It’s not just about being fair.
BY BERYL NELSON
PEOPLE WORKING TOGETHER can achieve more than
they can alone; this is a fundamental principle upon
which organizations are founded. Social scientists
have shown that teams and organizations whose
members are heterogeneous in meaningful ways, for
example, in skill set, education, work experiences,
perspectives on a problem, cultural orientation,
and so forth, have a higher potential for innovation
than teams whose members are homogeneous.
These findings are not without controversy, yet the
implications for the computing industry are profound,
given the relative homogeneity of the field along a
few important dimensions. Take, for example, the
composition of degrees awarded in computer science,
computer engineering, and informatics in 2012 at
research institutions in the U.S.
13.3% of BS degrees, 28.7% of MS
degrees, and 19.2% of Ph.D.’s were
awarded to female candidates, down
from a high of 37% of BS degrees in
computer science in 1986.
5.3% of BS degrees were awarded
to African American candidates, as
were 2.7% of MS degrees, and 2% of
Among computing professionals,
about 20% of CS faculty in U.S. universities are women, and 1.6% are
50 Similar numbers
exist in industry.
Diversity, bias, and stereotypes
have traditionally been discussed
in very relativistic terms: surveys of
whether people thought there was
bias, and so on. In recent years,
imaginative researchers have developed ways to gather quantitative data
about the benefits of, as well as the
challenges to, having a diverse workforce. This article explores the benefits that diversity can bring to teams,
and the cognitive factors—namely,
stereotypes based on social group
membership—that keep us from
achieving optimal levels of diversity.
Benefits of Diversity
Diverse teams are more effective: they
produce better financial results and
better results in innovation. These results show that having a diverse organization is a business imperative.
˽ Teams and organizations whose
members are heterogeneous in
meaningful ways have a higher potential
for innovation than teams whose
members are homogeneous.
˽ Social science experiments using
quantitative methods show bias,
stereotype threat, and methods to
˽ Effectiveness of diverse teams depends
on trusting and supportive cultures.
Data publication is one of the most
important tools to identify and
combat identity threat and biased
˽ There is hope! There are tools that have
been shown to combat bias and identity