MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Evan Apfelbaum
Companies promote diversity in the workplace as a moral imperative with “bottom line benefits.” But research on the value of diversity is mixed. Some studies have found diverse teams—meaning workgroups comprised of employees of different races, genders, and backgrounds—promote creativity, nurture critical thinking, and tend to make better, more thoughtful decisions because they consider a wider range of perspectives. Other studies indicate diverse teams fuel interpersonal conflicts, reduce cohesion, and slow the pace of learning.
The trouble with past research is it assumes only diverse settings are capable of changing how people behave, form impressions, and make decisions. The research has created a convention in which homogeneous groups are considered a “control condition.” Think, for instance, about how we talk about topics related to diversity—we ask whether diversity influences perception, decision-making, and performance. When we digest results, we focus on whether diversity helped or hurt, strengthened or weakened, increased or decreased a given outcome. On the other hand, we view the homogeneous condition as a baseline: a reference point from which we can understand how diversity has changed behavior or what type of response is “normal.”
Read the full post at Quartz.
Evan Apfelbaum is the W. Maurice Young (1961) Career Development Professor of Management and an Assistant Professor of Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management.