Impact of diversity and inclusion within organisations

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Helpdesk Query:

What is the available evidence on the impact of changes in levels/types of diversity and inclusion on individual/team/organisational effectiveness in organisations including development agencies?

Summary:

The available evidence on the impact of diversity on individual/team/organisational effectiveness in organisations is inconclusive and mixed as to its beneficial and negative outcomes. The majority of the literature seems to focus on private firms; who have reaped business benefits from equality and diversity, but not all firms, in all contexts, at all times. Knowledge about how, when, and why diversity and diversity management affects effective performance and organisational outcomes is limited.

The report aimed to focus on diversity in terms of ‘protected characteristics’ defined in the Equality Act 2010, including: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Much of the available literature seems to focus on gender and race/ethnicity rather than the other protected characteristics.

A number of meta-analyses and systematic reviews have been carried out of the literature. They provide a number of observations about the evidence. It is difficult to define and measure diversity in a consistent way across organisations and to measure meaningful business outcomes that demonstrate a business case (Wright et al, 2014, p. iv). The systematic review carried out by Urwin et al (2013, p. 15, 19) finds that the ‘evidence on workplace diversity impacts is predominantly qualitative’ and/or of a case study nature. ‘Evidence from case studies finds conflicting evidence of systematic business impacts of diversity from workplace studies’ (Urwin et al, 2013, p. 19). There is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of diversity but scant tangible evidence available (Wright et al, 2014, p. 60; Urwin et al, 2013). Much of the available evidence is related to correlation, but not much evidence looks at causation (Urwin et
al, 2013). Eagly (2016, p. 208) argues that ‘awareness of the inconsistencies in the research literature is needed to foster the challenging and important task of uncovering the conditions under which demographic diversity has positive or negative effects’.

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