So, diversity really does matter?

One of the most commonly cited reasons to encourage women to join forces with the nearly-all-male nerd-army known as ‘computer science’ is ‘diversity’. This always struck me as buzz.  But, as many are quick to clarify, rather than diversity for diversity’s sake, what’s being encouraged is broadening the potential work force to include the other roughly fifty percent of it.

Consider that, for a moment. You’re hiring for a particular position. You have a waiting room full of bright, qualified candidates to select from. Now, walk half of them out the door before you even get the chance to interview them. Imagine you must do this every time you hire. Sadly, this is effectively what’s happening in the world of computer science. The only difference being that half of the candidates never arrive at your door because they don’t exist.

You might be quick to argue that if ladies aren’t that into computer science, maybe they’re not the candidates you want clogging up your fancy waiting room. A fair argument – we all want our colleagues and employees to enjoy their work. After all, enthusiastic programmers always seem to produce the best software, right?

But, what if you knew that excluding ladies from your workforce actually reduced its collective intelligence? Surely if you knew this, you’d be more motivated to find out why the ladies weren’t knocking down the doors at your local computer science department.

Anita Woolley and Thomas Malone recently discussed one of their studies with Harvard Business Review. What they found is a simple and concise motivation for paying attention to diversity: “There’s little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. But if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.”

Before you get your collective undergarments in a bunch, Woolley is quick to clarify, “We have early evidence that performance may flatten out at the extreme end — that there should be a little gender diversity rather than all women.”

Getting back to the point, this is just the clarification I’ve always been seeking regarding the importance of diversity. Hard evidence that, generally speaking, diverse teams are better than non-diverse teams. A strong hint that maybe computer science would be better off if ladies wanted to join up.

So, why don’t they? This is the big mystery. If it truly were just a deep-seated biological distaste for the subject, I’d be happy to leave it alone. But, I know there are girls out there who either haven’t had enough exposure to the field to realize that it’s something they’d love truly and eternally, or who feel it’s an all-boys club and shy away.

What’s that I hear? Oh, it’s just the sound of our collective heart breaking.


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