Harvard Business Review features Professor Oliver Sheldon's research on biases that undermine benefits of diversity

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Monday, February 22, 2016
Brighton, MA

Harvard Business Review

Tech companies, banks, consulting firms, you name it — all are scrambling to create diverse and inclusive environments. But despite pouring millions of dollars annually into diversity efforts, organizations sometimes fail to capture the benefits that diverse groups reportedly offer.

One possibility for this failure is that the purported benefits of diversity are more hype than reality, but that’s unlikely given the ample research that speaks against this claim.

So why the disconnect between the potential of diverse groups and reality? Part of the problem may be the fact that people’s biases about diverse groups, both conscious and unconscious, can undermine the very benefits of diversity.

To examine this hypothesis, we conducted a series of experiments in which participants made judgments about the level of conflict in a group’s interactions. They also rated their willingness to provide that group with the resources it requested.

The findings were striking. When reading a transcript with pictures revealing the group’s composition, racially diverse teams were perceived as having more relationship conflict than homogeneous ones. And they were less likely to receive additional resources because of these biased perceptions of conflict — even though the objective content of the group interaction was exactly the same.

By: Katherine W. Phillips, Robert B. Lount, Jr., Oliver Sheldon, and Floor Rink

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TAGS: Diversity Management and Global Business Oliver Sheldon Research