What is the value of diversity? This is a profound question that has spawned a proliferation of scholarly research, popular books, and civic dialogue. The desire to develop a compelling answer to this question is warranted. Demographic changes in the workforce, changes in the way organizations structure themselves, and changes in the competitive and global landscape of business have all contributed to diversity becoming more prevalent in the modern workplace (Toossi, 2006; Triandis, Kurowski, & Gelfand, 1994; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). Despite its increasing pervasiveness, the ability of problem-solving groups (where the integration of unique perspectives is critical) to consistently reap measurable benefits from and avoid the negative consequences associated with diversity remains elusive (for reviews and meta-analyses see Jackson, Joshi, & Erhardt, 2003; Kochan et al., 2003; Mannix & Neale, 2005; Milliken & Martins, 1996; van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007; Webber & Donahue, 2001; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). In this chapter we will review relevant social psychological and organizational research on diversity and present a model of the psychological processes underlying the effects of diversity. Our goal here is to develop a better understanding of how and why diversity can be beneficial by integrating the apparently contradictory results from the literature on diversity in problem-solving teams and in organizations. The
conventional wisdom that diversity is beneficial because people who are “different” will bring different perspectives to the table is challenged, and an alternative value of diversity focusing on the effects of diversity on all members of a group will be presented. The implications of this perspective for the changing demography of the workforce is readily apparent as the ability to effectively capture diversity’s benefits will be increasingly important for organizations.