Exciting new research reported in the New York Times from Columbia University and the University of Texas provides much needed evidence that racial and ethnic diversity on teams improves performance. While I have always felt the truth of this finding from my own experiences, it is good to see empirical evidence that supports the practice of inclusion. This new research, added to other studies showing that gender diversity also improves performance, should encourage more intentional inclusion of race and gender diversity on teams and in classrooms. The new study on racial and ethnic diversity was conducted in both the United States and in Singapore. Participants were assigned to either homogeneous or diverse groups to make decisions on the sales value of stocks. To ensure that any differences in outcomes were the results of diversity and not culture or history, diverse groups in the United States included whites, Latinos, and African-Americans. In Singapore, the diverse groups were Chinese, Indian, and Malay. The authors report that the findings were “striking.” The decisions of the diverse groups were 58 percent more accurate, and the more time they spent interacting in diverse groups, the more their performance improved. In contrast, the homogeneous groups in both the United States and in Asia were more likely to copy others and spread mistakes. The authors suggest that the homogeneous groups seemed to “put undue trust in others’ answers, mindlessly imitating them. In diverse groups, across ethnicities and locales. . . . diversity brought cognitive friction that enhanced deliberation.” In other words, the presence of diversity produced better outcomes due to the following:
- Better and deeper critical thinking. The presence of cognitive friction might mean that people work harder to examine their own assumptions and deepen their reflections in the presence of conflicting opinions and information.
- More engagement with different perspectives. Different perspectives bring new ideas, and working harder to understand a different perspective can bring about a change in position.
- Better error detection. Deeper critical thought and engagement provide more opportunity for errors to be revealed.
- Less groupthink. Individuals are more likely to form their own opinions in diverse teams than to just follow along with those like them.
- More voice for everyone. When there are roughly equal numbers of women and men on a team, it is more likely that both women and men will be able to get their ideas heard and be able to influence the culture of the team.
- More perspectives. A diversity of perspectives is bound to result in better decisions and solutions and help avoid groupthink.
- More skills. A broader range of skills and experience is available in diverse teams which could contribute to better results.