Diversity, in and of itself, is linked with better decisions and greater innovation. Really? Why?
Inclusion enables engagement that is broad and deep—and broad engagement is linked with better results. Diversity cannot be real or sustained without inclusion. If people different from those at the top do not feel valued and supported (included), they will dis-engage, leave or conform. In each case, the team or organization loses diversity.
So, assuming there is inclusion as well as diversity, why is diversity a driver of results?
When asked, most people will say that better decisions are made by a team of people with different perspectives. They cite the common sense notion that a group with multiple perspectives will consider more issues, impacts and points of view than a group that is homogenous in perspective. Perhaps you have experienced this yourself, admiring or feeling relieved when someone offers an important idea or perspective and you think, “I never would have thought of that!”
Research tells us the impact of diversity is even greater. A study by Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University concludes: “The mere presence of diversity in a group creates awkwardness, and the need to diffuse this tension leads to better group problem solving.” In her excellent book, The Next IQ, Arin Reeves explores how collective intelligence is always better than individual intelligence. She presents study after study showing the dynamics of diversity on decision making.
It turns out that a homogeneous group feels more comfortable; such groups tend to think they get better results. A heterogeneous group is less comfortable, but the tension (referenced in the Kellogg study), results in better decisions. Think about it. When you are in a group with people who are like you, you are pretty sure what they will say; so you may daydream, think about something else or check your e-mail on your smartphone. When someone different from you joins the group, you do not know what they might say. So you listen and think more carefully! You are more likely to be present and engaged in the conversation.
Not only are decisions better, outcomes are more sustainable. There is more creativity and innovation as explained in a Forbes Insights piece titled “Fostering Innovation through a Diverse Workforce.” The Center for American Progress addresses this topic, citing the work of Scott Page and concluding that diversity within a group makes it more likely that there is “a diversity of problem-solving approaches,” which “drives the power to innovate.” The title of Scott Page’s book says it all: The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies.
When have you seen diversity lead to better or more creative decisions?