Uncovering How Diversity Fosters Innovation

UWM faculty members Ed Levitas, Romila Singh and Nadya Fouad.

Engineers are at the forefront of designing and building new technologies that affect virtually every facet of a citizen’s life. And yet, the engineering workforce is made up almost entirely of white men.

There is growing research evidence that diversity on teams is linked to higher levels of innovation. But those studies also indicate that member diversity by itself is no guarantee.

So what is the ‘secret sauce’?

The School of Education’s Nadya Fouad is one of three researchers at UWM that have received a nearly half-million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to dive deeper into exactly how member diversity fosters innovation within engineering teams.

Identifying the conditions that are needed to ramp up innovation in gender and racially diverse teams is a missing piece, said Fouad, the Mary and Ted Kellner Endowed Chair of Educational Psychology and a distinguished professor at UWM.

The idea for the research grew out of a question a reporter asked her, said Fouad. He wanted to know how much economic value diversity had.

“Being part of a team that has good leadership, is open to the perspective of others and where you feel safe, that’s the kind of micro-environment than can transcend the fault lines of gender, race and expertise,” said Fouad.

Fouad and two partners from UWM’s Lubar School of Business, Ed Levitas, professor, and Romila Singh, associate professor, will examine how and why a team’s microclimate – including psychological safety and collective team identity – and team dynamics affect both incremental and radical ideas.

The researchers ultimately hope to promote these organizational practices within engineering firms and plan to develop a website of best practices for fostering innovation through positive team dynamics and microclimates.

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