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date: 22 January 2022

Managing Team Diversity in the Workplacefree

Managing Team Diversity in the Workplacefree

  • Maartje Schouten, Maartje SchoutenDepartment of Management, Ivy College of Business at Iowa State University
  • Jasmien KhattabJasmien KhattabRotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University
  •  and Phoebe PahngPhoebe PahngIvy College of Business, Iowa State University


The study of team diversity has generated a large amount of research because of the changing nature of workplaces as they become more diverse and work becomes more organized around teams. Team diversity describes the variation among team members in terms of any attribute in which individuals may differ. Examples are demographic background diversity, functional or educational diversity, and personality diversity. Diversity can be operationalized as categorical (variety), continuous (separation), or vertical (disparity).

Initial research on team diversity was dominated by a main-effects approach that produced two main perspectives: social-categorization scholars suggested that diversity hurts team outcomes, as it decreases feelings of cohesion and increases dysfunctional conflict, whereas the information and decision-making perspective suggested that diversity helps team outcomes, as it makes more information available in the team to help with decision-making. In an effort to integrate these disparate insights, the categorization-elaboration model (CEM) proposed that team diversity can lead both to social categorization and to information elaboration on the basis of contextual factors that may give rise to either process. The CEM has received widespread support in research, but a number of questions about the processes through which diversity has an effect on team outcomes remain.


  • Human Resource Management
  • Organizational Behavior

Organizations are changing in two key ways: organizations and societies are becoming increasingly diverse with more representation of people of different genders, cultural or ethnic backgrounds, ages, and sexual orientations, as well as people with areas of expertise, various lengths of tenure, and functional domains. Additionally, organizations are increasingly structuring work around teams. As work has become more global and companies need to be agile to compete and innovate, more organizations hope to harness the potential of teams. As a result, these two trends together have led researchers to ask “Does diversity help or hurt team outcomes?”

The goal of this article is to provide an overview of team-diversity literature in search of an answer to this question. This article begins by defining the concept of team diversity (see “What Is Team Diversity?”). It subsequently provides an overview of “Theoretical Perspectives on Team Diversity” that have dominated the team-diversity literature since the 1990s and evaluates the support for these perspectives, with an emphasis on more-recent work in this area (see “Toward Integration and Moderation”). This article concludes (see “Conclusion”) with an overview of “Diversity Challenges,” “Future Directions” for research, and “Practical Implications.”

What Is Team Diversity?

Team diversity has broadly been defined as “the variation among team members on any attribute on which individuals may differ, such as demographic background, functional or educational diversity, and personality” (van Knippenberg & Mell, 2016, p. 136). It can thus be conceptualized as referring to any attribute that may lead to the perception that another person is different from the perceiver (Guillaume, Dawson, Otaye‐Ebede, Woods, & West, 2017; van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007; Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). Moreover, any number of characteristics that an individual possesses (e.g., gender, race, functional domain) can be used to differentiate him or her from other team members, thereby increasing team diversity across different dimensions. Despite the potential breadth of attributes that may be considered as leading to team diversity, organizational research has predominantly examined gender, race, age, functional or educational background, and tenure as diversity attributes.

The concept of team diversity has been operationalized along three different dimensions: variety, separation, and disparity (Harrison & Klein, 2007). Variety reflects the composition of differences in kind, source, or category among team members and assumes that team members differ qualitatively from one another rather than on a continuous attribute. It is the most common operationalization of demographic diversity, although demographic diversity can also be conceptualized as separation or disparity (Harrison & Klein, 2007). Examples of team-diversity research that has examined diversity as variety include studies into gender diversity (e.g., Lee, Choi, & Kim, 2018), racial diversity (e.g., Fisher, Bell, Dierdorff, & Belohlav, 2012), and functional diversity (e.g., Bunderson & Sutcliffe, 2002). Best practices for scholars examining diversity as variety suggest capturing the degree of diversity in the team by using either Blau’s (1977) or Teachman’s (1980) entropy formulas. Separation describes the differences between members in their lateral position or attitude, value, or belief and assumes that team members differ from one another in terms of a continuous variable that does not signal any hierarchical differences. Examples of research operationalizing team diversity as separation include studies into cognitive style diversity (Mello & Delise, 2015), polychronicity diversity (i.e., diversity in team members’ preference for multitasking; Mohammed & Nadkarni, 2014), and value diversity (Tyran & Gibson, 2008). Capturing diversity as separation is best done using standard deviation or mean Euclidian distance (Harrison & Klein, 2007). Lastly, disparity captures vertical differences in proportion of socially valued assets or resources among team members. Disparity is often invoked in the study of hierarchical structures or differences in authority between team members (Greer, De Jong, Schouten, & Dannals, 2018; Hollenbeck, Beersma, & Schouten, 2012). Both the coefficient of variation and the Gini coefficient are common operationalizations of diversity as disparity (Harrison & Klein, 2007). The focus of this article is predominantly on research conducted on diversity operationalized as variety, as this is the most commonly studied form of team diversity. However, the potential of integrating the other types of diversity is revisited in “Future Directions.”

Theoretical Perspectives on Team Diversity: Main-Effect Approaches—Social-Categorization and Information and Decision-Making Perspectives

Initially, research on team diversity was predominantly occupied with answering the question of whether diversity was beneficial or harmful to teams. Two theoretical perspectives guided diversity researchers in answering this research question: the social-categorization perspective and the information and decision-making perspective. The social-categorization perspective considered diversity to be harmful to team performance, based on the idea that differences between individuals would lead to social categorization and stereotyping, thereby creating an “us-versus-them” mentality in team members (Williams & O’Reilly, 1998). This would in turn lead to less communication and more conflict between team members, thereby decreasing team performance. In contrast, the information and decision-making perspective relied on the idea that greater team diversity increases the team’s pool of informational resources, which allows teams to make better and more creative decisions. For instance, demographically diverse team members have access to different networks, and team members with different functional backgrounds bring different perspectives that can be shared to improve team decision-making (Bunderson & Sutcliffe, 2002; Reagans & Zuckerman, 2001).

Both perspectives have received empirical support. For instance, research supporting the social-categorization perspective has found negative effects of team diversity on team cohesion (e.g., Leslie, 2017) and coordination (e.g., Fisher et al., 2012), team communication (e.g., Lu, Li, Leung, Savani, & Morris, 2018), and positive relationships between team diversity and conflict, particularly conflict about interpersonal relationships as opposed to task-related conflict (Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale, 1999). Conversely, research supporting the information and decision-making perspective has demonstrated that when the team’s task benefits from multiple perspectives, diversity leads to better team performance (e.g., Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Bantel & Jackson, 1989; Pelled, Eisenhardt, & Xin, 1999).

In an effort to resolve the conflict between the two perspectives, some scholars proposed that demographic diversity was more likely to lead to negative effects on team outcomes, whereas informational diversity was more likely to increase positive team outcomes (see also van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007). Although this explanation has intuitive appeal, it is not supported by research. Studies of both demographic and informational diversity have found both positive and negative effects with a heterogeneity of effect sizes (Bantel & Jackson, 1989; Cox, Lobel, & McLeod, 1991; Simons, Pelled, & Smith, 1999; van Knippenberg & Mell, 2016). Moreover, meta-analyses have either found no or very small main effects of demographic or informational diversity on team outcomes (Joshi & Roh, 2009; van Dijk, van Engen, & van Knippenberg, 2012; Webber & Donahue, 2001).

This suggests that the effects of team diversity on team outcomes are highly contextual (van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007). For instance, Joshi and Roh (2009) demonstrated that the effect of diversity in teams on team outcomes was contingent on occupational and industry characteristics. Specifically, gender or ethnically diverse teams had more negative performance outcomes in occupations that were dominated by either male or white employees. Furthermore, demographic diversity was associated with more positive team-level outcomes in the service industry, whereas these relationships were slightly negative in the manufacturing industry. Thus, the context in which teams are embedded matters. Therefore, a full appreciation of the effects of team diversity requires a more nuanced understanding that reconciles these disparate findings.

Toward Integration and Moderation: The Categorization-Elaboration Model

The categorization-elaboration model (CEM; van Knippenberg, De Dreu, & Homan, 2004) is a theoretical framework that was developed to reconcile the disparate findings in the diversity literature. The CEM proposes two pathways through which diversity in teams can affect team outcomes (see Figure 1). The first pathway, the information-elaboration pathway, suggests that diversity in teams (see Figure 1, box A) leads to improved team performance (see Figure 1, box H), especially in the form of greater creativity and innovation and higher-quality decisions, because diversity generates a greater exchange of information and perspectives, greater individual-level processing of information, and a discussion of these new insights with the team as a whole (see Figure 1, box G). In particular, team diversity may lead to better team outcomes through greater information elaboration when the task requires more information processing and creative or innovative solutions, when teams are motivated to contribute to the team, and when team members have high levels of (cognitive) ability to process the information that is being exchanged (see Figure 1, box F). In addition, the CEM outlines how social-categorization processes can influence the information-elaboration pathway by affecting a team’s ability or motivation to exchange and integrate (new) information.

The second pathway, the social-categorization pathway, stipulates several factors that hinder the benefits of team diversity to materialize. Team diversity is supposed to lead to social categorization (see Figure 1, box C), especially under conditions of the cognitive accessibility of social categories to which team members belong, of normative fit or the extent to which the categorization of fellow team members makes subjective sense, and of comparative fit, which describes to what extent the categorization in the team results in subgroups in which members of the subgroups are similar within and different between groups (see Figure 1, box B). Subsequently, social categorization increases the likelihood of negative evaluative or affective reactions (see Figure 1, box E), such as increased relationship conflict, lowered cohesion, identification, and commitment to occur. This is especially likely when the social categorization of team members into subgroups leads to the threat of a team member’s or subgroup’s positive social identity (see Figure 1, box D). When that happens, intergroup biases could occur that can stifle the exchange, discussion, and integration of meaningful information between team members across subgroup boundaries.

The CEM further revolutionized thinking about team diversity by suggesting that any diversity characteristic has the potential to trigger both pathways. Prior conceptualization of team-diversity characteristics had distinguished between demographic, surface-level, or easily visible diversity characteristics such as race, age, and gender on the one hand and informational, deep-level, or relatively invisible diversity characteristics such as job-related, functional, or personality diversity on the other hand. Rather, van Knippenberg et al. (2004) suggested that any diversity characteristic can be made salient and lead to social-categorization processes under certain circumstances, and that any diversity characteristic can also lead to greater information exchange and elaboration because the other is different and therefore may have unique, valuable information. For instance, when a team of men and women typically would be seen as setting in motion a social-categorization process, van Knippenberg et al. (2004) argued that gender differences could also lead to a greater sharing of diverse perspectives, especially when the gender differences are relevant to the team’s task. Conversely, any diversity characteristic such as functional background that is typically seen as yielding greater information elaboration can also lead to a social-categorization process when the functional differences lead people to classify the team members as a matter of us versus them (e.g., the inventive and hardworking engineers versus the flashy and money-spending marketers). Moreover, many diversity characteristics possess aspects of both demographic and informational attributes (e.g., marital status, tenure, and personality), thereby making a classification of demographic versus informational characteristics troublesome in practice.

The CEM provided a new impulse to the diversity literature and urged scholars to move away from a main-effects approach toward a more nuanced and integrated approach focused on identifying contextual factors that would strengthen or weaken the direct relationship between team diversity and team outcomes (van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007). This changed the question in diversity research from “Is diversity good or bad for team performance?” to “When is diversity good or bad for team performance?” The next section (“Empirical Support for the CEM”) provides a review of the empirical literature and examines that propositions in the CEM have been supported and what questions still remain.

Figure 1. Updated CEM, adapted from van Knippenberg et al. (2004).

Solid lines represent originally proposed relationships. Dotted lines and italics represent newly proposed additions.

Empirical Support for the CEM

In order to assess the empirical support for the CEM (van Knippenberg et al., 2004), articles published on team diversity since 2007 were included in this review. The year 2007 is chosen as the starting point, as it marks the publication of a seminal review article on team diversity, which corroborated the claims made by van Knippenberg et al. (2004) on the importance of examining moderators of the team diversity to team outcomes relationship (van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007). Together, these two articles started a new wave in team-diversity literature, moving away from main-effects approaches and focusing on understanding the processes through and the conditions under which diversity affected team outcomes. As such, a comprehensive search on the Web of Science database was conducted combining the terms “team” or “group” with “diversity,” “minority,” “minority membership,” “functional diversity,” “knowledge diversity,” “informational diversity,” “demographic diversity,” “minority leadership,” “intersectionality,” “discrimination,” “social categorization,” “information elaboration,” “gender diversity,” “racial diversity,” “age diversity,” and “cultural diversity” in the areas of management, business, psychology, and sociology. In this review of the CEM, only empirical articles with primary data that examined diversity at the team level were included. These articles were mapped onto the relationships proposed by the CEM.

Information-Elaboration Pathway

A substantial number of articles in this review focused on informational elaboration or a related concept such as information sharing. Research overwhelmingly finds support for the idea that the process of information elaboration is key to unlocking diversity’s potential in terms of higher team performance (e.g., Hoever, van Knippenberg, van Ginkel, & Barkema, 2012; Kearney, Gebert, & Voelpel, 2009; Lu et al., 2018; Wang, 2015). However, in line with the CEM, diversity does not unequivocally lead to information elaboration. Rather, moderating factors play a role in enabling information elaboration to take place. Moderators directly linked to the elaboration route (see Figure 1, box F) appear to focus specifically on the task’s informational and decision requirements (e.g., Gardner, Gino, & Staats, 2012; Mell, van Knippenberg, & van Ginkel, 2014; Woolley, Gerbasi, Chabris, Kosslyn, & Hackman, 2008) and on the ability of the team members to complete the task (e.g., Hoever et al., 2012; Kooij-de Bode, van Knippenberg, & van Ginkel, 2008; Wang, 2015). In support of the CEM, both task requirements and the ability of the team members to complete the task are instrumental in engaging in information elaboration. For instance, Hoever et al. (2012) demonstrated that educating participants on how to take the perspective of others in the team greatly stimulated information elaboration, which resulted in more creative team performance in informationally diverse teams as compared to situations in which participants were not taught how to take the perspective of others.

Research focusing on the moderating role of task motivation typically focuses more on the individual difference factors that predispose individual team members to being interested in learning about different perspectives rather than in more directly assessing or manipulating task-specific motivation, such as task efficacy. Examples of individual difference factors that have been shown to enable information-elaboration processes are the need for cognition, an individual’s tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive endeavors (Kearney et al., 2009), and one’s openness to experience; an individual’s willingness to explore, tolerate, and consider new and unfamiliar ideas and experiences (Homan et al., 2008), and one’s learning goal orientation; and an individual’s focus on developing knowledge, increasing competence, and self-improvement (Nederveen Pieterse, van Knippenberg, & van Dierendonck, 2013). Conversely, when team members have a performance-avoidance goal orientation—a motivational orientation focused on avoiding performing worse than others—information elaboration is particularly unlikely to materialize (Nederveen Pieterse et al., 2013).

Social-Categorization Pathway

The social-categorization pathway of the CEM suggests that team diversity can lead to social-categorization processes, resulting in affective or evaluative reactions that affect the information-elaboration process. Whereas scholars have examined an array of evaluative or affective reactions to team diversity such as conformity (Goncalo & Duguid, 2008), loyalty (Chung et al., 2015), trust (Curşeu & Schruijer, 2010), and potency (Tröster, Mehra, & van Knippenberg, 2014), research has most often studied conflict and cohesion as reactions to team diversity. Non-task-based conflict (i.e., relationship and status conflict) and lower levels of cohesion tend to be disruptive for team performance outcomes, as they reduce a team’s motivation to share and integrate information (see also Guillaume et al., 2017).

When it comes to considering moderating factors as they relate to the categorization pathway of the CEM (see Figure 1, boxes B and D), research generally offers empirical support for the ideas promoted by the CEM, as well. For instance, team diversity is associated with more positive affective or evaluative responses when organizations or leaders support diversity, either explicitly or implicitly. With their support, leaders presumably reduce any identity threat stemming from the social-categorization processes, allowing for the potential of diversity to materialize. For instance, factors such as leaders’ focus on building positive relationships through benevolent paternalism or leaders’ beliefs in the value of diversity (Lu et al., 2018; Schölmerich, Schermuly, & Deller, 2016), unit-level diversity beliefs (Homan et al., 2008), the creation of a superordinate identity (Salazar, Feitosa, & Salas, 2017), and open-mindedness norms (Mitchell & Boyle, 2015) can be directly linked to the reduction of identity threat and as such reduce the negative relationship between team diversity and evaluative or affective reactions such as conflict and cohesion. Perceptions of threat or uncertainty have the reverse effect on the relationship between team diversity and team outcomes (Cooper, Patel, & Thatcher, 2014; Duguid, 2011; Spoelma & Ellis, 2017). For instance, Greer, Homan, De Hoogh, and Den Hartog (2012) demonstrated that leaders who categorized ethnically diverse teams in in- and out-groups strengthened the negative relationship between ethnic diversity and team communication and performance.

Whereas several parts of the social-categorization pathway of the CEM have been tested, this review of the empirical literature revealed that there was a surprising lack of research that explicitly tested the entire causal chain of the social-categorization pathway in the CEM. Only one article (Salazar et al., 2017) studied two different moderators—the cognitive accessibility or normative fit (see Figure 1, box B) and identity threat (see Figure 1, box D)—simultaneously to predict the effect of team racio-ethnic diversity on idea novelty as mediated by social-categorization perceptions (see Figure 1, box C). Moreover, although there were a reasonable number of studies that examined the different segments of the model independently, this review revealed limited consistency in the way in which social-categorization processes have been studied, rendering the drawing of generalizable conclusions challenging in empirical reviews (see also Guillaume et al., 2017; van Knippenberg & Mell, 2016).

In addition, the lack of research explicitly testing variables related to social categorization (see Figure 1, box C) or the moderating factors of cognitive accessibility and normative fit (see Figure 1, box B) indicates that these processes are largely assumed to follow from diversity (van Knippenberg et al., 2004). In other words, diversity research tends to equate the presence of diversity in teams to the social categorization of different team members without explicitly assessing cognitive accessibility or normative fit. A few exceptions exist in which scholars have looked at perceptions of similarity or fit (Garcia, 2017; Seong, Kristof-Brown, Park, Hong, & Shin, 2015) or have compared objective diversity metrics to perceived diversity metrics as a proxy for perceptions of social categorization (Daniels, Neale, & Greer, 2017; Shemla, Meyer, Greer, & Jehn, 2016; Zellmer-Bruhn, Maloney, Bhappu, & Salvador, 2008). However, the majority of research explicitly examining social categorization has taken place under the umbrella of team faultlines (see also Lau & Murnighan, 1998; Thatcher & Patel, 2012). Rather than examining the effect of one type of diversity, research on faultlines is interested in how teams are affected when multiple types of diversity converge in team members, creating salient subgroups. For instance, when a team is composed of two men and two women and both men have a background in engineering whereas both women have a background in marketing, there is alignment of multiple diversity characteristics, which enhances the potential for subgroups to develop. When the functional backgrounds and the genders do not align, such subgrouping is less likely to occur.

In line with the CEM, the alignment of diversity characteristics within different members of a team is hypothesized to enhance the cognitive accessibility of the categorization as well as the normative fit of the categorization, which increases the likelihood that social categorization will occur. Although managerial actions such as assigning teams a superordinate goal have the potential to counteract these subgrouping tendencies (Rico, Sánchez-Manzanares, Antino, & Lau, 2012), a consistent conclusion is thus that stronger faultlines in teams affect team outcomes more negatively (for a comprehensive review on the faultline research, see Thatcher & Patel, 2012). Nevertheless, also in this line of research, cognitive accessibility and normative fit are more often assumed (rather than explicitly measured) to occur on the basis of the existence of faultlines.


Overall, research lends support for the general conclusions of the CEM (van Knippenberg et al., 2004). Both the potential harmful and the potential beneficial effects of team diversity are subject to moderating factors in order for the effects to truly materialize. Research examining how team diversity may be beneficial for team outcomes has demonstrated that moderating factors such as task and decisional requirements and task ability determine when team diversity benefits team outcomes. This review also highlighted that the importance of the moderating role of task motivation has only been examined using proxies for task motivation such as goal orientation, rather than assessing task motivation more directly. Whereas the findings lend general support to the categorization pathway of the CEM, as well, this review also highlighted the scattered nature of relationships examined. This review only uncovered a single study examining both moderators (see Figure 1, boxes B and D) in the categorization pathway simultaneously as proposed in the CEM (Salazar et al., 2017). In addition, studies examining the different segments of the social-categorization pathway have assessed these relationships by operationalizing these variables in very different ways, thereby inhibiting the ability to build cumulative knowledge about team diversity through meta-analysis. Despite the support the CEM receives for its general premises, diversity research remains somewhat piecemeal such that scholars tend to examine variables that are either linked to the information-elaboration pathway or the social-categorization pathway. Moreover, although the CEM does not explicitly discuss the role of leadership, studies have found that leadership can both improve and decrease outcomes in diverse teams.

Whereas historically, demographic diversity has been largely associated with social-categorization processes and informational diversity has been associated with seeing the value in diversity, diversity research has clearly benefitted from the CEM, such that a wider array of diversity attributes are now considered in order to elicit both information-elaboration and social-categorization processes. As a result, scholars have broadened the inclusion criteria for types of diversity studied and types of relationships examined for specific forms of diversity. For instance, diversity research examining the potential benefits of diversity through information elaboration has expanded to include traditionally foregone categories of diversity such as gender (Homan et al., 2008), age (Kearney & Gebert, 2009), nationality (Homan, Buengeler, Eckhoff, van Ginkel, & Voelpel, 2015; Zellmer-Bruhn et al., 2008), cultural diversity (Lu et al., 2018), and goal-orientation diversity (Nederveen Pieterse, van Knippenberg, & van Ginkel, 2011). This represents a much-welcomed broader consideration of the effects of diversity for team outcomes.

Continued Diversity Challenges

The CEM has greatly affected team-diversity research in the field of management. However, since its initial publication in the early 21st century, work environments have changed in manners that may change the way in which the processes outlined in the CEM play out. In this section, we outline two continued challenges for team diversity. First, the widespread introduction of high-speed internet has dramatically increased the opportunity to work remotely, resulting in a greater likelihood that teams are either always or at times geographically dispersed. Second, the increasing diversification of the workplace—in particular, the professional workplace—makes it more likely that more individuals possess multiple social-group memberships simultaneously that create intersectional identities. We will discuss both and relate each back to the CEM.

Geographic dispersion is an increasingly common phenomenon in global organizations that have the potential both to amplify the social-categorization processes and to minimize them in teams. Geographic dispersion, or the lack of colocation of team members, is a diversity characteristic that has three distinct dimensions, each with unique implications for team-diversity outcomes (O’Leary & Cummings, 2007). First, teams can be geographically dispersed across space (spatial dispersion), such that teams that have a minimum level of spatial dispersion consistently work in the same room, whereas at the maximum level of spatial dispersion, all team members are spread across the globe. Second, teams can be dispersed across time (temporal dispersion), which describes the extent to which team members have overlapping work hours. Finally, teams can be configurationally dispersed, which describes the proportion of team members that are dispersed versus colocated. Geographic dispersion is often associated with team virtuality (e.g., Gibson & Gibbs, 2006). However, although being geographically dispersed enhances the likelihood that a team will communicate via virtual means (e.g., email, instant messaging, or phone), teams can also communicate virtually when colocated (for instance, by working so as not to interrupt each other), and geographically dispersed teams can plan face-to-face meetings at which all communication on the project takes place.

The effects of geographic dispersion can be understood in light of the CEM. For instance, teams in which some team members are colocated but others are not will likely experience subgrouping in the team by virtue of differences in how much team members are exposed to each other. The colocated team members also have easier access to face-to-face forms of communication and are more likely to share an identity, for instance, because these team members share other attributes such as living in the same town. This can place the members who are not colocated in an out-group. However, geographic dispersion, particularly if all members are dispersed, can also benefit teams such that it can become salient that team members are different, which can enhance the motivation to learn about those differences. Furthermore, demographic characteristics such as gender or race may not be as salient when communication predominantly takes place via email or instant messaging. This may reduce the effect of categorization processes on group decision-making. Future research would benefit from investigating how the CEM can help in understanding both the effects of geographic dispersion and the way in which research into geographic dispersion can enrich our comprehension of the processes described in the CEM.

An increasingly important topic in diversity research is the study of intersectionality, that is, the manner in which multiple aspects of identity may combine in different ways (Sanchez-Hucles & Davis, 2010). Rather than investigating social-group membership as a singular category such as gender, an intersectional approach aims to understand the complex interplay between different social-group memberships such as gender and race. For instance, different stereotypes are associated with different combinations of social identities (e.g., angry black woman, communal white woman, or mild-tempered Asian woman; Rosette, Koval, Ma, & Livingston, 2016). A more fine-grained understanding of the analysis of the intersection of gender and race helps in understanding the different experiences that, among others, white women, black women, black men, and Asian women have in the workplace (e.g., Atewologun, Sealy, & Vinnicombe, 2016; Rosette & Livingston, 2012; Smith & Nkomo, 2003).

Integrating intersectionality in theories around team diversity in general and in the CEM particularly provides a more nuanced understanding of the social-categorization and potential information-elaboration processes that are present in teams. For instance, because individuals can possess different social-group memberships, contextual factors become more important in determining which (combination of) social-group memberships become salient and, therefore, elicit social-categorization processes in a team (e.g., Creary, Caza, & Roberts, 2015; Roberts, 2005). With regard to methodology, research on diversity in teams tends to calculate different measures for each of the different diversity characteristics included in the study (e.g., Fisher et al., 2012; Harrison, Price, Gavin, & Florey, 2002; Kearney & Gebert, 2009; Leslie, 2017; see also Nielsen, 2010). In some cases, a composite measure of the different diversity measures is calculated by adding the different diversity scores (e.g., Ferrier, 2001; Liao, Chuang, & Joshi, 2008; Mello & Delise, 2015; West & Schwenk, 1996). The implication is that the effects of these dimensions of diversity are treated as additive to one another, whereas these effects likely interact with one another in different ways. This approach of capturing different forms of diversity not only provides a simplistic view of how different forms of diversity affect team processes, but it also overlooks the variance that unique combinations of various social categories can explain in the relationship between team diversity and team outcomes.

Future Directions

Diversity research has offered many important insights about why teams function effectively and why they face challenges. This review also revealed a number of areas in which team-diversity research can be expanded in order to add to our understanding of when and why team diversity helps team effectiveness. Recommendations focus on shifting away from homogeneity as the baseline against which diversity effects are assessed, expanding research on perceived diversity, the potential for positive effects of social categorization, an expanded set of variables to consider in the CEM, and a more nuanced consideration of the status connotations associated with categorical diversity variables. These recommendations are reflected in an update to the CEM presented in Figure 1.

Researchers can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of diversity by more explicitly recognizing the influence of homogeneity in team processes (Apfelbaum, Phillips, & Richeson, 2014). Most of the extant diversity research considers homogeneity as the baseline comparison for understanding the team processes that are elicited by diversity in teams, although homogeneity elicits effects in teams that are distinct and independent from diversity (e.g., groupthink and homophily; Phillips & Apfelbaum, 2012). In fact, like diversity, homogeneity can influence team outcomes both positively (e.g., less relationship conflict) and negatively (e.g., less elaboration on unique and relevant information). Disentangling the effects of homogeneity from diversity in teams can further our understanding of the team dynamics that occur in diverse teams. Seeing homogeneity not as one end of the diversity continuum but rather as its separate dimension can also reduce the perceived necessity of justifying the value of diversity, or perhaps it can increase the necessity of justifying the value of homogeneity.

Although the study of objective diversity has dominated the field of team diversity (van Dijk et al., 2012), scholars have begun to consider that the perceived degree of diversity in a team matters for outcomes (Zellmer-Bruhn et al., 2008). Perceived team diversity captures the awareness of members of the differences in the team (Shemla et al., 2016). Without the perception of diversity in the team, it is unlikely that either the negative or the positive aspects of team diversity will materialize. Perceived-diversity research can be separated in research examining perceived self-to-team dissimilarity (e.g., Cunningham, Choi, & Sagas, 2008; Liao et al., 2008), perceived subgroup splits (Homan & Greer, 2013), and perceptions of the degree of diversity of the team as a whole (Harrison et al., 2002; Zellmer-Bruhn et al., 2008). Both research on perceived self-to-team dissimilarity and research on perceived subgroup splits tend to find that team outcomes suffer through lowered team commitment and cooperation in the case of the former (Shemla et al., 2016) and increased “us-versus-them” perceptions (Kearney & Gebert, 2009; Post, 2015; Resick, Murase, Randall, & DeChurch, 2014; van Ginkel & van Knippenberg, 2012) in the case of the latter (e.g., Homan, van Knippenberg, Van Kleef, & De Dreu, 2007; Lau & Murnighan, 1998). However, focusing on the perceived differences of the team as whole may lead to positive team outcomes, especially when team members are open to other perspectives (Homan et al., 2008; Homan, Greer, Jehn, & Koning, 2010). The study of perceived diversity represents a burgeoning area in the field of team diversity that has the promise of furthering our understanding of the contingencies surrounding diversity outcomes and can, in particular, fill the dearth of studies on fit perceptions in the social-categorization pathway.

Diversity research could also benefit from research focused on the positive effects of social-categorization processes. Although the CEM does not explicitly mention the potential for the positive effects of social categorization in diverse teams, there are some studies that point out that categorization can help information processing in teams (e.g., Phillips & Loyd, 2006). In particular, it would be fruitful to study moderators of the path from social categorization (see Figure 1, box C) to affective processes (see Figure 1, box E) and information-elaboration processes (see Figure 1, box G). For instance, individuals in diverse teams who have positive diversity mindsets or cognitions, or diverse teams with positive diversity climates, might benefit more from a diversity of perspectives when social categorization is high: when interpersonal differences are seen as positive, it seems wise to make those differences salient (e.g., Homan et al., 2008). This perspective on the positive effects of social categorization might also inform research on diversity practices and policies, which so far has yielded mostly inconsistent results of the effectiveness of diversity practices (see also Nishii, Khattab, Shemla, & Paluch, 2018). When diversity practices such as diversity training are focused on improving attitudes toward diversity without paying particular attention to social categorization, the effects of such practices might not play out as positively as intended.

In addition, this review revealed a number of variables that could not be classified as part of the CEM. For instance, a number of studies included network-related variables such as network density, network centrality, and structural holes (Wilkin, Jong, & Rubino, 2018). Several other studies examined the role of leadership styles such as transformational leadership and leadership structures such as collective leadership in unlocking diversity’s potential. Leadership behavior or structure can influence task-related factors (see Figure 1, box F) as well as team members’ affective reactions (see Figure 1, box E). The results showed that leadership plays a pivotal role in improving diverse teams’ outcomes, particularly when leadership is focused on fostering good relationships among team members or on explicitly stimulating the sharing of information (Kearney & Gebert, 2009; Post, 2015; Resick et al., 2014; van Ginkel & van Knippenberg, 2012). Other studies investigated variables related to the temporal stability of the team such as membership change in teams and team tenure (Baer, Leenders, Oldham, & Vadera, 2010; Short, Toffel, & Hugill, 2016). These and other variables studied that are not part of the CEM can provide a starting point for developing theory that complements and extends the CEM in order to improve our understanding of how diversity affects team outcomes.

A final area in which diversity research can be expanded is in a more careful examination of the hierarchical connotations associated with diversity characteristics that are typically considered in a lateral fashion. For instance, sociological research has consistently found that society ascribes different amounts of status to men and women as well as to different races (Berger, Rosenholtz, & Zelditch, 1980; Ridgeway, 1991). Although initially it may seem appropriate to treat diversity characteristics such as gender and race as lateral, categorical variables, sociological research would suggest that it is likely that suggestions from team members with certain genders (often, male) or races (often, white) are given more weight in team decision-making processes by virtue of their status and associated influence (e.g., Bunderson, 2003). By treating such demographic differences as nominal, we potentially forego a more thorough understanding of how diversity affects teams (see also Bunderson & Van der Vegt, 2018; Duguid, Loyd, & Tolbert, 2010). For instance, Leslie (2017) integrated status in her theorizing about how ethnically diverse teams perform more poorly than do ethnically homogenous teams, especially when the status differences between subgroups are larger (e.g., teams composed of black and white Americans performed worse than teams composed of black and Hispanic Americans) despite having the same degree of diversity in the team. Moreover, the consideration of hierarchical implications associated with diversity characteristics can also be expanded to studies capturing informational diversity. What expertise area is valued most can vary by project, by phase of the project, and even by what is valued as an organization (Aime, Humphrey, DeRue, & Paul, 2014). Treating expertise areas as equally important has the potential to inflate artificially the value of some and to deflate the value of other expertise areas and, thus, may lead to an incomplete understanding of the effects of team diversity. Integrating insights from research on status and influence hierarchies and capturing diversity characteristics not just as lateral but also hierarchical differentiation may prove to be particularly potent in shedding light on why and when diversity enables team outcomes.

Practical Implications

One of the important practical implications of diversity research in general and of the CEM in particular that has been echoed elsewhere is that diversity needs to be actively managed (e.g., Guillaume et al., 2017). Research findings demonstrate that different factors such as leaders (Greer et al., 2012; Joshi, Pandey, & Han, 2009), task structure (e.g., Rico et al., 2012; Spoelma & Ellis, 2017), and attitudes about the value in diversity (Homan et al., 2015; van Knippenberg, van Ginkel, & Homan, 2013) have the ability to limit negative consequences of social-categorization processes that can be destructive to teams and can enhance the information-elaboration processes that allow teams to benefit from the diversity among their members. This need for diversity management is exacerbated in contemporary work arrangements, such as when teams are geographically dispersed or when multiple identities come together, as these allow for additional dimensions along which teams can fracture. Thus, organizations need to be mindful about creating work environments in which subgrouping is not (inadvertently) stimulated, superordinate team goals are clearly stated and work is truly interdependent, and leaders have supportive attitudes and are affirmative and inclusive of the different identities of their employees.


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