Demographic diversity in the workplace is a major challenge for organizations and is becoming an increasingly important issue as the economy globalizes. For work teams, demographic diversity can be beneficial, because it broadens the social and human capital of the team. However, the benefits do not accrue automatically. Demographic dissimilarity between team members may, at the same time, cause conflicts and tensions and thus threaten performance.
In this project, we seek to understand the conditions under which demographic diversity threatens social integration in groups. Our most recent work focused on a theory by Lau and Murnighan, who argued that demographic diversity impairs integration only when several demographic attributes are aligned. The following figure illustrates this hypothesis. Both groups comprise two white and two black members. In addition, there are two male and two female group members. Thus, both groups have the same (maximal) demographic diversity. In group 2, however, the demographic attributes are aligned and thus create two maximally dissimilar subgroups. Lau and Murnighan call this a group with a "strong demographic faultline". In group 1, however, the faultline is weak because demographic attributes are not aligned and no subgroups form.
We have developed formal models of the social-influence dynamics in demographically diverse groups. We analyzed theses models to develop new hypotheses about the conditions under which groups with strong faultlines fall apart into subgroups with opposing opinions
. The animation movies in the right column show typical dynamics that our models generate.