Diversity’s Role in Job Satisfaction

Diversity has as many hidden facets as its colorful representation, and a new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology explores a different angle; job satisfaction. The study reinforces concepts backed by numerous researchers who found that a diverse set of ideas, skills and viewpoints is helpful to a business, positively affecting results. MIT researchers found that shifting from an all-male or all-female office to a mixed-gender office increased revenue by about 41 percent.

However, job satisfaction was lower in mixed-gender offices. People of the same gender relate better to one another, which makes them happier and facilitates sharing experiences, but would be less prepared to handle diverse, unpredictable business challenges. Perception of how diverse an office is also plays a role in workplace happiness.

Donna Levin is vice president of public policy, corporate social responsibility and workplace solutions at Care.com, a company that matches caregivers with families in need. Levin brings leadership experience to her current position, and she also serves as a member of the advisory board for the Boston Chamber Women’s Network, recently also joining WEST, an organization advancing women in the STEM fields.

Donna Levin, Care.com
Donna Levin, Care.com

Levin shares her insight on the MIT study, explaining the differences between homogeneity and diversity — which may not be as mutually exclusive as they sound. Below are edited excerpts from her interview with Diversity Executive.

How is it that diversity and homogeny aren’t mutually exclusive?

Thinking narrowly about definitions, diversity and homogeny can appear to be mutually exclusive. But, when you look at their larger meaning, you can find homogeny within workforces that are diverse from a demographic perspective. In other words, homogeny does not have to be limited to age, gender or ethnicity — homogeny should be sought in the traits and values of employees you hire.

In order to build a high-performing team, you should hire people who believe in the company’s mission and values, regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity. By committing to hiring the best people for the job from a skills perspective and a cultural fit perspective, you can build a team that is both diverse and homogeneous.

One quote in the articles says this: “People may like the idea of a diverse workplace more than they like actual diversity in the workplace.” How does the perception of diversity intersect with satisfaction among employees?

It’s about comfort. When you’re thinking in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, people like the idea of diversity because it’s “the right thing to do.” But when it comes down to it, people tend to gravitate toward “people like me.” The risk here, though, is that comfort can lead to complacency. A more diverse workforce, with diverse sets of skills and experiences, is one more likely to challenge employees to learn from one another and elevate their overall performance.

Why might an all-male or all-female office perform worse than a mixed one?

It shrinks the talent pool. Whenever you’re excluding a population — be it men, women, millennials, boomers or any group — you’re naturally eliminating talented candidates who bring valuable skills, perspectives and experiences to the team.

Do employees prefer a more homogenous office? How does that impact diversity efforts?

The report talks about “social capital,” which it defines in terms of cooperation, trust and overall enjoyment of the workplace, and links more homogenous offices with higher social capital. This is where we’re trying to challenge the idea of homogeny and diversity being mutually exclusive, and the idea that you’d have to sacrifice high social capital for better productivity.

At Care.com, for example, our company is made up of men and women from three different generations and many different ethnicities, but what they all have in common is that they’re smart, entrepreneurial, humble and driven. We hire for homogeny in terms of cultural fit, not demographics. And we believe that the same way a workplace made up of people who share a gender would be a comfortable place, you’ll find that same kind of comfortable, collaborative environment when employees are united by qualities like intelligence, kindness and drive — all in alignment with a your company culture, goals and mission.