The Importance of Not Just a Diverse Workplace, But a Diverse Outlook

by Grace McGovern


There’s a generally accepted fact in business: diversity leads to success. Whether it be race or gender, experience or age, organizations with diverse teams are shown to perform better.

But an interesting question that an article from the Harvard Business Review, entitled “Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable—and That’s Why They Perform Better,” poses is, why are companies not working harder to make this vision of diversity a reality?

One reason is because many teams report that having a homogenous team just feels more effective. By working with like-minded people from similar backgrounds, teams have the feeling that work is going by smoother. However, just because something is simple does not mean it is the best solution.

A way we see this principle reflected is in the way people study. A common mode of studying is to simply reread material. However, when in a 2011 study students were asked to read the text once and recall as much of the information as they could, it was found they retained much more information than they did by rereading. The students predicted that this new mode of studying would not be as efficient, which goes to show that just because something feels right is not enough to prove that it actually is.

Another roadblock is the instinct to gloss over different perspectives in order to have greater group harmony.

A 2009 study looked at the effect of a multicultural versus colorblind perspective at a health care firm. It found that the more that workers agreed that employees should recognize and celebrate racial and ethnic differences, the more that minorities reported feeling engaged in their work. This goes to show that an environment that acknowledges diversity will create a more productive and open workplace.

It also shows us something else: diversity initiatives may not be successful unless we can first address the way diversity is perceived.

If companies and teams only see diversity as a concept, then real, productive change will never occur. In this case, the first step to a change in action is a change of the mind. Once people can understand that diversity is something to be celebrated and embraced, not swept under the rug, then we can really see the beneficial results.