Article | Organization Studies | March 2012

Racial Diversity, Racial Asymmetries, and Team Learning Environment: Effects on Performance

by Robin J. Ely, Irene Padavic and David A. Thomas


This paper argues that learning in cross-race interactions is critical for work teams to realize performance benefits from racial diversity but that diversity is a liability when society's negative stereotypes about racial minorities' competence inhibit such interactions. We analyze two years of data from 496 retail bank branches to investigate racial asymmetries in the dynamics of team learning and their impact on the link between diversity and bottom-line performance. As expected, minorities' negative assessments of their team's learning environment precipitate a negative relationship between diversity and performance, irrespective of white teammates' assessments; only when both groups view the team's learning environment as supportive-implying that the team has successfully countered the negative effects of societal stereotypes on cross-race learning-is the relationship positive. We conclude that acknowledging the impact of societal asymmetries between racial groups, especially in regard to learning, can reorient research about the link between identity-group-based diversity and performance.

Keywords: Groups and Teams; Performance; Learning; Diversity Characteristics;


Ely, Robin J., Irene Padavic, and David A. Thomas. "Racial Diversity, Racial Asymmetries, and Team Learning Environment: Effects on Performance." Organization Studies 33, no. 3 (March 2012): 341–362.