Ten Articles Every Diversity Leader Should Read


Some of the studies cited here are equivocal about the impact of diversity on performance. They take a nuanced view, suggesting that context, conflict, miscommunication, and other factors may intervene between diversity and performance. Those studies make the vital point that diversity is not a free ride to performance, but must be managed knowledgeably and effectively to achieve results.

Barriers to Equality: The Power of Subtle Discrimination to Maintain Unequal Opportunity

Mary P. Rowe
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, 1990.

A classic in which Mary Rowe defines micro-inequities, small, often unintentional mechanisms of prejudice that exclude people of difference and make them less confident and productive. She argues that micro-inequities “are usually small in nature, but not trivial in effect.”

Micro-affirmations and Micro-inequities

Mary P. Rowe
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, 2008.

Rowe provides the antidote to micro-inequities, “micro-affirmations—apparently small acts, which are often ephemeral and hard-to-see, events that are public and private, often unconscious help others to succeed.”

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Peggy McIntosh
Independent School, Winter 1990, 31-36.

The original article describing white privilege and its consequences. This article has had a profound impact on readers unfamiliar with the concept of white privilege and is a wonderful discussion generator.

State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2014

Cheryl Staats
Kirwan Insitute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.

The second in, hopefully, an annual series of highly readable reports on the current understanding of implicit bias, which includes a primer on implicit bias, new developments in research, and trends in the field of implicit bias.

Diversity as Strategy

David A. Thomas
Harvard Business Review, September 2004.

Thomas recounts the story of how IBM expanded its product and talent markets by advancing diversity in its own workforce. The effort, under the leadership of Ted Childs, Vice President of Global Workforce Diversity, started with the establishment of eight task forces, composed of demographic affinity groups, “to uncover and understand differences among groups and find ways to appeal to a broader set of employees and customers.”

The Effects of Diversity on Business Performance: Report of the Diversity Research Network

Thomas Kochan, Katerina Bezrukova, Robin Ely, Susan Jackson, Aparna Joshi, Karen Jehn, Jonathan Leonard, David Levine, and David Thomas
Human Resource Management, Vol. 42, 1, 2003, 3-21.

The authors undertook what may be the largest field study ever on diversity to examine the relationship between diversity and business performance. While they do not find strong evidence that diversity enhances performance, neither do they find that it detracts from performance. They conclude that examining the business-performance relationship requires a more nuanced view that accounts for the moderating effects of context and group process.

Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies

Alexandra Kalev, Frank Dobbin, and Erin Kelly
American Sociological Review, Vol. 71, August 2006, 589-617.

Kalev et al. find that diversity training and evaluations have limited effect on managerial diversity, while mentoring and networking have greater effects and assignment of responsibility for diversity has the greatest effect. In organizations that clearly assign responsibilities for diversity, the other effects are heightened.

Groups of Diverse Problem Solvers Can Outperform Groups of High-ability Problem Solvers

Lu Hong and Scott Page
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 101, 46, November 2004, 16385-16389.

Hong and Page, the author of the important book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, use mathematical modeling to conclude that “diversity trumps ability,” (i.e., a group of randomly selected people outperforms a group of experts). They warn, however, that groups composed of diverse identities “often have more conflict, more problems with communication, and less mutual respect and trust among members.”

Unraveling the Effects of Cultural Diversity in Teams: A Meta-analysis of Research on Multicultural Work Groups

GĂĽnter Stahl, Martha Maznevski, Andrea Voigt, and Karsten Jonsen
Journal of International Business Studies, 41, 2010, 680-709.

A large scale analysis of 108 empirical studies, including over 10,000 teams, that demonstrates that cultural diversity in teams leads to losses–increased task conflict and decreased social integration–and gains–increased creativity and satisfaction.

Managing Multicultural Teams

Jeanne Brett, Kristin Behfar, and Mary C. Kern
Harvard Business Review, November 2006.

Identifies the four challenges that cause conflict among members of multicultural teams — direct versus indirect communication, trouble with accents and fluency, differing attitudes toward hierarchy and authority, and conflicting norms for decision making — and offers four strategies for addressing these challenges.