What influence does diversity within a team have on learning performance in work groups? Team diversity has befuddled researchers with contradictory results – mainly in the apparent improvements team diversity has for some groups and not others. In reality, it may all come down to a battle of competing theories and multi-level models. In short, it may depend on whether you are looking at individual team members within a group or the group as a single unit.
THEORIES RELATED TO DIVERSITY
Why does diversity affect individuals in teams differently? There are three theories to consider here: the Social Categorization Perspective, the Information/Decision Making Perspective, and the Embedded Intergroup Relations Perspective. The Social Categorization Perspective says that the more integrated someone feels in a group, the better he or she will perform and the happier that person will be. Minority team members may feel less integrated in the group and not contribute because of a perceived risk of embarrassment or rejection if shared information is dismissed. The Information/Decision Making Perspective, on the other hand, says that group diversity enhances creativity and learning by exposing people to more ideas, a broader knowledge base, and divergent perspectives and opinions. Finally, The Embedded Intergroup Relations Perspective looks at ethnic diversity as being part of a wider social context. Interactions between diverse groups in the real-world impact the interactions that people have in their groups, especially in terms of the distribution of power and status.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
In this study, researchers used each theory as a separate layer in their multi-level model (i.e. individuals, the team, and society). At the individual level, individual learning performance was lower for minority students than for White students. Meanwhile, groups with minorities performed better. So, an individual minority member did worse for themselves, but served to improve the group’s performance, particularly if there were big social status differences at play.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So what does this all mean? This research shows that there are positives and negatives in creating a diverse workforce. On the positive side, groups perform better with diverse team members; but the negative is that it may be unduly harsh for the minority members. All of this rests on the idea that group members feel that they are different from one another. Training in cultural awareness and diversity acceptance may create an environment in which all team members feel valued by the group and, in turn, value the group. Additionally, creating groups in which Whites are not the numerical majority could benefit all group member involved. The gist is: diversity matters!
Image credit: istockphoto/Vadym Pastukh