Diversity in everyday life settings prompts people to help each other out rather than being a source of distrust, according to a University of Toronto study published in the journal Psychological Science.
“The standard assumption has been that group-based differences serve as the basis for distrust, disagreement, or dispute,” said Dr. Geoffrey Leonardelli, a professor of management and psychology at the University of Toronto.
“However, we find that group-based differences can actually encourage cooperation across these group lines because they help to identify groups in need from groups that can give aid.”
Leonardelli, along with co-author Dr. Soo Min Toh, a management professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, observed the interaction between local and foreign co-workers. They found that the local employees were most likely to openly discuss work-related and cultural topics with their expatriate co-workers when they perceived their co-workers as being foreign.
This reaction, the authors believe, occurs because the differences between the locals and the expatriates made the locals more aware that their foreign co-workers needed knowledge about the local culture, and that they were the ones to help them.
These results suggest that, rather than trying to “blend in” with the culture, it may be more beneficial for expatriates to be more open about their own culture and origin.
It was discovered that in order to make this situation more likely, however, the locals needed to feel a sense of social justice within their organization.
“Recognizing group-based differences will not be perceived as useful unless individuals feel secure within their workplace or community,” said Toh. “We think that seeing authorities treat their employees fairly created that sense of security.”
“Group-based differences often create an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” added Toh. “However, we found that when employees felt that they were treated fairly by their employers, group-based differences were more likely to manifest as an ‘us and them’ mentality.”
For example, it could be detrimental to good racial relations when workers perceive authority figures such as police, customs, immigration officers, etc, as showing favoritism. It can strengthen the notion that diversity is a source of distrust.
Leonardelli, a U.S. expatriate who now lives in Canada, said, “Perhaps my adjustment to Canada would have been quicker had I posted an American flag on my front lawn.”
Source: University of Toronto