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The Benefits of Diversity
Diversity has become one of the most frequently used buzzwords in organizations in the last few decades. Corporations all over the globe espouse diversity with mission statements and corporate policies all geared to diversify their team. Minorities have broken many a glass ceiling, creating diversity in leadership across a plethora of industries. Yet, the question still remains, is diversity as valuable as these organizations seem to believe it is? Do organizations with a diverse leadership team have a competitive advantage over those who do not? This paper will review recent literature in support of this concept that indeed there is value in diversity, including diversity amongst organization leaders.
InManagement Services’article entitled ‘Employers Raising the Bottom Line Through Diversity’, the author reports on recent findings by a study commissioned by the London Central Learning and Skills Council and the London Human Resource Group on diversity in the workforce. They note, “Companies are creating a diverse workforce, with a variety of styles, in order to tap into new customer groups at home and abroad.” (“Employers”) The report further goes on to quote Jacqui Henderson, the Executive Director of London Central LSC as stating, “Considerable progress is being made toward today’s workplace being much more a reflection of our diverse community. This brings business benefits as well as creating a more equable society.”
The diversity study sampled approximately 500 companies in the UK, America, and the Continent. The results found that indeed, diversity was being implemented across the board, and that minorities including: gender, ethnicity, disability, and age were all becoming more evenly represented in the workforce. And, interestingly, that women and ethnic minority groups were making strong headway in attaining senior leadership roles within organizations. (“Employers”)
The study not only found that diversity was becoming a reality in a variety of corporations, but also it noted numerous benefits. These benefits “include higher employee retention, reduction in recruitment cost, more satisfied customers, access to a wider customer base, better supply chain management, and access to new ideas on process and product improvements.” (“Employers”) When linked with business strategy, the study found, diversity can provide positive bottom line impact. As Geoff Tucker, chairman of London Human Resource Group noted, “Diversity is about getting the best people, irrespective of their background, and getting the best out of them.” (qtd. in “Employers”)
Swann et al. (2004) have found that “conceptual analysis and recent empirical evidence suggest the self-verification framework offers a novel perspective on finding value indiversity.” Each of the authors is uniquely qualified to write on the subject of diversity. William Swann Jr. is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He has appointments in the Department of Psychology and School of Business, and received his PhD from the University of Minnesota. Jeffrey Polzer is an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, and received his PhD from Northwestern University. Daniel Seyle is currently pursuing his PhD in social and personality psychology at the University of Texas. And, Sei Jin Ko is a psychology PhD student at the University of Colorado.
Swann et al. (2004) “propose a model of group processes that accords a key role to the verification of people’s self-views (thoughts and feelings about the self).” This model then verifies that there is indeed value in diversity. They note Jared Diamond’s argument that major technological advancements have been made thanks to the collaboration of previously unacquainted societies. They further “argue that contact between workers from diverse backgrounds will lead to the development of novel solutions to the tasks at hand. These novel solutions will, in turn, enable them to outperform workers from homogeneous backgrounds.” (Swann et al., 2004) However, the researchers feel that although many have hypothesized the value in diversity, the participants in diverse groups do not necessarily respond as one would anticipate. They often are less committed and attached to the groups as a homogeneous group member. They often don’t communicate as well. There are more frequent absences and more conflict in diverse groups. And, diverse groups often take more time in reaching a decision than homogenous groups. (Swann et al., 2004)
Swann et al. (2004) note that several researchers have studied this phenomenon. These researchers note that in certain instances individual group members with distinct groups, otherwise known as ‘outgroups’, may disturb the larger group dynamics. This self-categorization evokes feelings of dislike, distrust and competition within the larger group and adds to the biases of qualities such as gender and race. This is compounded with the challenges of miscommunication and misunderstanding due to linguistic or paralinguistic differences. All of these challenges add to the inefficiencies that can occur in diverse groups. These challenges can be minimized by emphasizing superordinate goals to the individuals. However, this too has it’s shortcomings.
Although emphasizing superordinate goals and the identities associated with them may represent an effective means of uniting members of diverse groups, it falls short as a strategy for finding value indiversity. Indeed, taken to its logical extreme, self-categorization theory suggests that members of diverse groups should become so single-mindedly committed to the groups' agendas that distinctions among them become blurred. Such blurring of the differences that make a team diverse will necessarily thwart efforts to find value indiversity. From this vantage point, although emphasizing superordinate identities may serve to unify members of diverse groups initially, as a strategy for finding value indiversity, it is tantamount to arguing that the best way to exploit a resource (in this case, the unique characteristics of diverse group members) is to minimize and disregard that resource! (Swann et al., 2004)
For this reason, the authors look to self-verification theory to find value in diversity.
As opposed to self-categorization, self-verification theorizes that group members will actively attempt to make certain what they experience in the group conforms to their thoughts and feelings about themselves.
To this end, they employ three distinct strategies. First, people construct self-verifying opportunity structures (…) by seeking and entering into groups in which they are apt to enjoy confirmation of their self-views. Second, people work to ensure that the evaluations they receive will confirm their self-views by systematically communicating those self-views to fellow group members. Finally, people use their self-views to guide the selection, retention, and interpretation of their experiences in groups. (Swann et al., 2004)
It is this self-verification that allows diverse groups to function as effectively as they do, surpassing the results of homogeneous groups. The researchers understand that more work needs to be done on this subject, specifically concerning demographic and functional differences. In addition, they suggest the goal of facilitating self-verification should be studied, as should how self-verification unfolds in larger groups and organizations. This research should assist managers “in designing interdependent work, motivating employees or colleagues, or leading teams. One key goal here may be maximizing the flexibility of the organization in general and work environment in particular.” (Swann et al., 2004)