Diversity training – yes no maybe?


Diversity and creativity

This week, during our expert of the day presentation, the team reviewed an article by Shin, Kim, Lee, Bian (2012) called Cognitive team diversity and individual team member creativity: A cross-level interaction.

The two main schools of thoughts regarding diversity are the “similarity attraction” argument and “value in diversity” argument.

The “similarity attraction” argument is based on the assumption that people are attracted to similar others. Diversity may therefore relate negatively to individual creativity because of possible emotional and relational conflict resulting from being different (Shin et al., 2012).

The “value in diversity” argument assumes that diverse groups have more relevant information and perspectives available than homogeneous groups. Team diversity may therefore relate positively to creativity because it provides team members with an increased range of knowledge and perspectives (Shin et al., 2012).

Increasingly, organizations (and even our MNO class) are made up of people from diverse nationalities. Thus, how can we best attain value from diverse teams while at the same time, avoid falling prey to the “us vs. them” mindset?

Recognizing the challenges as well as benefits of diversity, many organizations have invested in nationality diversity training programs that aims to build the skills of their employees to allow organizations to tap onto the potential of team diversity.

However, a review of the literature on diversity training has produced mixed conclusions. It seems like diversity training effectiveness is often assumed, but not always found. Some studies report benefits of diversity training while other report diversity training to be ineffective. This seems counter-intuitive, isn’t training supposed to lead to improvements? But wait, there’s more. Paradoxically, diversity training may actually lead to detrimental effects.

It seems that diversity training can increase team creativity, BUT only for teams with less positive pretraining diversity beliefs and teams that are sufficiently diverse in nationality Homan et al. 2015(Homan et al., 2015)

According to Homan et al. (2015):

(a) Diversity training benefits those with less positive diversity beliefs

Diversity training had less impact on teams with more positive diversity beliefs. This was because teams with less positive diversity beliefs would be more receptive and attentive to the ideas explicated in the diversity training as the training is seen as having high instrumentality (Mathieu et al., 1992). In addition, because the team with less positive diversity belief is more likely to scrutinise the information during training for relevance and usefulness, this would lead to more systematic information processing compared to teams with more positive diversity belief (Smith-Jentsch et al., 1996).

(b) Diversity training benefits those with less positive diversity beliefs and high nationality diversity

In addition, diversity training increased creative performance when the team’s nationality diversity was high, but undermined creativity when the team’s nationality diversity was low. This was proposed to be because after the training, if the team was unable to put the skills learnt during the training to use, mitigating the potential benefits of diversity training.

(c) Team efficacy serves as a mediating link between diversity training and team creativity

To sum it all up, under high nationality diversity, teams with less positive diversity beliefs will become more creative after attending diversity training compared with control training. These interactive effects were driven by the experienced team efficacy of the team members.

Thus, organizations should carefully consider the individual characteristics of team members and of the team as well, instead of just putting everyone through diversity training, just for the sake of it.

So what are the practical implications for our class? First, consider if you have positive or less positive diversity beliefs by asking yourself, these four questions. On a scale of 1-5, how strongly do you agree with these statements?

  1. “Diversity is an asset for teams”
  2.  “I believe that diversity is good”
  3. “I enjoy working together with diverse people”
  4. “I feel enthusiastic about diversity”

Then, consider the nationality diversity in your team – what is the ratio of Singaporeans to exchange students in your team? If you do indeed belong to a diverse team (most probably) and have less positive diversity beliefs, then perhaps you should consider signing up for diversity training classes. Who knows, maybe it might even benefit your group project in terms of creativity 😉


Homan, A. C., Buengeler, C., Eckhoff, R. A., van Ginkel, W. P., & Voelpel, S. C. (2015, February 16). The Interplay of Diversity Training and Diversity Beliefs on Team Creativity in Nationality Diverse Teams. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000013

Mathieu, J. E., Tannenbaum, S. I., & Salas, E. (1992). Influences of individual and situational characteristics on measures of training effec- tiveness. Academy of Management Journal, 35, 828–847. http://dx.doi .org/10.2307/256317

Shin, S. J., Kim, T. Y., Lee, J. Y., & Bian, L. (2012). Cognitive team diversity and individual team member creativity: A cross-level interaction. Academy of Management Journal, 55(1), 197-212.

Smith-Jentsch, K. A., Jentsch, F. G., Payne, S. C., & Salas, E. (1996). Can pretraining experiences explain individual differences in learning. Jour- nal of Applied Psychology, 81, 110–116. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ 0021-9010.81.1.110

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