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Practitioners' Forum

Tracy Kantrowitz, SHL

SIOP Task Force Begins Dialogue With Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Eric Dunleavy, DCI Consulting Group
Rich Tonowski, EEOC

As many SIOP members know, last year at the SIOP conference in San Diego, Jacqueline Berrien, Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), gave the keynote address at the Theme Track on Workplace Discrimination calling for a clear and open channel of communication between SIOP and EEOC. She noted that although the goals of the two organizations are not identical, they travel on parallel tracks toward effective and fair employment practices. She further noted that the social sciences have influenced, and continue to influence, equal employment law and its enforcement. Her involvement generated excitement among SIOP members, as did her message of collaboration and partnership. Also at the conference, Doug Reynolds, Adrienne Colella, and Tammy Allen of the SIOP Executive Board met with Patrick Patterson, a longtime civil rights attorney serving as senior counsel to the Chair, and Rich Tonowski, chief psychologist at EEOC and a SIOP member. During that meeting the group discussed how SIOP and EEOC can continue a dialogue and initiate collaboration on issues of relevance to both organizations. Since the conference, this dialogue has continued and SIOP has identified an opportunity to share findings and practices from our field with stakeholders in the federal EEO community. The idea was to have SIOP summarize and present what the profession considers to be contemporary practice guidance on some specific employee selection procedure issues, including test use, monitoring, and validation research.

The Executive Board decided to form a task force to begin dialogue with EEOC via a discussion around findings and practices from our field that are of mutual interest to SIOP and EEOC. It is named the Task Force on Contemporary Selection Practice Recommendations to EEOC and is grounded in both the Professional Practice Committee (chaired by Tracy Kantrowitz) and the Scientific Affairs Committee (chaired by Fred Oswald). Task Force members are Eric Dunleavy (Chair), Art Gutman, Jeff Johnson, Kathleen Kappy Lundquist, Scott Morris, Kevin Murphy, Jim Outtz, Paul Sackett, and Nancy Tippins. In addition, John Weiner, Dennis Doverspike, and Karina Hui-Walowitz will be supporting the task force as members of the Professional Practice Committee. Patrick Patterson and Rich Tonowski (who is also a member of the SIOP Professional Practice Committee) have been named EEOC liaisons to the task force and represent the first level of communication between SIOP and EEOC.

We thought that SIOP members would be interested to hear about the task force, understand relevant historical context, and be aware of what the task force will be doing in the immediate future. We also thought it would be useful to summarize who EEOC is, what the agency does, and what topics within the context of personnel selection the agency might be interested in knowing more about. This article attempts to accomplish those goals.

The EEOC at a Glance

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency headed by a five-member bipartisan commission with a staff comprising investigators, attorneys, and a few I-O psychologists. It enforces federal law relating to employment discrimination based on race, sex, color, nationality, religion, age, disability, and genetic information. For some of these protected classes, the legal standard for personnel selection practices is that they are “job related” and used in ways “consistent with business necessity.” During the 1960s, EEOC issued several iterations of guidance and enforcement policy relating these legal standards to selection test validation. This guidance culminated in the Uniform Guidelines on Employment Selection Procedures (UGESP), “uniform” in that it was endorsed by all the federal agencies at the time having equal employment opportunity enforcement responsibilities. UGESP was promulgated in 1978 and is still in force today.

Given what EEOC does, it is no surprise that the SIOP Executive Board views this as an interesting and important dialogue. EEOC is tasked with the enormous responsibility of ensuring that employees and applicants are protected from discrimination in employment. Federal agencies like EEOC1 are in part tasked with the burden of blending science and law to define and measure unlawful discrimination. SIOP has obvious expertise in areas around measurement, evaluation and use of employee selection procedures. More broadly, the field of I-O psychology continues to gain prominence in the public eye via contributions to business, science, and academia. The SIOP Executive Board believes that SIOP can assist the broader EEO community by informing the EEOC on the contemporary science and practice of employee selection, and is pleased that the agency is genuinely interested in our perspective. A long-term dialogue between EEOC and SIOP would be beneficial to both groups.
1This burden is shared with the Executive Branch, Congress and the Courts.

Some Mutual Selection Topics of Interest

Based on some initial conversations, the topics of mutual interest are (a) the measurement of adverse impact and (b) validity transportability as discussed below. Those of you familiar with recent EEO enforcement and contemporary case law are aware of the controversies surrounding adverse impact measurement. The UGESP are still the federal guidance given the most deference in disparate impact cases; it endorses the 4/5 rule as the measure of adverse impact, and this measure has been criticized for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, traditional statistical significance tests are the most commonly used measure of adverse impact. The U.S. Supreme Court has supported statistical significance but phrased as standard deviations on a normal probability distribution. Some court rulings and scholarly writings have given preference to other practical significance considerations related to magnitude and scope of the disparity. These methodological variations may lead to different conclusions regarding whether a disparity is meaningful, and as such decision makers may have a difficult time combining relevant information in order to come to a conclusion. This is a topic where some contemporary guidance on the pros and cons of measuring adverse impact via different strategies may be useful to the EEOC, as well as to other stakeholders.

As mentioned earlier, UGESP are the most commonly used standard for disparate impact cases. Those Guidelines were written in 1978, when local approaches to validation research were still the norm for many practitioners. However, since then scholarly research and professional practice have identified alternative validation strategies that transport research evidence from other sources outside of the situation where validation research is needed locally. The option of transporting evidence is particularly useful in situations where local validation research is not feasible because of a variety of practical constraints. Yet these approaches vary in scope, substance, and specificity, and as such it would be valuable for contemporary guidance to establish the usefulness and appropriateness of each. For example, UGESP define a narrow transportability where criterion validity evidence from another source is linked to the situation of interest via formal job analysis research conducted for the borrowed source and for the local context to which the validation evidence is being transported. More recent professional practice has endorsed the transportation of other forms of validity evidence, including (a) content-oriented approaches; (b) synthetic validation, which is the process of inferring validity from basic job components, a consideration of validity measures predicting those components, and the synthesis of component validity into an aggregate; and (c) the application of meta-analytic data to support test validity. As such, this is another topic where some contemporary guidance on the appropriateness of particular validation strategies in certain situations may be useful to the EEOC.

Where We Are Now

By the time you read this article we hope that the task force is off and running. An initial kickoff call was scheduled for the first week of February. Of course, that didn’t give us much time to make major progress before the SIOP conference in April, but we expect that the structure, process, project plan, timeline, and expected deliverables will be ironed out by about that time. The EEOC may be willing to meet for the first time with the task force about our input as early as this spring. As part of this process it is reasonable to expect the following (although the specifics were to be decided at the time this article was written):

  • An evaluation of available literature and practice guidance on the topics described above, as well as a consideration of the extent to which there is consensus among experts in the field on these matters;
  • SIOP sharing results and recommendations with membership via the appropriate outlets (e.g., webinars, a SIOP white paper).
  • EEOC sharing these recommendations with stakeholders via the appropriate outlets (e.g., an EEOC fact sheet, the incorporation of science and practice issues in EEOC’s compliance training for employers).
  • Continued identification of high priority and mutually interesting issues that warrant contemporary science and practice recommendations.

SIOP Conference Session on the Task Force

If you are interested in more information on the task force we suggest that you attend a special event at the SIOP conference this year in Houston. Joan Brannick will be moderating a panel as part of the Executive Committee block that will focus on this initiative. Doug Reynolds, Patrick Patterson, Rich Tonowski, and Eric Dunleavy will be panelists, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some task force members participating from the audience. The session will focus on a more detailed description of the task force, clarification on what the task force is and what it is not, and a general update regarding what the task force has accomplished so far and what the project plan and timeline looks like going forward. This session will take place Friday, April 12 at 3:30 PM in Grand G. We hope to see you there.

Professional Practice Committee Updates

Including the task force described above by Eric Dunleavy and Rich Tonowski, the Professional Practice Committee is currently engaged in several initiatives that span internally focused career/professional development, the visibility of I-O psychology, and externally focused projects with policy implications. I wanted to highlight a couple of additional initiatives here.

The miniwebinar series, a joint initiative between the Professional Practice and Visibility committees, is now live! The webinar concept was conceived after the most recent practitioner needs survey, in which practitioners were asked about potential development activities SIOP could sponsor. Practitioners responded very favorably to items such as “provide more online resources,” “summarize the state of practice and science on specific practice topics (reports, summaries, books, meetings, videos),” and “provide more continuing practice education resources.”  The webinar concept fit the bill in terms of providing online resources on timely topics that members could conveniently access anytime, anywhere on the SIOP website (currently under the Resources tab). The webinars are designed with a practitioner focus, but all members, including Student Affiliates, can certainly benefit. That is, topics are selected with clear educational and career development objectives that can directly benefit practitioners. We saw this as better meeting members’ needs rather than scheduled webinars that may only be available to a portion of the membership given diversity in schedules and interests.

The first webinar, recorded by Neta Moye, discusses the emerging concept of learning agility, or the ability and willingness to learn from previous experience. Neta reviews the current research and practice surrounding learning agility. The second webinar is by Jeff Jolton and is on communicating to senior executives in business (the C-suite). Special thanks to Neta and Jeff for preparing and delivering fantastic webinars, and to Practice and Visibility committee members Amy DuVernet and Carl Persing for helping to deliver them to SIOP members. Check back soon on the SIOP website for additional miniwebinars.

The careers study of I-O psychologists has progressed through various stages of data collection to help inform draft career paths taken by professionals with advanced degrees in I-O psychology. Multiple companies and universities contributed to the first round of data collection by providing source materials (career paths, job descriptions, competency models, job analytic information) to give context on how I-O roles are currently mapped in private and public organizations and in consulting. This information provided background for the development of interview protocol. Interviews are underway with I-O psychologists employed in a wide variety of roles to better understand career progression, career decision points, and career self-management. The next major stage of data collection involves a large-scale survey of SIOP members, so be on the lookout for a survey that will directly inform the final products for the careers study. The subcommittee dedicated to this project, led by Mike Trusty along with Alex Alonso, Gary Carter, Rich Cober, Dennis Doverspike, Amy DuVernet, Joy Oliver, and a team of consultants from the Center for Organizational Research at the University of Akron, is excited to share the results of this study with members as it will provide long-needed career information for professionals in and/or considering the field and showcase the diversity of roles that can be pursued with a degree in I-O psychology.

As always, the Professional Practice Committee is interested in hearing from practitioners on issues and concerns that affect you, and ways that SIOP can serve as advocates. Please e-mail me (tracy.kantrowitz@shl.com) with ideas and recommendations for initiatives the committee should consider to advance our agenda of promoting and advancing the practice of I-O psychology.