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Letter to the Editor

Dr. Lisa Steelman
Editor of TIP
January, 2013

Dear Lisa,

We are writing to respond to the recent letters in TIP related to the recent Silzer–Parson series of TIP articles regarding representativeness in SIOP.

First we would like to thank you for your ongoing support and for publishing our series of data-based articles. We also thank the many SIOP members who have encouraged our work and provided positive feedback on our articles. In addition we want to thank Dr. Thayer for his support of fair and “balanced representation of academics and practitioners in SIOP governance”; Dr. Muchinsky for discussing the past “restrictive controls” on designating Fellows and the perceptions of SIOP as being “elitist” in its governance and run by an “in crowd” and “small group of power brokers”; and Drs. Moses and Schneider for noting that there “have been many positive responses to these publications.”

The data and findings reported in our articles are very clear. Our analysis has found that SIOP members whose primary employment is in organizations (business, nonprofit, etc) and in consulting firms (nonresearch focused) are significantly underrepresented in SIOP appointments, awards and recognitions, officer positions, and Executive Board (EB) positions. While they represent 50% or more of the SIOP membership, they represent only 0–20 % of these SIOP recognitions. However members who work in academia and in research consulting firms (and represent less than half of the membership) are given 80-100% of these SIOP recognitions. This leads to questions about SIOP’s fairness and inclusiveness and why the professional (nonresearch) contributions and work efforts of 50% of the membership are regularly excluded from these recognitions. Members in these excluded groups have expressed their dissatisfaction with SIOP on these and other issues.

Several letters seem to have misconstrued our results and have instead interpreted them as either a personal affront to their self-identity or a divisive assault on the integration of science and practice in our profession. Neither of these conclusions is justified. It is likely that all of us see ourselves as practitioner–scientists, scientist–practitioners or practitioner–scholars. The results do not focus on science–practice integration issues but on how well SIOP and the profession recognizes and values the professional contributions of members who work in organizations and in nonresearch consulting firms. These data suggest that SIOP needs to be more inclusive and balanced in order to serve all members. The issues are related to professional respect, fairness, and representativeness in SIOP recognitions and decisions.

Historically SIOP has strongly favored the publishable research of academics and researchers over professional nonresearch contributions. While no one questions the value and usefulness of good research, SIOP does not seem to value the nonresearch professional contributions of I-O practitioners who work in organizations and consulting firms (nonresearch). It is widely known that the strong majority of SIOP awards have been off limits to I-O practitioners who do not do publishable research or have numerous peer- reviewed journal articles and journal citations. Similarly SIOP appointments in recent years have strongly favored academics/researchers (getting 80% of the major appointments in 2011 and in some cases 100% of certain designations such as Alliance for Organizational Psychology [AOP] representatives). While these concerns have been evident for a while, change has come very slowly to SIOP in these areas, and the lack of balance, fairness, and respect only serves to disenfranchise more than 50% of the professional membership.

Is SIOP willing to address this lack of representativeness? We are glad to see that the letters support “positive responses” to these issues and that Dr. Thayer calls for proposals to address them. Several years ago as president of the SIOP Foundation, Dr. Thayer noted that “we (the Foundation) know that we do not provide any recognition or support for I-O practitioners, but we do not know what to do.” Several suggestions were provided to him at the time and over the last 5 years many suggestions have been put forth, either in numerous TIP articles or directly to EB members. While some progress has been made in a few other areas, such as journal research access and the recent refocusing of the LEC on I-O practice, there has been little change in the representativeness in SIOP appointments, awards, recognitions, officer positions, and Executive Board positions.

What are the causes of this lack of representativeness? Some might say that the reward systems for academics/researchers are different from practitioners working in organizations and nonresearch consulting firms, which results in less practitioner involvement in SIOP. While it is likely to be more difficult for nonresearch consultants and organizational practitioners to publish in peer- reviewed journals or spend time on SIOP activities (than academics/researchers who get rewarded by their employers for it), we found that they volunteer for SIOP committees in approximately the same proportion as their membership in SIOP as a whole. So their professional participation is not an issue.

Another hypothesis is that the gatekeepers in SIOP, the folks that Dr. Muchinsky refers to as a “small group of power brokers,” control many of the decisions on awards, recognitions, appointments, and so on, and they tend to favor other academics/researchers to a large extent. An additional perspective is that the gatekeepers may have limited understanding of, or respect for, non-research I-O practice. Despite being measurement experts, we have done little to outline ways to evaluate the professional contributions and work of nonresearch I-O practitioners. And because peer-reviewed journal articles and journal citations are readily available measures, SIOP tends to overrely on them for many recognition decisions.

What can be done? There are many ideas that have been suggested in TIP. It would seem that the first step might be to ensure that the decision makers themselves for these appointments, awards and so on are fully representative of the membership. There is no longer any justifiable reason why any decision making group, committee, appointments, or board should continue to be heavily dominated by academics/researchers. Perhaps for some officer and EB positions SIOP should consider regular rotations between an academic/ researcher and a practitioner employed in an organization or a nonresearch consulting firm. This would encourage the balance that is needed. SIOP needs to embrace the idea that I-O practitioners working in organizations and in nonresearch consulting firms are full professional members and should be given the same respect, support, and recognition as other professional members. Let’s get rid of this perceived two-class system among our members.

In addition SIOP should work diligently to establish ways to evaluate the professional work and contributions of nonresearch practitioners. This would provide decision makers with the objective tools they need to make fair, balanced, and transparent decisions. These and many other suggestions have been made to SIOP in the past; it is long past time for SIOP to finally take real action to address these concerns. Our members expect it.

Briefly, one methodological note. In our analysis we followed a clear and objective set of decision rules on how to categorize members based on their current primary employment setting (and in a small number of government settings on their job title). Almost all members were easily and cleanly categorized based on SIOP membership data. One letter suggests that this objective system should be replaced with self-report measures. However that data would not answer the question at hand. Also, given the numerous problems with relying on self-report measures, we think the objective categorization is the far better option for answering the question that was posed.

The profession of I-O psychology has changed significantly in the last 20 years. Professional work opportunities in business organizations and consulting firms have greatly expanded and that is where a majority of I-O psychology professionals are now employed. I-O practice careers have gone through a major growth period, and this change over the last 2 decades will only continue into the future. Up to 70–80% of graduate students in I-O doctoral programs now express career ambitions to be an I-O practitioner.

SIOP needs to decide if it is willing to catch up to these significant changes in our profession or remain stuck in the out-of-date framework for our profession that is still held, and advocated for, by some senior insiders who defend the status quo. This is an opportunity for SIOP to move into the present state of our profession. Let’s all hope for the benefit of our shared profession that SIOP makes that change soon.

Thank you again, Dr. Steelman, for your support in publishing these data-based articles. We are hopeful that SIOP will embrace the need for more balance, fairness, and transparency in decisions and in service to all members.

Rob Silzer & Chad Parson