Diversity makes us smarter

Amanda El-Amin Senger


Humans prefer stability. He is in constant search of constancy and balance. They seek to create meaningful social structures and interactions that resist the erosive forces of time and will therefore tend to reduce or eliminate psychological discomfort. The same logic applies to organizations that focus on stabilizing their processes. The presence of people representing diversity (of culture, points of view, experience, etc.) is therefore seen as a destabilizing factor and a disruption of this much sought-after balance. A source of discomfort. According to Professor Takagi, diversity therefore almost systematically generates resistance1.

Although we now know, thanks to years of scientific research on the subject, that diversity is a source of innovation, creativity and performance, and that when we bring together people with different perspectives and experiences, we are able to make better decisions and find more optimal solutions, companies today are still very little diverse. To what end? Rock, Grant and Gray's reveal in their study2 that "homogeneous teams feel more effective", they believe that diversity is a source of conflict. Philipps3 confirms this last point. She shows that although the benefits of diversity of expertise are obvious, social diversity (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.) within a group can lead to discomfort, more difficult interactions, a lack of trust, a heightened perception of interpersonal conflict, poorer communication and less cohesion.

However, this is a biased perception. Several studies - for example, of jury members in court (Sommers, Tufts University, 2006) or groups supposed to solve a puzzle(Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2009) - have shown that diverse teams perform better than homogeneous teams, although they are less sure of their decision. Homogeneous teams have the impression that they are more successful, but the facts prove otherwise. The explanation is relatively simple: in a homogeneous team, people understand each other easily and the collaboration goes smoothly, which gives the feeling of progress. This is called the heuristic fluency bias. We prefer information that is processed more easily or with more fluidity: we judge it to be more accurate. Collaboration with outsiders, on the other hand, can cause friction, which is considered counterproductive. However, this friction is often overestimated. Again, this is a cognitive bias. Reality shows that decisions are better when the group is diverse.

Homogeneous teams are perceived to be easier to work with, but ease does not rhyme with performance. It is the difficulty that produces better results. When we hear a different opinion or disagree with someone who is socially different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who is similar to us. This makes us work harder to explain our point of view and try to convince. Members of a cohesive group are confident that they will agree with each other, understand each other's perspectives and beliefs, and reach consensus easily. But when members of a group realise that they are socially different from each other, they change their expectations. They expect differences of opinion and perspective. They expect to have to work harder to reach consensus. They may not like it, but the extra work usually leads to better results.

However, it is important to note that diversity alone is not enough to generate creativity and innovation. It needs to be valued to unleash its full potential. We often tend to want to erase our differences in order to get along and work together. But it is when we allow everyone to be and contribute as they are that we get the best results. It is not always easy, it is not as difficult as we imagine, but it is in complexity that we make the most progress. It is in the inclusion of difference that performance lies.

1 MOOC Diversity and inclusion in the workplace, ESSEC Business School
2 Diverse teams feel less comfortable- and that's why they perform better, David Rock, Heidi Grant, and
Jacqui Grey, Harvard Business Review, September 22, 2016
3 How diversity makes us smarter, Katherine W. Philipps, Scientific American, October 1, 2014