say we try harder, make better decisions and achieve more when we work
in groups that have racial, ethnic and gender diversity.
A Scientific American story by Katherine Phillips
describes research showing that scientists, businesses, banks, juries
and groups collaborating to solve problems do a better job when people
from diverse viewpoints and life experiences come together. People who
differ from each other bring differing information, perspectives and
opinions to the task at hand. They may also bring tension and
discomfort, Phillips writes, and that may be part of the benefit.
Phillips, a professor and senior vice dean at Columbia Business School, Margaret Neale, of Stanford University, and Gregory Northcraft,
of the University of Illinois, studied the impact of racial diversity
on small decision making groups. Business students at Illinois were
divided into groups of three and given a murder mystery to solve.
All participants shared a common set of facts, but each person was also
given an important clue that only he or she knew. To solve the crime,
the groups had to share all the information they collectively knew.
Groups with white and non-white members substantially outperformed the
all white groups. Being with similar people makes us think we all hold
the same data and perspective, which stops us from processing and fully
sharing information, Phillips explains.
In a study of jury decision making, Samuel Sommers of Tufts University
found that members of racially diverse juries exchanged a wider range
of information during deliberations. He has also found racial diversity
contributes to greater complexity in thinking.
Other research shows we are more diligent and more thoughtful when we hear views from people who differ from us. Anthony Lising Antonio,
a Stanford Graduate School of Education professor, and colleagues
conducted a study with 350 students from three universities. Groups of
these students were asked to discuss child labor practices or the death
penalty for 15 minutes. Researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had
both black and white students deliver them to their groups. When a black
student presented the dissenting opinion to a white group, it was
perceived as more novel and provoked broader thinking than when a white
student delivered the same dissent to a white group.
People also try harder if they're in ideologically diverse groups. Phillips, Denise Lewin Loyd,
of the University of Illinois and colleagues asked 186 people who
identified as Republican or Democrat to read a murder mystery and decide
who was guilty. They were told to write a persuasive essay designed to
convince a partner who disagreed. Half were told to make the case to a
member of their own party, and half were told to make the case to a
member of the opposing party. Both Republicans and Democrats were better
prepared for their discussions when their partners were from the other
Other studies showed that gender diversity benefitted big businesses. At companies that prioritized diversity, research found, those with women in the top ranks saw greater financial gains.
story did not specifically address economic diversity, which has long
been an issue in education, college admissions and housing. Low income students are underrepresented at elite universities, where incentive to enroll them is weak. Available public housing has dwindled over the last 25 years. Typing "resistance to affordable housing"
into Google brings 1,030,000 results. An eighth grade teacher in a
wealthy district recalled a fear expressed in a class discussion of
affordable housing: "One of the kids said 'these people making $50,000,
$60,000 a year are going to come in here and rob and mug.'"