When Passionate Advocates Meet Research on Diversity, Does the Honest Broker Stand a Chance?

Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 72, No. 1, 2016, pp. 199--222 doi: 10.1111/josi.12163

Posted: 14 Mar 2016

Date Written: March 12, 2016

Abstract

In an ideal world, social science research would provide a strong basis for advocacy and social policy. However, advocates sometimes misunderstand or even ignore scientific research in pursuit of their goals, especially when research pertains to controversial questions of social inequality. To illustrate the chasm that can develop between research findings and advocates’ claims, this article addresses two areas: (a) the effects of the gender diversity of corporate boards of directors on firms’ financial performance and (b) the effects of the gender and racial diversity of work groups on group performance. Despite advocates’ insistence that women on boards enhance corporate performance and that diversity of task groups enhances their performance, research findings are mixed, and repeated meta-analyses have yielded average correlational findings that are null or extremely small. Therefore, social scientists should (a) conduct research to identify the conditions under which the effects of diversity are positive or negative and (b) foster understanding of the social justice gains that can follow from diversity. Unfortunately, promulgation of false generalizations about empirical findings can impede progress in both of these directions. Rather than ignoring or furthering distortions of scientific knowledge to fit advocacy goals, scientists should serve as honest brokers who communicate consensus scientific findings to advocates and policy makers in an effort to encourage exploration of evidence-based policy options.

Keywords: diversity, women on boards, task groups

JEL Classification: J15, J16

Suggested Citation

Eagly, Alice, When Passionate Advocates Meet Research on Diversity, Does the Honest Broker Stand a Chance? (March 12, 2016). Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 72, No. 1, 2016, pp. 199--222 doi: 10.1111/josi.12163, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2746965

Alice Eagly (Contact Author)

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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