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Applying cultural intelligence to religious symbols in multinationals

Sharon L. O’Sullivan (Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada)

Cross Cultural & Strategic Management

ISSN: 2059-5794

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to describe how religious symbols might impede employees’ motivational cultural intelligence (CQ) in some international contexts, and how multinational managers might employ this knowledge to respond in a manner that mitigates risks to knowledge sharing.


The paper uses several theories (e.g. CQ, social categorization, expectancy, and contact theories) to develop a conceptual model about the nature of the risk to employees’ motivational CQ. It then draws on models of acculturation to explore how multinational corporation managers might respond.


It is conjectured that the salience of religious-based value conflict, learned both vicariously and through direct experiences, will adversely impact motivational CQ, and that the introduction of religious symbols may exacerbate this relationship. A framework of possible interventions is offered, and each intervention approach is evaluated in terms of how it may mitigate or exacerbate the risks raised by the model.

Research limitations/implications

The proposed model requires empirical validation.

Practical implications

Multinationals are advised how (and why) to treat the preservation of motivational CQ as central to any intervention in the conflict over religious symbols.

Social implications

An uninformed response to controversy over religious symbols could impede knowledge sharing and potentially exacerbate broader societal tensions (UN Global Compact, 2013). Therefore, this paper addresses a clear socio-economic need.


Controversy over the use of religious symbols in the workplace has generated considerable international media attention, but has been neglected by cross-cultural management research.



O’Sullivan, S.L. (2017), "Applying cultural intelligence to religious symbols in multinationals", Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 365-382.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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