Top Workplace Trend Number 4

Top Ten Work Trends Quarterly Updates

A diverse group of SIOP members are serving as Trend Champions for the people-related work trends that SIOP members collaboratively predicted to be the most impactful in 2023. Each Trend Champion has expertise in and professional passion for their trend subject. SIOP appreciates their service to the profession in providing quarterly updates on their chosen topics.

Find the full list of topics and links to the other Top 10 Work Trends here

Trend #4: Ensuring Inclusive Environments and Cultures

2023 4th Quarter Update

New Challenges, New Approaches.

The fourth quarter of 2023 was filled with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) challenges and changes that pointed out complexities of the field that have not yet been sufficiently explored. These challenges and unresolved questions have also set the agenda for how organizations may need to develop their efforts of ensuring inclusive environments and cultures in 2024.

In particular, two aspects of current events highlighted that there is no, and like has never been, such thing as DEI-as-usual. 

  1. The continued backlash centered around affirmative action and the Supreme Court decisions against it. Overcoming this backlash (also discussed in the Q3 update) requires fine-tuned and collaborative approaches that restore a sense of community and trust. Approaches focused on humanity in all its complexity are also necessary for addressing the second major challenge to inclusive workplace environments in Q4, 2023.
  2. The increase in both antisemitism and islamophobia in the context of the Israel-Hamas war. In many workplaces, Jewish people, people with Palestinian as well as many different Middle Eastern roots, and Muslim people, regardless of their personal views, relationships, and attitudes, turned from regular coworkers or even friends into presumed “sides” in the emotionally charged conflict. This challenge is much more complex than what most inclusion practices and DEI policies have been designed to address, bringing together ethnic, religious, and many other intersectional considerations. Creating work environments that protect employees from violence, harassment, and discrimination while respecting free speech requires that professionals develop new tools and approaches. A few of the potential measures are more detailed anti-harassment policies, a focus on civility norms, as well as increasing support for distress associated with individual-level consequences of global events.

In addition to these considerations that reflect recent events, there is an increasing understanding that bare-minimum, performative, compliance-oriented approaches to diversity must give way to embedding diversity and inclusion into every aspect of talent processes and all organization’s operations. It cannot be an add-on. Whether it is addressing the complexities of disclosing religious identities at work, non-performative disability inclusion, which was discussed in the recent special issue of the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, or the much-needed attention to intersectionality, workplaces cannot create inclusive environments with add-on programs. Instead, inclusion must be embedded in every aspect of organizational life. It should be supported by respectful, inclusive leadership and evidence-based practices.

2023 3rd Quarter Update
Beyond the Backlash: The Flexible Future of Inclusive Workplaces

The Supreme Court’s judgment striking down Harvard’s affirmative action in student admissions prompted much thinking, speculation, and anxiety about the future of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Against this backdrop, much of the Q3, 2023 conversation centered on ensuring that diversity work continues in ways that are both effective and legally compliant. Many authors also focused on addressing the anxiety about the very continuation of this work. For example, Joan Williams explains that workplace diversity programs in private companies are unlikely to be at a significant legal risk following the Supreme Court’s decision. Companies can further reduce the legal risk by focusing diversity and inclusion work on interrupting the bias embedded within foundational business systems. Likewise, Kenji Yoshino and David Glasgow suggest that companies may want to focus on improving workplaces in ways that benefit everyone, but particularly those who feel most excluded.

I explored examples of one of the practices that particularly benefit those the most marginalized but are generally welcomed by all - flexibility. For disabled and neurodivergent communities, flexible work is a necessity. It supports caregivers, women, BIPOC employees, and those who deal with economic struggles. Yet, it also greatly improves the lives of all employees. This makes flexibility a tool of inclusion that is both highly effective and welcomed by most. Organizations also benefit – as demonstrated by pioneering companies and entire countries, flexibility is also an effective tool for ensuring success and productivity. Flexible and inclusive work is a win-win for all.

It is likely that the work of inclusion in the workplace will continue to face challenges, especially in some of the US states. Creating flexible and human-centric organizations is an emerging approach that has the potential to advance diversity and inclusion even in the face of political uncertainties and legal challenges.

2023 2nd Quarter Update

The research released in the second quarter of 2023 has further illuminated the disconnect between how organizations and employees view progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). According to Workhuman, while the majority of HR leaders (97%) report their organization has made changes to improve DEI, just over a third of employees (37%) agree. This leaves much need for improvement. One example of needed improvements is gender. While it may appear that women are well-represented in the workplace, a new book by Diehl et al., (2023) Glass Walls: Shattering the Six Gender Bias Barriers Still Holding Women Back at Work uncovers many ways in which gender bias still slows down and derails women’s careers. And their Harvard Business Review article illustrates that women are never the “right” age, facing discrimination for being “too” young, “too” in-the-middle, and “too” old – not to mention the lookism pressure at any age.

Gender inequities remain ingrained and powerful, and while occasionally there is a denial of the extent of disparities, there is generally an awareness of the importance of gender. The same can’t be said of all groups that face disadvantages. Dai et al., (2023) article in Psychological Science brings attention to a form of discrimination faced by Native Americans in society – and by extension, in the workplace – discrimination by omission. The undercounting, underestimation, and omission of Native American communities from public discourse and consciousness can exacerbate the scarcity of resources and the existing disparities. The omission of Native Americans from workplace diversity and inclusion considerations can perpetuate the lack of career opportunities and the resulting economic inequalities. Strengthening workplace visibility and guarding against omission bias can help support individual employees as well as promote justice toward the Native American communities.

Another group that is undercounted and often omitted from diversity conversations is disabled people. Employers also widely underestimate the prevalence of disability - while 25% of employees self-identify as having a disability or medical condition that limits a major life activity, most companies report that just 4% to 7% of their employees have disabilities. If decision-makers do not understand the true number of people with disabilities, it's difficult to make a compelling argument for developing support systems that could have significant performance and engagement benefits.

Organizations need a comprehensive “diversity reality” check. There are many forms of biases and excluded groups that are rarely considered in DEI work, if at all. Making DEI more comprehensive is an important challenge of our time.

2023 1st Quarter Update

The start of 2023 has brought significant challenges in ensuring inclusive environments and cultures. The wave of layoffs, particularly in large tech companies, disproportionately impacted diversity and inclusion roles, with some companies laying off entire diversity teams. This makes the experts and the public wonder just how sincere the diversity efforts of the last three years have been.

A recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review points to limitations of interventions that maintain the inclusion façade rather than genuine, deep inclusion and valuing of diverse voices. Going beyond the inclusion façade means that employees from different demographic groups are equally able to impact organizational decision-making. The field of organizational psychology can help organizations measure this type of impact and support inclusion beyond the façade and checking boxes.

Deep-level inclusion work requires a systemic approach and systems thinking. Systems thinking has been lacking in various organizational interventions – including diversity-focused. Taking steps toward facilitating systemic change can take diversity efforts beyond the surface ups and downs driven by the political and economic climate, and turn inclusion into a truly embedded cultural and structural advantage. 

Building the systemic thinking advantage in organizations requires, in part, diversifying the collective cognition in leadership. One of the way ways to do this is through neurodiversity inclusion – a topic of growing significance that was a focus of the latest issue of the Industrial and Organizational Psychology journal. Of course, increasing neurodiversity in leadership will require letting go of stereotypes and biases that impact both practice and research. And while the I/O psychology field still has some work to do in becoming attuned to all facets and intersectionalities of diversity, the upcoming SIOP conference promises to be a not-to-miss forum focused, among other topics, on making organizations more inclusive, regardless of political and economic ups and downs.

Champion: Ludmila Praslova

Ludmila N. Praslova, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP uses her extensive experience with global, cultural, demographic, and ability diversity to help create inclusive and equitable workplaces. She is a Professor of Psychology and the founding Director of Graduate Programs in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Vanguard University of Southern California. Prior to her academic career, she built inclusive cultures in global organizations. Her current consulting is focused on supporting organizations in creating systemic inclusion informed by an understanding of neurodiversity. She is the editor of the upcoming special issue of the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research on Disability inclusion in the workplace: From “accommodation” to inclusive organizational design.