Political correctness in diverse workplace may encourage creativity

The incorporation of clear expectations for interactions between men and women into a work environment can encourage creativity among mixed gender work groups by reducing uncertainty in relationships, according to new research from the University of California – Berkeley.

Positioning political correctness (PC) norms as the office standard provides a layer of safety in the workplace that fosters creativity, according to Jennifer Chatman, PhD, of the Haas School’s Management of Organizations Group.


Jennifer Chatman


“Creativity is essential to organizational innovation and growth. But our research departs from the prevailing theory of group creativity by showing that creativity in mixed-sex groups emerges, not by removing behavioral constraints, but by imposing them,” Chatman stated in a press release. The study contradicts the idea that PC behavior threatens the free expression of ideas.

“Our contention is controversial because many have argued that imposing the PC norm might not just eliminate offensive behavior and language but will also cause people to filter out and withhold potentially valuable ideas and perspectives. We suggest that this critical view of the PC norm reflects a deeply rooted theoretical assumption that normative constraints inevitably stifle creative expression – an assumption we challenge,” she stated.

The authors designed their experiments taking into account the different incentives men and women have for adhering to the PC norm. Men said they were motivated to adhere to a PC norm because of concerns about not being overbearing and offending women, while women in the experiment became more confident about expressing their ideas out loud when the PC norm was salient or prominent.

Study participants were randomly divided into mixed gender groups and same gender groups. Researchers asked the groups to describe the value of PC behavior before being instructed to work together on a creative task. The control groups were not exposed to the PC norm before beginning their creative task. The task involved brainstorming ideas on a new business entity to be housed in a property left vacated by a mismanaged restaurant – by design, a project that has no right or wrong strategy.

Instead of stifling their ideas, the mixed gender groups exposed to the PC norm performed more creatively by generating a significantly higher number of divergent and novel ideas than the control group. Same gender groups generated fewer creative outcomes.

For more information:

Goncalo J. Admin Sci Quart (forthcoming). Available at http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/chatman/papers/goncalo%20Nov14.pdf.

Disclosure: Chatman has no relevant financial disclosures.

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