Thursday, April 30, 2015

How Can We Make 1+1=3?

In November, the unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown died after being shot by a white officer in Ferguson, and in March, Tony Robinson died after being shot by an officer here in Madison (Buchanan et al., 2014). Until eight months ago, I lived in Sweden, where the increase from one to six deadly officer involved shootings yearly has been challenged. (Hårdh & Stauffer, 2015) I do think that the average U.S. police officer faces a larger number of challenging and stressful situations than the average Swedish one does. Nevertheless, I believe we have a problem when unarmed individuals loose their lives. Furthermore, the response reminds us that structural racism exists and makes me question if this is really the land of opportunity for all. With that said, the focus of this blog is not to provide a description of the problem – but instead to give good arguments for diversity and discuss how you and I, as leaders and individuals, can promote it.

Statistics tell us that hundreds of police departments are not representative of the communities in which they serve - the percentage of whites in the police force is many times more than 30 percentage points higher than in the community. These findings go against convincing evidence that a more representative police force will be more credible and build more trust in the communities in which they serve. (Ashkenas & Park, 2015) Furthermore, we know that, in general, more diverse organizations perform best and make better decisions. However, as pointed out by Page (2007) and Thomas and Ely (1996), if we want to build more productive organization we have to go beyond thinking about diversity as identity-group representation – think instead about the “varied perspectives and approaches to work that different identity groups bring”. Page (2007) gives evidence that a diverse group of individuals can outperform groups with “high ability” individuals because diverse perspectives and heuristics result in superadditivity (1+1=3). This economic logic of diversity is also supported by Robinson and Dechant (2007).

So, what should leaders do? I believe each and every one of us can do a lot – and that we have a responsibility to do so. We can question our own assumptions. We can promote conversation. We can ask ourselves as well as others “Why?”. Implicit biases suggest that we might not only be unwilling to admit attitudes and beliefs, but we might also unknowingly hide something from ourselves as well as others. (Project Implicit, 2011)  A recent report by the Sentencing Project (2014) shows how these biases makes “white Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color, and associate people of color with criminality” – up to 20-30 percent for certain crimes.

In light of these findings, we sometimes have to listen to things we might not want to hear. When you hear someone argue that people of color are overrepresented in the criminal statistics – ask why they think that is. As Charles M. Blow points out in his column in The New York Times, it is true that crime rates are higher in minority neighborhoods – but why is that? Is there a correlation between race and concentrated poverty? Do poorer schools and limited job opportunities impact if you manage to leave a high-poverty, high-crime neighborhood? (Blow, 2014)  

Furthermore, we can ask ourselves what we base our perception of the world on. I would like to end by showing this satiric clip illustrating how biased media can be in covering crime involving people of color. It reminds me that we should aim to ensure that tolerance, strong values and solutions survive, grow stronger and finally win – creating a world where there is only us.


Ashkenas, Jeremy & Park, Haeyoun. 2015. The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments, The New York Times. Retrieved from:
Buchanan, L et al.. 2014. What Happened in Ferguson? The New York Times. Retrieved from:
Blow, Charles M. 2014. Crime and Punishment. The New York Times.
Ghandnoosh, Nazgol. 2014. Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies. The Sentence Project. Retrieved from:
Hårdh, Robert & Stauffer, John. 2015. Debattreplik om polisens dödsskjutningar. Civil Rights Defenders. Retrieved from:
Page, Scott E. 2007. Making the Difference: Applying a Logic of Diversity, Academy of Management, vol. 21 no. 4
Project Implicit. 2011. Education.
 Robinson, Gail and Kathleen Dechant. 2004. Building a Business Case for Diversity. Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises 3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 241-253.
 Thomas, David A. & Ely, Robin J. 2004. “Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity.” Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises 3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 211-227.