Diversity is both a sensitive and an important word. We strive for it in the world, but we require it in order to build teams and organizations worthy of innovation. Why? Because great ideas are borne of many great minds, and those great minds cannot cover widespread ground if they all draw from similar experiences.
Diversity allows for a plethora of perspectives to come into play, which, in turn, can lead to better decision making and problem solving. It encourages discoveries and breakthroughs; simply being exposed to diversity can shift your own way of thinking and doing. And there is plenty of research to support this. Over the decades, scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and demographers have weighed in, coming to the conclusion that, without a colorful community, we can only see black and white.
How Diversity Affects Information and Innovation
From a young age, we are taught how to problem solve by using our resources. When we are put into groups, whether in kindergarten or in the office, more people means more resources. Different thought processes, perspectives, backgrounds, talents, knowledge, etc. work to provide different angles. Gender, race, and other differences help to generate multiple perspectives to take into consideration, making the information presented and the innovation at hand that much stronger.
Take large organizations, for example. Business professors Cristian Deszö of the University of Maryland and David Ross of Columbia University conducted research on the effect gender diversity had on top firms in Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 list, which is a group created to signify the entirety of the U.S. equity market. They studied the size and gender composition of the best management teams of firms between 1992 and 2006 in correlation to their financial performance. What they found was that, on average, “female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value.”
A study conducted in 2003 found that racial diversity offers similar benefits. Orlando Richard, a management professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, along with his colleagues, surveyed executives at 177 national banks in the U.S. and found that innovation-focused banks had a higher level of racial diversity, making for better financial performance overall.
A report on why diversity matters from Mckinsey & Company, an American worldwide management consulting firm, examined proprietary data sets for 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and found that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Moreover, “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”
How Diversity Opens Our Minds To New Perspectives
Research has also found a correlation between groups who value innovations and new ideas, and diversity. For instance, in 2004, to examine how race and different opinions affect small group discussions, Anthony Lising Antonio, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, collaborated with five colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, along with other institutions, to ask more than 350 participants from three universities their opinion on controversial social issues, like child labor practices and the death penalty, for 15 minutes. What they found was that, when a black person revealed their opinion to a group of white people, it was well-received in terms of leading the group to consider alternative perspectives. However, when a white person introduced the same idea to the same group as the black person had, they were less likely to experience broader thinking. This proves that, socially, when we hear an opposing view from someone who is racially different than us, it provokes more thought.
Richard Freeman, an economics professor at Harvard University and Director of the Science and Engineering Workforce Project at the National Bureau of Economic Research, along with Wei Huang, a Harvard economics Ph.D. candidate, reviewed how the collaboration of multiple ethnic backgrounds can lead to higher-quality scientific research. What they discovered was that, papers written by diverse groups receive more citations and have a greater impact than papers merely written by one ethnic group.
How Diversity Can Expand Your Mind
When you surround yourself socially, professionally, and otherwise with one homogeneous group, you may find that you’re not necessarily challenged. Your like-minded views make way for an agreeable environment, where thoughts are accepted or rejected easily. But are you really learning? Are you truly expanding your mind?
When social diversity is added to a group, it can make people take a step back and analyze the idea that more than one opinion might now exist in this seemingly normal comfort zone, which will, in turn, work to open up the mind’s of everyone involved and make way for broader discussions, filled with plenty of challenging perspectives and ideas.
For example, in a 2006 study of jury decision making, social psychologist Samuel Sommers of Tufts University discovered that racially diverse groups presented a wider range of information during deliberation in regards to sexual assault as opposed to all-white groups. “This research suggests particular circumstances under which racial diversity is likely to lead to improved group performance, findings that carry implications for a variety of domains beyond the legal context,” the study concluded.
There is nothing wrong with gravitating toward a certain type of person or group, but when we do not urge our environment to become diverse in a multitude of ways — educationally, socially, professionally — we hinder our abilities as a whole and as an individual to prosper.
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