Diversity in Small Groups



Research on the benefits of diversity in groups is mixed, finding both positive and negative outcomes for group productivity and satisfaction. The present research examines how the physical arrangement of members within diverse groups influences perceptions of diverse groups. Findings from 4 studies demonstrate that when one’s ethnic ingroup is represented as the minority of a diverse group, there is a tendency to prefer groups that are physically clustered by such that members are spatially close to other members of their ethnicity. When one’s ethnic ingroup is represented as the majority of a diverse group, there is a tendency to prefer groups that are physically dispersed such that members are not grouped by their ethnicity. These findings are discussed in terms of the relative amounts of power inherent in majority and minority status within diverse groups, as well as multicultural and colorblind approaches to appreciating diversity.

Diversity refers to “any attribute that another person may use to detect individual differences in other people” (O'Reilly, Williams, & Barsade, 1998, PAGE). This definition is quite broad, and could refer to many different types of diversity which could each influence group processes to varying degrees. The focus of this research is on racial diversity, which represents a particularly interesting and important type of diversity. Individuals do not choose their racial group memberships the way they may choose their political or religious affiliations; however, specific behavioral traits are associated with different racial groups and lead to expectations about the behavior of specific members of these groups (Stangor & Lange, 1994; Fiske, 1998). Furthermore, race is highly visible (Brewer, 1988), leads to automatic categorizations (Stangor, Lynch, Duan, & Glass, 1992) and is the basis for much prejudice, discrimination, and social inequality (Fiske, 1998).

A large body of research has focused on the positive aspects of diversity in groups (see Mannix & Neale, 2005 for a review). Group members with different backgrounds should bring different perspectives and new insights to group tasks. Indeed, diverse groups have been shown to produce higher quality ideas, and are more innovative (McLeod & Lobel, 1992; Schruijer & Mostert, 1997). Phillips et al. (2009) found that newcomers to groups who do not share in-group membership with existing group members can help produce better group decisions, and exposure to dissenting minority group members’ ideas has been found to lead to increased creativity (Nemeth, 1986). In contrast to more heterogeneous groups, homogeneous groups are at a higher risk of groupthink, as members tend to agree with and reinforce each other’s ideas by ignoring conflicting information and valuing cohesion. This can result in overly confident groups and poor decision-making

Minority Group Members

Being a solo minority within a group can be a very negative experience. Ethnic minority members are highly visible within their groups because their differences stand out to other group members (Lord & Saenz, 1985; Taylor & Fiske, 1978; Taylor, Fiske, Etcoff, & Ruderman, 1978), which causes minority members to feel isolated and overly distinctive (Kanter, 1977; Yoder & Aniakudo, 1997). Isolation activates stereotypes associated with the minority’s social group and can lead to serious performance deficits (Lord & Saenz, 1985; Stangor, Carr, and Kiang, 1998). Furthermore, solo minorities are often cautious in diverse groups (Carli, 1990; Lakoff, 1973) due to feeling highly visible within the group.

Heightened distinctiveness due to ethnic minority status within a group often causes minority members to feel as though their behavior and characteristics displayed in the group context will be applied to all members of their ethnic group, giving them the burden of representing their entire ethnicity (Pollak & Niemann, 1998; Sekaquaptewa, Waldman & Thompson, 2007). As much of one’s identity is based on the groups to which he or she belongs (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), feeling like a representative of one’s entire ethnicity may increase the salience of one’s ethnicity causing added stressors which may prevent the individual from maintaining a healthy ethnic identity which may reduce feelings of identity safety (see Davies et al., 2005).

Geartner and Dovidio (2000) suggest that interactions between different ethnic groups within a larger superordinate group (e.g. majority and minority ethnicities on a work team) will be most successful when group members are able to maintain both their ethnic identities, as well as their suporordinate group identity. In line with this theory, Thompson and Sekaquaptewa (2002) argue that allowing minority group members to maintain such a ‘dual-identity’ may help to reduce the negative impact of solo minority status. Allowing for ties between minority group members may reduce feelings of distinctiveness, isolation, and the burden of representing one’s entire ethnicity. Indeed minority members in organizations have been found to prefer mentor relationships with members of their own ethnicity rather than with outgroup ethnicities

Majority Group Members

Numeric majority group members within a diverse group should not be specifically opposed to a group structure that increases the saliency of ethnic categories. Majority members may not feel overly distinctive or isolated within diverse groups, but they should prefer to be physically close to similar others. According to the attraction-similarity hypothesis (Byrne, 1971), people tend to view others who are similar more favorably than others who are different. This tendency should be universal, regardless of minority or majority status within a group. Thus, in diverse groups, all group members may feel dissimilar to one another, which may cause lower levels of group commitment (Triandis, 1959; Tsui, Egan, & O'Reilly, 1992). However, if members of a diverse group are physically near similar others, then the group settings may lead to more positive affect than a setting with a dispersed group. This clustering of similar members within a diverse group may attenuate the negative impact of diversity on overall group commitment

Evidence from several domains lends support to the notion that clustering by ethnicity within a group is both natural and desirable. Organizational research has found that within organizations, people tend to seek out friendships with people who share similar attributes (Ibarra, 1992). These homophilous networks develop when individuals are able to freely choose those with whom they associate. McPherson and Smith-Lovin (1987) found that as groups become larger, there is a greater tendency toward homophilous networks, as individuals have more opportunities to seek out ties with similar others. Such ‘spontaneous’ clustering among similar individuals has also been observed in animal behavior. Male chimpanzees typically form strong social bonds for long periods of time within their larger social groups, and these bonds are more common between males who share a genetic relationship or a similar dominance ranking

Overview of Present Research

The aim of the following studies was to examine preferences for diverse groups in which members are either clustered by ethnicity or dispersed, and to examine situational and group characteristics that influence these preferences. Each study employed a procedure in which participants were presented with images of faces that were arranged to look like a group, and in which the faces were either clustered or dispersed by ethnicity. In Studies 1-3 the groups contained 2 minority faces and 4 majority faces, and in Study 4 the groups contained 3 minority faces and 6 majority faces. In Studies 1, 3, and 4 the groups were shown in color and in Study 2 the groups were shown in Black and White. In Studies 1 and 3 participants were asked to make a forced preference choice between clustered or dispersed groups, in Study 2 participants were asked to create their own arrangements for groups, and in Study 4 participants were asked to rate the extent to which they liked each group.

The purpose of Study 1 was to examine basic preferences for images of diverse groups that are either clustered by ethnicity or dispersed, where the participant’s own ethnicity is pictured as either the numeric majority or the numeric minority of the group, or was not present in the group. In Study 1, I asked participants to indicate which of two groups of faces they preferred. Because the setting in which a group exists may influence perceptions of diverse groups, I manipulated the instructions for viewing each pair of groups so that participants construed the groups as social groups, working groups, or neutral groups.

Reference :

Bray, R., Kerr, N., & Atkin, R. (1978). Effects of group size, problem difficulty, and sex on group performance and member reactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(11), 1224-1240.

Brewer, M. (1988). A dual process model of impression formation. A dual process model of impression formation (pp. 1-36). Hillsdale, NJ England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Dissertation Done by Julia D. O’Brien, University of Maryland






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