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Diversity in the Workplace

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Diversity in workgroups has received an increased amount of attention from researchers and professionals from different disciplines in the past decade. Many different areas of diversity in workgroups have been studied such as process variables, conditions, percentage of effectiveness, conflict and performance (e.g., Dansby & Mickey 1999; Eisenhardt, Pelled, & Xin, 1999).

Demographic diversity is an area that is also receiving additional research attention. The term demographic diversity speaks about the age, gender, or ethnicity of a person (Lawerence, 1997; as cited in Eisenhardt et. al., 1999, p.1). Here we examine if demographic diversity has a significant effect on organizational performance.

Investigations of diversity have cited no consistent main effect on organizational performance due to different conclusions of various studies (Williams & O'Reilly, 1998). Supported research in diversity argues that diversity improves problem solving skills and streamlines processes by offering a variety of opinions from different perspectives ( Jehn, Neale, & Northcraft, 1999 and Thomas, 2001; as cited in Milton, Polzer, & Swann) while negative studies argue that diversity increases the complexity of problem solving because of the demographic barriers. Among the most common variables studied in current research are length and complexity of a task, communication, and level of group interaction.

Studies have cited the length and involvement of a task as an indicator of a demographically diverse groups' performance. For example, work groups with complex tasks of long duration, may be able to recognize their diversity early, "devote more energy to teaming behaviors" due to their awareness, and raise their performance level by using diversity to their advantage (Watson & Merritt, 1998). In these studies participants developed a higher level of communication and team oriented behaviors (Watson, 1998, p.2) in order to complete tasks efficiently. For all groups communication is an important variable in completing any task. A diversified group may develop ideas through communication that a non-diversified group may not consider because of shared, values, norms, and similar experiences.


Merrill, D., Johnson, L., & Watson, W.E. (1998). Team orientation, self-orientation, and diversity in task groups:



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