By Michael Stuber, the European D&I Engineer
The latest academic study about team diversity adds some depth to existing insight. Yes, diverse teams create superior results. However, this sometimes happens on the backs of those who aided the benefit.
A study by Michigan State University and University of Michigan researchers shows that individuals (!) on teams of diverse people working together can achieve better outcomes than those on teams with similar individuals. They also found that the very individuals who add diversity to their science teams surprisingly do not experience the same level of positive outcomes.
A thorough research framework
Researchers examined diversity in two categories that reflect above and below the waterline dimensions of the diversity iceberg: personal demographics (race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and nationality) and job-related or scientific criteria (career stage, academic discipline, and tenure on the team). A sample of 266 participants from 105 National Science Foundation-funded environmental science teams completed questionnaires about
- individual and team diversity,
- their satisfaction with their teams and authorship practices, and
- perceptions of the frequency of data sharing.
They also disclosed perceptions of their team climate, including
- team collaboration,
- inclusion, and
- procedural justice, which focused on influencing team policies related to research.
Climate of diverse teams is more positive, but less so for underrepresented groups
Across the study, individuals on diverse teams perceived their climate more positively than individuals on more homogeneous teams. However, participants with more underrepresented demographic characteristics were more likely to view the expectations and the attitude of their team negatively. This applied, for example, to black women or gay men and was associated with lower team satisfaction and more negative perceptions of authorship and data sharing on their teams.
Evidence-based recommendations on collaboration and inclusion
The study adds more concrete elements to the broadly acknowledged need to effectively combine team members from a variety of backgrounds. As diverse teams can struggle with allocation of credit, differences in perspectives, or unequal power dynamics, the authors, based on their findings, recommended the teams focus on achieving improved outcomes in procedural justice, collaboration, and inclusion (as separate elements). They also stated that team policies must be clear and openly discussed, and transparent policies and procedures must be followed to alleviate power imbalances. In cultural terms, teams must be mindful of the experiences of all members, especially those who contribute to demographic diversity.
An element of Inclusive Leadership
It would have been a surprise if the study had not also highlighted the particular role of team leader. The research recommends that team leaders create norms that support the contributions of all members. This may involve creating policies and practices collaboratively and allowing for respectful conflict. These conclusions echo a number of earlier findings related to team culture or open corporate cultures. The research also reminds us of the need to do the following:
- Get beyond the one token minority person who could easily experience stress or social isolation if they bring a unique characteristic to the group
- Make sure that a corporate D&I framework balances and integrates personal demographics and work-related dimensions, which may not always be so obvious, considering insights about corporate D&I reporting as described in the following article.
Michael Stuber’s company hosts a D&I knowledge blog called DiversityMine, which contains more than 1,900 articles. He contributed an article on the future of D&I to the fall 2017 issue of PDJ and wrote about diversity and group think for the magazine’s fall 2018 issue.