Bridging and Bonding: How Social Diversity Influences Organizational Performance

Brad Fulton, Duke (Sociology)
Although many organizations aspire to be socially diverse, diversity’s consequences for organizational performance remain unclear. Social bridging theories argue that diverse organizations will perform better because they have access to more social resources via their members’ diverse networks. Social bonding theories, on the other hand, argue that diverse organizations will perform worse because they are less cohesive by virtue of their members differing socially from each other. When scholars test these competing theories they often (mis)specify social bridging and social bonding as being the inverse of each other. This study specifies them as distinct mechanisms and measures them independently—bridging as the diversity of an organization’s social composition and bonding as the intensity of its members’ social interaction. Then it assesses their effect on performance by analyzing data from a national study of organizations. The first analysis indicates a consistent positive relationship between social interaction and performance and a mixed relationship between social diversity and performance. The second analysis indicates that social interaction positively moderates that relationship between diversity and organizational performance. This finding suggests that being diverse is not enough. In order to fully realize the performance benefits of diversity, members of diverse organizations need to meet regularly and talk about their relevant differences. Overall, this study finds that organizations can improve their performance by having socially diverse members who interact often and in ways that engage their differences.
September, 29 2014 | 12:30 - 14:00 | 230E Gross Hall

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