Exploring The Importance of Diversity in the Workplace through Community Coding

Diversity is often regarded as an issue of social justice and fairness. Many argue that corporations should be inclusive in their hiring processes and should strive to create a diverse team because it is the right thing to do, and because it is necessary to correct historical wrongs. This sentiment is certainly true, and important to consider. Yet it is also crucial to remember that diversity is not just an issue of social justice. Diversity also fundamentally improves the work itself that is being conducted in a given workplace.

This notion that workplace diversity leads to an improvement in performance is well-evidenced. A 2017 study found that “Diverse Teams Produce Financial Returns 33% Higher Than The Industry Mean.” A separate study determined that “Gender Diverse Teams Are Radically More Innovative Over A Two-Year Period.” In the context of education, a 2001 study shows that, “campus racial diversity is positively correlated with educational benefits.” I could simply continue to rattle off study upon study that proves the benefits of diversity, but to do so would fail to answer the most important question–why does diversity directly improve workplace performance? And specifically, to the NOISE Project, how does diversity benefit the data obtained through our “community coding?

Firstly, before we discuss the way in which community coding showcases the importance of diversity, it’s crucial to explain what community coding actually is. Last year, we conducted interviews with members of our project to examine the differences and similarities between institutional perspectives and community perspectives. We asked project participants questions about their workplace culture, their concept of equity in the context of science, and their experience with race and racism in the workplace. During the coding process, we scan interview answers for their main ideas, and then assign them words or phrases that capture these themes. These words and phrases are called codes. For instance, if an interviewee discusses an instance when they talked with other project members, we might apply the codes “communication” and “people.”

Each day, members of our project meet together virtually and apply these codes. We are fortunate to have a relatively diverse team–each day on the call there are white, black, and brown individuals participating from everywhere from New York to Atlanta to Africa. Our team of coders features diversity in terms of our genders and economic backgrounds as well. These respective identities that we all have influence the way in which we read and interpret the words of others. For instance, I am personally a white, heterosexual man who grew up in a city and attends Cornell University–these characteristics (and many others) form my identity. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about my identity–it’s just who I am. However, this lens that I have as a result of my identity–that we all have–influences the way in which we subconsciously interpret and see the world. A person with a different positionality than myself–perhaps a person of a different race, or gender, or upbringing–sees the world through a different lens than I do, which may cause them to have a different perspective than I do in certain areas. It’s not the case that two people with different identities always disagree, or that two people with similar identities always agree. Rather, my point is that individuals with different identities offer different perspectives. A team with diversity is able to see a given problem–or in this case interview answer–from multiple perspectives, whereas a team without it can only view the problem from a single perspective.

Community coding exemplifies the importance of approaching a problem from multiple perspectives. In the case of coding, our “problem” is as follows. We want to answer the questions: “What is this person truly saying in their answer? What points are they making?” For if we determine the meaning of their statement, we can apply codes accordingly. The inclusion of diverse perspectives and identities is extremely beneficial to achieving that goal of understanding the interview answer. If an answer is analyzed from one perspective–let’s say only I looked at and coded the answer–I may subconsciously or even consciously interpret their answer in a particular way as a result of my perspective. However, when a diverse group reads an answer, and all see that answer through a different lens and worldview, multiple people all volunteer their interpretation of the answer. Once these multiple interpretations are brought forth, we are able to discuss each of them until we reach a collective understanding of an interview answer–an understanding that was created by meshing various different perspectives and interpretations. We can, by virtue of this diversity, engage in rich discussions and challenge the different interpretations that we have of a given statement. All of this allows us to code an interviewee’s response in the most accurate way possible, which in turn creates better data for us to analyze. In this way, diversity in our “coding” workplace directly improves the work that we are conducting by providing us with more complete and accurate interpretations of interview answers.