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The Role of Diversity in the Scientific and Engineering Workforce and its Impact on Innovation: A Review of Quantitative Research

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Pena V, Balakrishnan A. The Role of Diversity in the Scientific and Engineering Workforce and its Impact on Innovation: A Review of Quantitative Research. Oral presentation at 2017 SciTS Conference. Clearwater Beach, FL. Jun 13, 2017. Gender and Diversity in Teams. Online at:

We reviewed the body of literature related to science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce diversity and innovation to better understand the evidence of diversity’s impact on innovation. Workforce diversity and its role in organizational performance and innovation have been studied since the 1950s. The relationship between workforce diversity and innovation is tenuous and complex, interacting with many contextual variables, such as the nature of the team, tasks, industry, societal and organizational cultures and norms, among other factors. STPI staff conducted this literature review to shed light on the direct and indirect linkages surrounding the processes of when, how, and why workforce diversity affects innovation as understood from a collection of empirical studies to date. We adopted wide-ranging definitions of diversity and innovation. Specifically, the workforce literature denoted three types of diversity— 1. Social, which included demographic characteristics (e.g., age, gender, and race/ethnicity), 2. Informational, such as characteristics related to skills (e.g., education, tenure in teams and organizations, experience (across industries), collaboration networks, and disciplines, and 3. Value, which described differences in personalities, attitudes, and beliefs. We collected over 1,000 measures across the 63 studies describing statistical relationships between workforce diversity and innovation. We identified studies broader than the STEM workforce and compared the STEMspecific workforce findings with those from other industries, such as business and finance. We analyzed the direction of the impacts (positive or negative) and described the quantitative measures based on frequency counts and statistical significance. Of the 63 studies, we identified 25 articles (40 percent) related to STEM. The STEM studies analyzed some diversity variables not previously studied in non-STEM contexts—experience, collaboration network, and disciplinary diversity—which may indicate attributes that are more prevalent or important for the STEM workforce. Some of these findings are based on a small number of reported measures (<10). We did not observe other notable differences across STEM and non-STEM studies other than the existence of more measures and studies in non-STEM contexts. Further research specific to the STEM workforce could provide insight on the generalizability of non-STEM findings for the STEM workforce and vice versa. Based on the frequency of the collected measures, the majority of the diversity attributes showed no effect or the findings were mixed. However, context is crucial to understand the nuances in the relationship between workforce diversity and innovation. The significant findings in the literature review also indicated that workforce diversity can positively or negatively impact innovation and performance depending on the presence of certain conditions. Context and a diversity measure’s interaction with other factors, such as task complexity, type of leadership, human resource practices, and industry, among others, changed the significance level and direction of the relationship to innovation. Based on our findings, we provide considerations for managing workforce diversity in STEM contexts.



Type of Publication:

Oral presentation


scits 2017 conference, presentation, STEM, diversity, scientific, engineering, innovative, quantitative research

Addresses these goal(s):

  • Learn about the field of team science: history, theory and concepts
  • Conduct research on/evaluate team science

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Resource created by Jane Hwang on 10/5/2017 2:37:24 PM.

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