Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It Pays To Be Diverse

Via Feminist Law Profs, the benefits of diversity in the workplace:
New research from Tufts University indicates that diverse groups perform better than homogenous groups when it comes to decision making and that this is due largely to dramatic differences in the way whites behave in diverse groups--changes that occur even before group members begin to interact.

"Traditional arguments in favor of diversity often focus on ethics, morality and constitutionality," said Samuel R. Sommers, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. "I wanted to look at the observable effects of diversity on performance."

In a study involving 200 participants on 29 mock juries, panels of whites and blacks performed better than all-white groups by a number of measures. "Such diverse juries deliberated longer, raised more facts about the case, and conducted broader and more wide-ranging deliberations," said Sommers. "They also made fewer factual errors in discussing evidence and when errors did occur, those errors were more likely to be corrected during the discussion."

Surprisingly, this difference was primarily due to significant changes in white behavior. Whites on diverse juries cited more case facts, made fewer mistakes in recalling facts and evidence, and pointed out missing evidence more frequently than did those on all-white juries. They were also more amenable to discussing racism when in diverse groups.

I'm not sure why the "surprising" part was surprising. I guess the stereotype is about all the benefits them crazy Black folk will get from being exposed to rational, civilized White guys. But as it turns out, it's White people whose performance needs a shot in the arm. Go figure [/sarcasm].

That aside, studies like this are absolutely, positively critical for pushing integration in American society. First of all, Court's are more likely to uphold diversity-enhancing programs when there is empirical data showing that such programs lead to meaningful benefits for the entity that organized them (i.e., higher productivity in an office, or better grades at a university). Second, such studies help break down racist mentalities that present Blacks as a drain on their communities, contributing little of value to society, and generally of being practically worthless. Third, if one believes that White people will only work to improve the status of racial minorities when it is in their interest, then the more data out there that shows the benefits for Whites of interaction with Blacks, the more better. I'll admit this holds risks--my first thought upon writing that scenario was of Blacks-as-steroids: "Just inject Black people for increased performance!" But ultimately, I think the positives outweigh the negatives.


Anonymous said...

I submit that you make some good points, but you make it seem as if this study is undeniably true and therefore should be accepted as fact. It's one study by one assistant professor. Let's not go overboard and use it as a justification for affirmative action. I am neither white nor black by the way.

jack said...

But Dave, don't you think some of the specific changes in the behavior of the whites are interesting and surprising? It doesn't seem all that intuitive to me that whites would suddenly start working harder, make fewer mistakes and paying better attention. That isn't to say I would expect the opposite just that I'm curious why the whites started trying harder.

Is there some sort of racial defensiveness here or is this all just the product of clashing perspectives having to be dealt with?