If I Were Running A Company…Politically Correct

Written by Tracy

The people at Washington University in St. Louis recently did research if “political correctness” can stifle creativity in the workplace. They experiment with several random groups (all men, all women, mixed-gender groups, etc.). As a result (the full study is here):

In the same-sex groups, the old notion held true. Groups of three men or three women who were instructed to think about political correctness were less creative than the control group. But in the mixed-gender groups that got the politically correct instructions, creativity went up.


Basically, diversity is a good thing when you throw people in one room and generate quality ideas. The reason is you have different perspectives because of their background, experiences, and yes, their gender and race.

Take a look at this year’s Oscars as an example. Of the 5 main categories (individuals), only one person is of color (Alejandro González Iñárritu). The likely reason: 94% of the Academy are Caucasian, 77% are male voters, and the median age is 62. This is a microcosm of the Washington University study shows that if your workplace is not diverse, you won’t get a broad range of nominations (or people in this case).

However, when dealing with stereotypes, the researchers did this:

[Michelle] Duguid and her co-author tinkered with their message. Rather than telling the group that everyone was guilty of stereotyping, they simply told them that the vast majority of people put effort into not stereotyping.


The result:

“[It] actually had great effects,” [Duguid] says. “It was the same as telling people that few people stereotyped. So that actually reduced stereotyping, and it was better, significantly better, than telling them nothing at all.”


I find this interesting because instead of saying “don’t stereotype,” they’re saying “your peers are trying not to stereotype.” This puts the onus on the individual because if the others are trying, why not you? Imagine a handbook that says “employees are trying to be respectful to others,” instead of “be respectful to others.” For some, it has the same meaning, but if you’re putting it in context, it’s two different things; one is trying to be humane, while the other is demanding.

There are tons of HR bloggers that will say the human resources department needs to be more human and nearly everyone, inside and outside of HR, agrees, but from the experiment from Washington University, now there’s something HR can work on is trying to be relatable. Instead of telling people about conflicts of interests, sharing, dating in the workplace, and other goodies in the workplace; explain to them why, in words and statistics. For example, on conflict of interest, don’t say, “Don’t work for any company under our agreement.” Do say,

“In our certain set of hours, you are expected to work with us, per our agreement. Any hours outside company time, you do whatever you want. Around 10 million people do moonlight with two jobs. We hope your time outside the company can brings ideas and different perspectives when you come in to our office the next work day.”


It might be long-winded, but the message relates to the employee that these circumstances do exist and what others have done before.

We tell people to have a diverse workplace to prolong the company’s shelf-life. From the research and experiments, if you want quality ideas, bring different people of different backgrounds and try to be human. Nothing politically correct about that.

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