„Diversity can promote economic performance in many ways”

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Dr. D’Ambrosio, your research focuses on the effect of migration on the labour market. Would you please tell us more about your research topic?

I mainly focus on two aspects of migration: firstly, the effects of cultural diversity on the labour market and innovation, and, secondly, the effects of migration on international trade and investments.

How did you become interested in your research topic?

Originally, I did not intend to work as an academic – I wanted to become actively involved in order to make a difference.That is why I studied Development Studies and Economics and planned on working in an international cooperation or organisation. After completing my M.A., I started working in Brussels where I came to recognise the fundamental importance of collecting and analysing data to support my findings and observations. My fascination for data, combined with my desire to tackle social problems, led me back to academia and towards my research topic.

There are different ways of approaching diversity. A company will approach diversity from a profit-oriented angle, an activist from an anti-discriminatory angle. Are these two approaches mutually exclusive?

This is an important question that I’ve been struggling with ever since I started working on cultural diversity. I don’t think these two approaches are mutually exclusive but I think it is something of a challenge to combine them. For example: I believe that everyone should be integrated into the labour market. It appears that integrating low-skilled immigrants with diverse cultural backgrounds does not always have positive effects on the economy. This example shows that it is much more than just a question of economics, it is also an ethical question.

Are diverse companies more successful and if so, why?

Diversity can promote economic performance in many ways. Immigrants and foreign workers have transnational skills that can facilitate trade and investment between their countries of origin and of destination. Being familiar with tastes and cultural-based preferences at home, they help creating product and business development opportunities. Experimental studies showed that groups with more diverse skills can outperform homogeneous groups, even if the latter are more skilled, when it comes to complex problem solving capacities.

Diverse perspectives can lead to differentiated appreciations of business opportunities; the confrontation of diverse perspectives deepens knowledge and challenges the status quo. For all these reasons, many studies have provided evidence that diversity increases wages, innovation and economic growth.

Do diverse teams breed greater conflict than homogenous teams?

Diversity may imply communication costs, distrust and lack of social cohesion. Language problems are the most basic manifestation of this. Many studies show that people have a tendency to associate with people similar to them. This facilitates the flow of information and the connectivity. Instead diversity, especially diversity in visible attributes is often associated with social categorization, prejudices, and conflicts. Nonetheless, according to most studies, the positive effects tend to prevail in wealthier and more inclusive societies.

An employee may belong to two or more underrepresented categories. Does this affect their economic performance?

It definitely can. Let’s say I’m black, identify as female and work in a mainly white male company. In this surrounding, I will very likely face many different obstacles and experience sexism as well as racism. This, in turn, will make it more difficult for me to share my point of view and make my voice heard. From an economic point of view this has negative implications: assuming talent is randomly distributed across categories, the company may be missing a chance of getting a relevant, different view that could boost innovation.

Do diverse employees struggle more during the Corona pandemic?

Yes, and no. On the one hand, we know that Covid-19 disproportionally affects minority groups and women, to the extent that they have great difficulties in even entering the job market. For diverse workers, however, who are employed, the lack of visibility and personal interaction might make it easier for them to share their ideas with their colleagues and their supervisors. The second part of the answer is still a hypothesis; I’m not sure to which extent it is yet valid.

How are politics and cultural diversity linked?

I am currently working on an article concerning political populism and workplace injuries. My research has revealed some disturbing facts. Amongst others, it indicates that in places where right-wing populist voters dominate, migrants suffer a much higher risk of suffering workplace injuries. It further shows that there is a much greater acceptance of relegating dangerous tasks to immigrants in such places. The findings vividly show that hate speech, i.e. expressing prejudices towards minority groups and migrants in public has an acute effect on people’s lives.

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