Originally posted in Communications of the ACM.
“People working together can achieve more than they can alone; this is a fundamental principle upon which organizations are founded. Social scientists have shown that teams and organizations whose members are heterogeneous in meaningful ways, for example, in skill set, education, work experiences, perspectives on a problem, cultural orientation, and so forth, have a higher potential for innovation than teams whose members are homogeneous. These findings are not without controversy, yet the implications for the computing industry are profound, given the relative homogeneity of the field along a few important dimensions. Take, for example, the composition of degrees awarded in computer science, computer engineering, and informatics in 2012 at research institutions in the U.S.
• 13.3% of BS degrees, 28.7% of MS degrees, and 19.2% of Ph.D.’s were awarded to female candidates, down from a high of 37% of BS degrees in computer science in 1986.
• 5.3% of BS degrees were awarded to African American candidates, as were 2.7% of MS degrees, and 2% of Ph.D.’s. Among computing professionals, about 20% of CS faculty in U.S. universities are women, and 1.6% are African American.50 Similar numbers exist in industry.
Diversity, bias, and stereotypes have traditionally been discussed in very relativistic terms: surveys of whether people thought there was bias, and so on. In recent years, imaginative researchers have developed ways to gather quantitative data about the benefits of, as well as the challenges to, having a diverse workforce. This article explores the benefits that diversity can bring to teams, and the cognitive factors—namely, stereotypes based on social group membership—that keep us from achieving optimal levels of diversity.”