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Diversity in Groups Can Improve Innovation and Performance

January 2013

By Sari Wakefield, Manager, Digital Communications

There has been a great deal of research in recent years surrounding diversity, particularly in the area of innovation and performance. In a recent discussion with eNEWSLINE, Rich Lyons, Bank of America dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley summarized many of these research studies with a few insightful and powerful statements.

"Wonderful innovations are about pulling things together, pulling different perspectives together, and getting them at the table together. Diversity is less about how you look and more about how you think."

As research (and common sense) have observed, diversity whether it is in the form of ethnicity, race, gender, age, or national origin can positively affect group outcomes with regard to innovation and performance. For instance, in a study conducted by faculty from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, it was found that "diverse groups outperformed more homogeneous groups not because of an influx of new ideas, but because diversity triggered more careful information processing that is absent in homogeneous groups."1 In another study by several Danish researchers, it was reported that there is "robust evidence that ethnic and educational diversity in the labor force is an important source of innovation, one that influences firms' patenting activity in several ways."2 Overall, there are positive outcomes when people from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds come together to solve problems and develop new ideas.

In a business school, faculty diversity can lead to improved research, better collaborative relationships with other institutions, and more perspectives for students to access. However, as many schools have experienced, it can often be very difficult to develop a diverse faculty environment due to the lack of various types of people within the industry. This may be a product of the "PhD pipeline" lacking full representation by all ethnic groups. Or, it may be discipline specific. In that, diverse populations are less likely to hold doctorate degrees in business and more likely to have qualifications in sciences such as medicine. It also does not help the situation that there continues to be a doctoral shortage in business.

Despite the factors that make creating a diverse environment difficult, there are many business schools that have implemented initiatives to specifically develop a well-rounded workplace. There also are organizations that strive to assist with providing minorities and other underrepresented groups with resources and pathways to achieve doctoral-level qualifications. For instance, The PhD Project, established in 1994, provides resources and avenues for ethnic groups that are considered to be minorities to earn a doctorate degree in business. To date, the project has graduated more than 1,100 minority business school professors and 400 minority doctoral students.3

In addition to adding diversity through ethnicity, business schools can strive for faculty variety through other means. For example, building diversity based on life experiences, professional experiences, age, and national origin differences can help to improve overall group performance. Individuals with certain experiences can bring unique perspectives to research projects, and those with varying levels of professional (on-the-job) experience can bring fresh ideas to otherwise traditional ways of thinking. All of which, with proper leadership and implementation management, can create high-performing degree programs and innovative research outcomes.

1. (2010, October). Better Decisions through Diversity: Heterogeneity Can Boost Group Performance. Kellogg Insight.

2. (2012, April 4). Ethnic Diversity Leads to Innovation. Global Talent Strategy.

3. The PhD Project.