Political correctness in diverse workplace fosters creativity

December 1, 2014

People may associate political correctness with conformity but new research finds it also correlates with creativity in work settings. Imposing a norm that sets clear expectations of how women and men should interact with each other into a work environment unexpectedly encourages creativity among mixed-sex work groups by reducing uncertainty in relationships.

The study highlights a paradoxical consequence of the political correctness (PC) norm. While PC behavior is generally thought to threaten the free expression of ideas, Professor Jennifer Chatman of the Haas School's Management of Organizations Group and her co-authors found that positioning such PC norms as the office standard provides a layer of safety in the workplace that fosters creativity.

"Creativity is essential to organizational innovation and growth. But our research departs from the prevailing theory of group creativity by showing that creativity in mixed-sex groups emerges, not by removing behavioral constraints, but by imposing them. Setting a norm that both clarifies expectations for appropriate behavior and makes salient the social sanctions that result from using sexist language unleashes creative expression by countering the uncertainty that arises in mixed-sex work groups," says Chatman.

"Creativity from constraint: How the PC Norm Influences Creativity in Mixed-Sex Work Groups," forthcoming in Administrative Science Quarterly, is co-authored by Chatman and two Haas PhD graduates, Jack Goncalo, who now teaches at Cornell University, and Jessica Kennedy, now at Vanderbilt University, as well as Michelle Duguid of Washington University.

"Our contention is controversial because many have argued that imposing the PC norm might not just eliminate offensive behavior and language but will also cause people to filter out and withhold potentially valuable ideas and perspectives," says Chatman, "We suggest that this critical view of the PC norm reflects a deeply rooted theoretical assumption that normative constraints inevitably stifle creative expression—an assumption we challenge."

The authors designed their experiments taking into account the different incentives men and women have for adhering to the PC norm. Men said they were motivated to adhere to a PC norm because of concerns about not being overbearing and offending women. Whereas one might expect women to perceive a PC norm as emblematic of weakness or conformity, women in the experiment became more confident about expressing their ideas out loud when the PC norm was salient or prominent. In contrast, in work groups that were homogeneous - all men or all women - a salient PC norm had no impact on the group's compared to the control group.

Study participants were randomly divided into mixed sex groups and same sex groups. Next, researchers asked the groups to describe the value of PC behavior before being instructed to work together on a creative task. The control groups were not exposed to the PC norm before beginning their creative task. The task involved brainstorming ideas on a new business entity to be housed in a property left vacated by a mismanaged restaurant -by design, a project that has no right or wrong strategy.

Instead of stifling their ideas, mixed-sex groups exposed to the PC norm performed more creatively by generating a significantly higher number of divergent and novel ideas than the control group. As expected, same sex groups generated fewer creative outcomes. (Previous studies have found that homogenous groups are less creative because people in these groups are similar to one another with similar ideas and therefore, less divergent thinking occurs.)

Explore further: Want to kill creativity of women in teams? Fire up the competition

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15 comments

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Shootist
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 01, 2014
Imposing a norm that sets clear expectations of how women and men should interact with each other


yeah just what we need to replace what has been lost,

Sharia Law. Idiots.
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 01, 2014
What is the "PC norm"?
imido
Dec 01, 2014
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imido
Dec 01, 2014
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ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2014
What is the 'PC Norm'?
List what is 'normal', today, as it always changes based upon who is newly offended.

For example, what is PC now is STEM for girls.
Some women believe there are too few 'girls' who like to write software so they blame men and try to push women in to coding.
It's one thing for professional societies to reach out and encourage their favorite minority into their profession. It is quite another for govt coerced quotas.
verkle
Dec 01, 2014
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verkle
Dec 01, 2014
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Vietvet
2.3 / 5 (6) Dec 02, 2014
So interesting to see a user come by, not write a single comment, but score everyone who has commented with a "1", and then leave. Must be some die-hard PC liberal who is angry at honesty.


Because you idiots didn't grasp the take-away from the article.
animah
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 02, 2014
Verkle, I fail to understnand how a conservative like you -who should pride themselves in their work ethic- might think that PC at work is the wrong attitude.

PC is by definition about *political* correctness. Political debates are important, but the workplace is not the place for them.

The workplace is a place to get work done. Doing rigorous experiments or trading stocks or writing software or whatever your field is.

The study quantifies in numbers that teams perform better when they refrain from discussing politics or letting personal biases get in the way of achieving professional objectives.

It says nothing about behaviours in society at large where I think your argument does have merit.

What's wrong with that?
verkle
Dec 02, 2014
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viko_mx
3 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2014
"Let's all be nice and we'll all become creative!"

What this should be mean? Do not dare to express your opinion and position freely, without worrying that may impair one's feelings? Will you help one person or the society, if instead to tell the truth and show the real problems, however unpleasant they may be, you withheld them? Will you help to one person in this way to become better for him and for the others members of society? This is disguised behind good intentions restriction of the free human spirit and has nothing to do with creativity and spiritual well being in society. It imposes hypocrisy as standard.
antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (5) Dec 02, 2014
Let's all be nice and we'll all become creative!

What does political correctness have to do with "being nice"? It just means that - in the experiment - are told not to use derogatory language.
Such language carries no information anyhow and is therefore, by definition, never productive.
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2014
Still no objective definition of "PC Norm".
Why is that?

Is it PC to tell blacks, or anyone, if you don't want to be shot by the police, don't rob stores, walk on the sidewalk, don't attack the police, and follow the cops orders if he is pointing gun at you?
ryggesogn2
2.5 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2014
"If the BBC Trust is prepared to go to such lengths to accommodate the whining of just one woman about sexism, why couldn't it have taken the same trouble to address the numerous more serious and far more justified complaints it has received about the outrageous imbalance in its coverage of environmental and climate issues?"
"Reading the report closely, the single most fascinating detail I found was this: that there have been "Radio 4 surveys which showed I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue was among its top-performing programmes that a higher proportion of women than men listened to and the 'appreciation scores' registered by female listeners were higher than those registered by male listeners." "
http://www.breitb...arridans
"I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue " sounds very creative, and not PC.
EWH
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2014
The very idea of "group creativity" is BS. Creativity happens only within individual minds. Implementation may require groups, but no group has ever had a single new idea that didn't start in an individual's mind.

The female groupthink and anti-individualist axe-grinding that underlies this pseudo-research is revealed in such lines as: "...PC norms as the office standard provides a layer of safety in the workplace..." (because the tender little girls must never be threatened by the potential feelbad of having to defend their inane PC dogmas, "safety" is all-important - unless you are some kind of un-PC heretic, in which case of course you should be vilified and purged) and "Creativity is essential to organizational innovation and growth." (Organizations do not innovate. They live parasitically on individual men's innovation. And the growth of organizations is always at the expense of those men.)

Their supposed creativity test was utterly banal with no relation to creativity

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