without cultural intelligence embedded into everything they do. Hence, “Cien+”. So Cien+ is the consultancy and marketing side of our business, where some of the biggest brands and corporations around the world reach out to us and our expertise so that we can give them the data, the strategy, and the go to market and marketing campaigns and messaging and approach that they need to be culturally relevant in today’s very fast changing market.

Lili Gil Valletta on CulturIntel’s Methodology

We are harvesting or scraping every single digital discussion that people volunteer everywhere in real time. And that happens in blogs, in topical sites, in news sites, the comments that are on a news article or a YouTube video. All of that is open-source digital voices of people that are expressing how they feel or react to a certain topic without a researcher asking them anything on a survey or a poll or question. And that is very rich. It goes beyond social networks where many times there’s a lot of chatter or noise or bots.

We did a scraping of conversations about people just talking about their relationship to the workplace. That was 28 million digital discussions specific to how they evaluated their workplace and their jobs. Social media was barely 12% of those data sources. So it’s much more than social listening. People are a lot more open in the anonymity of Quora, for example, or comments on Indeed or Glassdoor or other job sites where they get to post pseudonymously. They’re much more candid and open about sharing how they feel. So that’s what’s so unique. 

We take all that and organize it to look at patterns. Those patterns reveal the voice of the people, what matters to them, what’s driving culture or frustration or loyalty to the places where they work, or how they feel about a brand or a product. What makes it so different is that the sources are so vast and global that we don’t limit ourselves to just a few lists of destinations.

When I get to talk to the CEOs who trust us to do this work, I tell them what we’re doing is applying the same discipline that they’re already using to understand their customers. The world of tech, for example, is obsessed with personalization and understanding those user personas so that you can tailor the experience to the customer. Well, the same thing ought to happen when companies examine their own internal policies and the organizational dynamics of their own employees. Leaders often say, “people are your biggest asset.” No, they’re not just an asset, they are your company. 

That same principle applies to understanding specific subsets of your workforce as well. You have Millennials. You have Boomers. You have Gen Xers. You have men, women, Hispanic, Black, Asian, LGBTQ+. When you look at it that way, it seems quite overwhelming. CDOs or CxOs say, “well, how do I design policy or programs or engagement strategies for so many diverse segments of our workforce?” That is where we come into play. 

For example, we worked with a big financial institution to examine drivers and barriers to entry across all those diverse segments: male, female, Hispanic, Black, Asian. And guess what? The drivers for engagement or satisfaction are not always the same across all segments. When you have personalization in the data, that helps you understand how you are perceived as a place to work and also as a corporate citizen and provider of products and services. It lets you reimagine how you design policy and engagement initiatives that are not “one size fits all” solutions.

Lili Gil Valletta on How Companies Should Rethink the DEI Paradigm

There is a lot of discussion right now about diversity. If we continue in the pursuit of representation – in the sense of “do we have all the right boxes checked; do we have all the right colored chips on the table?” – instead of truly creating an inclusive approach to business, those colorful chips may not be able to fully express their color. Or they may just leave, because without an inclusive design to your business, the diversity you achieve by just checking boxes isn’t very meaningful.

Lili Gil Valletta’s Definition of Cultural Intelligence

Cultural intelligence is summed up by three verbs: be aware, understand, and apply cultural competence and inclusive data. A lot of people are aware, because of diversity and implicit bias training, which does a good job of raising awareness. But if you don’t graduate from awareness to understanding what that means for you and your organization – and certainly if you don’t apply that understanding in meaningful ways –  it’s just an academic exercise. Unfortunately, in many cases, diversity tends to be thought of as a form of altruism. Or, to borrow the language of a very good article from Harvard Business Review, as  “vanity metrics” or “compliance theater”.

I prefer to view diversity very pragmatically. Is it the right thing to do? Sure. But more importantly, it’s the smart thing to do for shareholder value and for keeping your company viable and competitive. Why? Because women make 80% of purchasing decisions, and if you’re losing them at a higher rate than other professionals and still have gaps in leadership, you may be creating a huge blind spot in your understanding of the people doing the purchasing. 

At the same time, the demographics of our country are shifting. By the year 2040, we will be a minority-majority nation. Those minorities – Black, Hispanic, et cetera – are the segments with the fastest growth rates in terms of population and purchasing power. You need a strategy that accounts for what that means for your business, and I’m not talking about your dashboard of how many people you have of a certain background. I mean, how those changes affect your actual investment decisions, new product development, market strategies and so on. Then you’ll be missing out on what’s driving all growth and represents almost 50% of the American population. In my TED Talk, I challenge the conventional wisdom of how and why we prioritize diversity. It cannot just be a token altruistic mission, or a single public statement.

Lili Gil Valletta on How To Get More Underrepresented People in Corporate Leadership

The numbers are bad. Less than 3% of board directors are Hispanic, but less than 1% are Hispanic women. But it doesn’t have to be like that. 

One measure is legislation, which is already in place in some states. My public board sits in Seattle. Washington State has a law that requires at least a third of a corporation’s board to be women. But it shouldn’t just be about hitting that metric. If we consider the numbers about the buying power of women – again, that they control 80% of all purchasing decisions – and also  about shifting demographics, where diverse segments are driving 100% of population growth, then you need to be diligent about having an accelerated pipeline that makes people with these backgrounds c-suite- and board- capable. I prefer “capable” over “ready” as the word to use there. So it’s starting to recognize potential sooner and looking at capability over qualifications, so we’re not disqualifying capable people just because they don’t have the exact experience or credential on the checklist. Maybe those candidates need a little bit more coaching or a mentor or sponsor on the board. The entire process needs to be reinvented. But the attitude can’t be that we’re doing the capable, diverse candidate a favor by picking them. You need to do it with the understanding that it will make you better as a business. The numbers are there to prove that. 

A great example is what you, Janice, did to help me. You were on the board of the YMCA, which despite being a not-for-profit, is run like a public company. It’s a very large organization with the complexities of a federated model, so it’s a great environment to train for filling an independent board director’s seat. It took somebody like you to propose a candidate like me to that board, and that gave me the leg up I needed. From there, I earned my way, of course, with capability, with the interview, with the delivery and performance. But it starts with just putting forward the candidates, reaching out and thinking a little bit beyond your comfort level and traditional network to give folks like me a chance. 

And guess what? When you are in the boardroom of a not-for-profit or a corporation, and you deliver, which I have done, then other opportunities come up. Now that I am on the board of Zumiez, a publicly traded global retailer, I get to nominate people. So with a few of the seats that have come up, that are coming up to term, guess what? Everyone I have recommended is somebody that I feel is board ready or board capable and is from one of these underrepresented groups, women as well as minorities. I’m happy to report that they’ve been doing really well in all of those interviews. But if I hadn’t put their name on the list, I don’t think they would have been found. What we’ve really done is to help executives or directors, chairs, CEOs, open the aperture and say, hey, this person may not already be in a C-suite, but they have the skills you need.

Lili Gil Valletta on Her Career at Johnson & Johnson

I owe a lot of who I am and how I behave as a leader to the value-based credo of J&J. It’s not just a thing hanging on the wall. It really was the principle guiding how we made decisions there. So, with that backdrop, I had the great opportunity to move quite fast in my career at J&J, but as a woman and as a Latina and as an immigrant, I took it upon myself to behave and act like an entrepreneur. I think that mattered a lot, because sometimes we wait for others to create solutions or look for someone to blame. When I noticed that we had a very vibrant and amazing women’s leadership organization, I was curious why we didn’t have a Hispanic version of that, so I took it upon myself to create Hola, which is the Hispanic employee research group at J&J. My point is that you can innovate and act like an entrepreneur even inside the structures of a big corporation like J&J. 

And ultimately, I left J&J because I was driven to keep building on what I started there. I had an exit interview with Bill Weldon, our CEO at the time, and I remember him asking me, “Lili, what can we do to keep you?” But it had gotten to the point when it wasn’t about a better title or more money. It was this bug of purpose that bit me when I realized that many more corporations were going to need this inclusive perspective on business. There was a great opportunity to help other companies tap into the power of culture and people, but there wasn’t an existing company gathering the data they would need to do that. So it was time for me to go on and create that company myself. 

Lili Gil Valletta’s Advice for Diverse Women in Leadership Careers

Number one, chase purpose and fulfillment over money. That applies to entrepreneurs as well as executives. There is no amount of money that will ever give you fulfillment and satisfaction. I know that sounds cliche, and maybe that’s why so many people are quitting their jobs in this great resignation we hear about. But you have to love with conviction what you’re doing. 

The second thing is preparation and excellence. There’s no shortcut for that. Maybe there are quotas in legislation in some places, or maybe your identity checks the missing box on their list. So maybe your background gets you through the door, or maybe you have a mentor or sponsor who gets you there, but after that, it’s on you. There’s no shortcut to preparation and excellence. Those qualities will dispel any myth, any stereotype or preconceived notion about who you are or where you come from, because results speak louder than anything else. 

To me, the third key to success is surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you. That includes the mentors that surround you, the advisors and champions that advocate for you, the team, and the leadership team that supports you as a leader. In my case, at a fast-growing company, I’m running all over the place with team members all over the country and the world. In the last two years, especially with remote work and high growth, my priority has been building an extraordinary leadership team. 

Lili Gil Valletta on Work-life Balance and Family

Running the risk of sounding a bit churchy, my husband and I have a very simple philosophy that guides how we prioritize and focus our time and mental bandwidth. It’s three F’s: faith, family and fun. Often when people hear this, they say “wait, what about work?” Well, that’s part of the fun, because, again, if it’s purposeful, and you’re doing what you are meant to be doing in this world, it should be fun.

On Sunday afternoon or Sunday night, I typically do a recap of my week in terms of how well I served those priorities: faith, family, and fun. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not. But I think just the consciousness of doing that self-check keeps you focused. 

There are days and weeks when I spend all my time on the fun and work category, and I wish I had spent more time with my kids, for example. But instead of self-flagellating and giving myself a hard time, I just decide I will flip it the next week.

Basically the secret is being mindful of your priorities, being kind to yourself, and knowing there may be a day when I am Super Mom and my team has to wait on me a little bit, or another day when it’s the other way around. But checking in on it every week is what really lets me maintain my well-being and consciousness. 

Lili Gil Valletta on the Role of Faith in Her Daily Life

Every single day, before I put my feet on the ground, I take a moment to just be grateful. It could take five minutes, and that centers your soul. I’m alive, I’m breathing. It’s a new day of opportunities, of impact, of health. It could be meditating, praying, whatever works for you. I do that every single day before looking at my phone, before getting distracted with my calendar. And it’s just very centering.

Lili Gil Valletta on the Future of Cultural Intelligence and the Concept of CQ

My dream is that cultural intelligence, which is a trademark we’ve held for now almost a decade, will become a household phrase. Just as the idea of EQ [Emotional Intelligence] has now been embedded into textbooks and MBA. I guess the equivalent would be “CQ.” My advice to everyone listening is that without an inclusive approach to gathering and monitoring your data, evaluating market trends, and designing the future of your business, you’ll be falling short. I will stand in front of any CFO with financial models to prove it, because the data doesn’t work any other way. So that’s my challenge to all of you. Graduate from the altruistic bucket list model of diversity and start thinking about an inclusive approach to growth, impact, and shareholder value.

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Tonie Leatherberry was at Deloitte for nearly three decades where she was the principal architect of The Board Leadership Forum and the NextGen CEO Academy, each of which has had a meaningful impact, ultimately placing more than 70 Black leaders into executive-level and board roles. As Chair Emeritus of the Executive Leadership Council, she created the Chairman’s Council of Academic Achievement to address achievement gaps for students of color in America’s educational systems, and as President of the Deloitte Foundation, the mission was to drive initiatives to develop future leaders through education. She is a passionate leader who has devoted much of her professional life to creating opportunities for women and people of color. Tonie is Lead director for Direct Digital Holdings, and a Board Director at Zoetis Inc. and American Family Insurance.

Cindie Jamison was elected Chair of the Darden Restaurants Board (NYSE: DRI) in September 2023, having served as a Director since October 2014 as part of a complete Board replacement slate through Starboard Value’s proxy fight. Since 2013, she has also served on the Office Depot Board (NASDAQ: ODP) where she Chairs the Audit Committee and is a member of the Compensation Committee. In May 2015, she joined the Big Lots, Inc (NYSE: BIG) Board, and became Chair in May 2022. In May 2023 Cindie stepped down from the Tractor Supply Company Board (NASDAQ:TSCO), a position she has held since 2002, where she was Chairman of the Board, after serving as Lead Director, and Chair of the Audit, Compensation & Corporate Governance Committees. Cindie joined the Board of Save the Children in February 2024.

David Chun, Founder and CEO, Equilar, Inc., has led Equilar since its inception to become one of the most trusted names in the corporate governance community. David has been recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Players in Corporate Governance” by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), the Disruptor Award by 2020 Women on Boards and Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business. David speaks publicly on corporate governance and board diversity matters, including events hosted by The Conference Board, Deloitte, EY, HR Policy Association, KPMG, NACD, NASDAQ, NYSE, The Society for Corporate Governance and Stanford’s Directors’ College. Prior to founding Equilar, David was a Vice President in the Investment Banking Division of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette, a global investment bank that has since merged with Credit Suisse. Before DLJ, David was a management consultant with Bain & Company and also Kenan Systems, a telecom software developer acquired by Lucent Technologies. David serves on the boards of the Commonwealth Club of California, PGA Reach, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG). He is on Nasdaq’s Center for Board Excellence Advisory Board and Catalyst’s Women on Board Advisory Council. David is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Past Chair of the SF Bay Chapter, a founding member of the Council of Korean Americans (CKA) and a former board member of the Wharton Center for Entrepreneurship and the Asian Pacific Fund Community Foundation of San Francisco.

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Priscilla Sims Brown serves as President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, a full-service bank, lender and investment manager with a century-long commitment to advancing positive social change. Amalgamated Financial Corp., the holding company for the Bank, is the first publicly traded (NASDAQ: AMAL) financial institution to be a public benefit corporation. Priscilla guides Amalgamated Bank in championing social responsibility through values-based banking, customer-centric services, and mission focused lending, serving individuals and organizations, including climate groups, foundations, labor unions, advocacy groups, political campaigns, and other socially responsible businesses, who care that their deposits are put to work for good. Priscilla is also dedicated to addressing environmental and social justice issues at Amalgamated Bank. More than 60% of the Bank’s lending and select balance sheet investments are high-impact through affordable housing, nonprofits, and climate solutions. Named one of the Most Powerful Women in Banking in 2023 by American Banker, Priscilla has been featured in The New York Times, TIME Magazine, PBS, and CNBC Changemakers, among others.

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Myra Biblowit is the President Emeritus of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the nation’s highest-rated breast cancer research organization with a mission focused exclusively on funding the world’s most promising research. Myra took the helm as BCRF President in 2001 and, after 22 years, retired in April 2023. During Myra’s tenure, BCRF funding enabled breakthroughs in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, metastasis, and survivorship. Myra was widely recognized for leading one of the most impactful, financially efficient, and transparent nonprofits in the United States. Prior, Myra was Vice Dean for External Affairs at NYU Medical Center where she headed the Development, Alumni Relations and Public Relations departments. Previously she led the capital campaign as Senior Vice President of the American Museum of Natural History. Earlier, Myra served as Executive Vice President of the Central Park Conservancy. Myra is a member of the Board of Directors of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, the Housewares Charity Foundation and the Historic House Trust of New York City. She is a member of the New York Women’s Forum, the Yellow for Pink National Council, Extraordinary Women on Boards and serves on the Advisory Board of Project Hope for Ovarian Cancer Research & Education.

Truett Tate is Chairman of a number of Boards, including Reference Point, TLC Lions, Thinkably and the recently retired Chairman of QBE, NA. Truett Tate is also Director of the DEVClever board. Truett has a long and esteemed global executive history including most recently as CEO of ANZ USA, Europe, Japan, Korea and the Middle East. Immediately prior, he was Group Executive (and Board member) at Lloyds Banking Group, responsible for Wholesale & International Banking (Including Global Wealth and International Retail) across the United Kingdom, the Americas and worldwide and prior spending 27 years at Citigroup where he held a variety of senior roles including corporate banking business across each of its regional geographies. Truett’s long board history includes Virgin Group, Ten Group, the BITC, BAB Inc along with many other charitable and academic organizations. A speaker, guest lecturer, philanthropist and professional coach/mentor, Truett has seemingly bottomless energy and passionate interest in a safer, more just, more humane and more sustainable world.

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Janice Reals Ellig

Chief Executive Officer

As the head of the Ellig Group, Janice is dedicated to increasing the placement of women and diverse candidates on corporate boards and in C-suites by 2025. Janice joined the legacy firm in 2000 and became Co-Chief Executive Officer in its transition to Chadick Ellig in 2007; she assumed sole ownership of the company as the Ellig Group in 2017 with a new focus on Reimagining Search. Prior to her career in executive search, Janice spent 20 years in corporate America at Pfizer, Citi and Ambac Financial Group, an IPO from Citibank, where she was responsible for Marketing, Human Resources, and Administration.

Heralded by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of “The World’s Most Influential Headhunters,” Janice is often consulted for her expertise and her commitment to gender parity, inclusion, and diversity. She frequently appears at speaking engagements and as a media guest, and she has penned multiple articles for outlets such as Directors & Boards, Directorship, Corporate Director, The Huffington Post, and Forbes.com. Janice also co-authored two books: Driving The Career Highway and What Every Successful Woman Knows, acknowledged by Bloomberg Businessweek as “the best of its genre.”

A tirelessly active member of the industry and champion of her causes, Janice is Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative and its signature event, Breakfast of Corporate Champions. Since 2011, Janice continues to spearhead this event to honor companies committed to board diversity and to encourage CEOs to sponsor board-ready women for the Women’s Forum database. (LINK: www.womensforumny.org).

Janice is personally committed to several NFP organizations: Board Director of the National YMCA and Past Chair of the YMCA Board of Greater New York; Trustee of the Actors Fund and Committee For Economic Development (CED); Incoming Chair, University of Iowa Foundation; Women’s Forum of New York Past President and Chair of the Corporate Board Initiative; member of the Steering Committee, US 30% Club and The Economic Club of New York.

In recognition for her many philanthropic activities, Janice received the University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) Eleanor Raynolds Award for Volunteerism in 2008. Named one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s eNews, she was also a recipient of the Channel 21 Award In Excellence for her contribution to “Excellence in the Economic Development for Women.”

“Listening to our clients’ needs, learning their business and understanding their culture is how we present the best talent and provide  a competitive advantage. We place candidates with the character, competencies, commitment, (intellectual) curiosity and courage to make a difference. Our goal is always to go beyond the expected and deliver valuable advice, measurable results and great talent!”

– Janice Reals Ellig

  • Champion of gender parity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Industry expert, speaker, and author
  • Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative
  • Committed board and committee member and philanthropist

T: (212) 688-8671 ext. 226
E: Janice@ElligGroup.com