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Build Your Career Office Life

At Work, Political Correctness Inspires Creativity

At Work, Political Correctness Inspires Creativity
Credit: Alpha Spirit/Shutterstock

While you might think that a politically correct work environment would stifle creativity, the opposite tends to hold true, new research finds.

When men and women work together, setting clear expectations of how the two genders should interact encourages creativity among employees, according to a study set to be published in an upcoming issue of Administrative Science Quarterly.

Jennifer Chatman, one of the study's authors and a professor at the University of California, Berkley's Haas School of Business, said creativity is essential to a business's innovation and growth.

"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 said in a statement. "Setting a norm that both clarifies expectations for appropriate behavior and makes salient the social sanctions that result from using sexist language unleashes creative expression by countering the uncertainty that arises in mixed-sex work groups."

For the study, participants were randomly divided into mixed-sex and same-sex groups. The researchers then asked the group participants to describe the value of politically correct behavior. Next, the group members worked together on a creative task, brainstorming ideas for a new business to be housed in a property left vacated by a mismanaged restaurant. By design, the task had no right or wrong answers.

The researchers also had control groups work on the same task; however, these participants did not discuss the value of being politically correct before getting started. [Stand Up! Why Standing Beats Sitting for Creativity ]

The study's authors discovered that rather than stifling ideas, discussing being politically correct increased the creativity of mixed-sex groups. They come up with a significantly higher number of divergent and novel ideas than the control group. As expected, based on previous studies that found homogenous groups are less creative, same-sex groups generated fewer innovative ideas.

Researchers found that women in the experiment became more confident about expressing their ideas out loud when the idea of being politically correct was prominent. In contrast, work groups that included all men or all women had no increase in creative ideas regardless of whether they discussed the value of being politically correct beforehand.

"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," Chatman said.

The study was co-authored by two Haas Ph.D. graduates — Jack Goncalo, who now teaches at Cornell University in New York state, and Jessica Kennedy, now at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee — as well as Michelle Duguid of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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