As organizational science increasingly explores diversity topics, some growing pains and misunderstandings are inevitable. Working and conducting research with any group in which one does not have a membership requires considerable preparation, specific skillsets (e.g., ensuring translation accuracy in cross-cultural research; ensuring participatory research), as well as cultural knowledge and humility in checking for own biases.
Most organizational researchers and practitioners are at least somewhat aware of this while working in international settings or with distinct ethnic groups within the society, even if much work is still needed. However, as exemplified by many well-intended studies, implicit ableism typically influences questions asked, terminology used, research design, results interpretation and proposed practical application.
An example is the study of leadership and disability. When leadership and disability are used in the same sentence, it is usually “How to better lead people with disabilities.” Although this may seem innocuous, this perspective both reflects and perpetuates ableism – as further illustrated by the glaring scarcity of research on supporting and developing people with disabilities toward leadership, and addressing societal and workplace discrimination that is a barrier to employment, inclusion at work, and advancement of highly talented individuals with disabilities.
One of the sessions I attended at the recent Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology Conference focused on doing better research with minority and underrepresented populations. Strategies included checking research questions for possible bias (e.g., “why are women more emotional” vs. “gender and emotion”), ensuring representation of the focal population in the research team, using the community-preferred terminology, and community consultation. These are fantastic strategies. Too bad disability was not represented in this excellent session. But it does not mean that those of us who teach research methods and help students with research design can’t do better. We can remember to check for a range of prejudices – ableism along with ageism, racism, sexism, xenophobia and other biases – and to model cultural and other types of humility.