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Two Sides of Diversity

December 28, 2009

Contrasting results on the diversity debate– not necessarily inconsistent though.

Check out this article on Scott Page’s research:

” Scott E. Page… uses mathematical modeling and case studies to show how variety in staffing produces organizational strength….

Q. In your book you posit that organizations made up of different types of people are more productive than homogenous ones. Why do you say that?

A. Because diverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it.

People from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, what I call “tools.” The sum of these tools is far more powerful in organizations with diversity than in ones where everyone has gone to the same schools, been trained in the same mold and thinks in almost identical ways.

But if we have people with diverse tools, they’ll get stuck in different places. One person can do their best, and then someone else can come in and improve on it. There’s a lot of empirical data to show that diverse cities are more productive, diverse boards of directors make better decisions, the most innovative companies are diverse.

Breakthroughs in science increasingly come from teams of bright, diverse people. That’s why interdisciplinary work is the biggest trend in scientific research.

Now contrast it with the results from Robert Putnam’s massive study of the impact of diversity on civic life.  Here is an excerpt from an interesting and accessible article on his research:

“IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength…. But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam … has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings…”

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