There’s plenty of good research on the subject of team performance that shows that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams on many different kinds of tasks. The problem is that this research doesn’t argue for demographic diversity, but rather for a diversity of perspectives. So, again, racial or gender diversity is not an end in itself. But we have to ask ourselves: if teams are consistently being put together with homogeneous demographics, what are the odds that they also will contain a diversity of perspectives? Shouldn’t we be worried that the same selection process that produces homogenous results in one area might be accidentally doing the same in the area that we care about (but that is harder to measure)?
Does that mean that the racism theory is necessarily correct? I don’t think so. I’ve certainly heard my share of sexist and racist jokes in Silicon Valley, but hardly enough to believe that people like Michael Arrington or Paul Graham are lying when they say that they are colorblind. I think that – in the absence of any counterevidence – we should take them at their word. Besides, we don’t need racism to explain these results. Now that we’ve clarified the question to be “how do we build a meritocratic selection process?” we can look at a wealth of research that has been done in this area.
And there’s good news here. Wherever selection processes have been studied scientifically, errors have been found. These errors are called “implicit bias” in the research literature, which causes a lot of confusion, because the word “bias” connotes malevolence. But let’s leave that connotation behind – we’re entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers, for goodness’ sake. We can talk about bias like grownups.
And what the grownups have discovered, through painstaking research, is that it is extremely easy for systems to become biased, even if none of the individual people in those systems intends to be biased. This is partly a cognitive problem, that people harbor unconscious bias, and partly an organizational problem, that even a collection of unbiased actors can work together to accidentally create a biased system. And when those systems are examined scientifically, they can be reformed to reduce their bias.
- From “Racism and Meritocracy,” by Scott Ries.
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