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Spotlight on Global I-O

Lori Foster Thompson
North Carolina State University

Greetings, TIP readers, and welcome to the latest installment of Spotlight on Global I-O! For this Spotlight edition, I have invited Alexander Gloss and M. K. Ward to help this column’s readers pause, look back, and reflect on where we have visited in the past 25 issues of TIP. Because stopping to look back is an opportune time to think about how to move forward, the following pages also describe the types of global settings this column will focus on in the future.

Shifting the Spotlight to the “Majority” World

Alexander E. Gloss and M. K. Ward
North Carolina State University
Since July 2005, the Spotlight on Global I-O column has highlighted I-O psychology in 27 countries, cities, and provinces across all six habitable continents (see Table 1). In each setting, we heard from one or more people familiar with a local practice of I-O. We want to give a hearty thank you, gracias, merci, danke, re a leboga, tack, and teÅŸekkür ederim to all those who helped make the last 7 years a reality by providing a profile of I-O in their neck of the woods! What can we learn from the I-O researchers and practitioners we heard from in these 27 settings? Collectively, their input suggests some interesting possible trends, which we summarize below.
We found notable diversity in I-O’s name, presence, and history. We learned that depending on the location, I-O psychology is known as work, organizational, occupational, business, and/or industrial psychology. The Spotlight on Global I-O column has looked at settings where I-O psychology has a very limited presence (e.g., in Lebanon) and where it is firmly established (e.g., in Germany). The number of I-O psychology practitioners and researchers likely stretches into the thousands in some countries (e.g., in Chile) but official counts might not exist or might struggle to reach three digits in many other countries. Despite its recent emergence relative to other sciences, I-O psychology’s roots run surprisingly deep in some places, whereas in other places there is virtually no history at all. In Spain, as José Maria Peiró pointed out in 2008, I-O psychology can find its intellectual heritage in the 16th century writings of Huarte de San Juan who developed a differential psychology for career and vocational guidance.
We also identified that in some settings, I-O’s focus and identity as a discipline can be quite different from those in the United States. Yet, in a great many countries, I-O has emerged in response to quite similar phenomena. In some countries like South Korea, I-O psychology is a distinct subdiscipline, whereas in others like Peru, it has blended with other subdisciplines like consumer and community psychology. Although traditional topics like selection, performance appraisal, and training are common, they are not always preeminent. In Sweden, for example, a strong humanistic movement and a preference for “jante,” or humility, have created a reluctance to differentiate people. I-O has instead sometimes focused on other issues including poverty reduction (e.g., in New Zealand), and participatory organizational interventions (e.g., in Finland). However, as in the United States, I-O psychology’s emergence in many countries has been tied to the military, large corporations, and globalization.
I-O researchers and practitioners certainly face many different challenges around the world, but common—and familiar—themes do still emerge. In the Netherlands, a geographically small country with a tight-knit I-O community, overnetworking can be a problem! In contrast, in Australia, it is often a challenge to keep researchers and practitioners connected over that country’s vast physical expanse. In Israel, I-O psychology is identified as a critical field because of the importance of developing human resources; whereas in Greece, the field struggles to gain much recognition. As in the United States, many I-O psychologists abroad compete to prove their worth in comparison to nonpsychologists, struggle with the divide between science and practice, and wrestle with social issues within their ranks. In South Africa, a country emerging from its apartheid past, it is possible that only 12% of registered
I-O psychologists are Black (whereas 79% of the country’s population is Black; Central Intelligence Agency, 2012). In Belgium and Quebec, the issues of language and cultural division are not just important international concerns but salient local and professional concerns as well.
As this column’s coverage of international locations is by no means complete (there are, after all, approximately 200 sovereign states at last count; United Nations Development Programme, 2010), it might be revealing to try to characterize what sort of countries have been covered (see Table 1). Of the 27 settings profiled, 12 were in Europe, but only 1 was in Africa. In addition, only 3 countries (China, India, and South Africa) did not have “very high” or “high” measures of what is known as “human development” (an index of income, health, and education levels) as measured by the United Nations (United Nations Development Programme, 2010). So, it seems this column’s coverage of countries has been skewed away from many of the places where people and organizations are facing some of the toughest societal and organizational challenges.
Although we believe that this column’s look into I-O psychology in settings outside of the United States has been truly illuminating, we propose that it is time to more deliberately turn the spotlight to settings, both foreign and domestic, with lower levels of income, health, and education (commonly known as “developing” settings). Three factors motivate this suggestion. First, we believe looking at I-O psychology in these settings is an important step in supporting psychologists’ charge to reduce poverty and enhance human welfare around the world (American Psychological Association, 2000). Second, prominent commentators have aptly identified the need for psychology to consider issues important to developing settings as an important step in adopting a truly global perspective (e.g., Gelfand, Leslie, & Fehr, 2008). Third, meeting and hearing from people from developing settings provides an exciting opportunity to broaden our collective SIOP network and to profile some of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Of course, one could argue that thinking in terms of “developing” and “developed” worlds is hopelessly broad, antiquated, and potentially stigmatizing. Consider that approximately 85% of the world’s population lives in “developing” settings (United Nations Development Programme, 2010) and that, over the last 50 years, many countries have experienced extraordinary changes in their standards of living (see http://www.gapminder.org for a fascinating and entertaining demonstration of this!). It is also certainly safe to say that no matter where in the world we are, we have not stopped making progress in income, education, and health standards! Therefore, in light of its size, diversity, and importance, perhaps it is more appropriate to refer to the “developing world” as the “majority world”—a practice we will adhere to in this column.
Looking at I-O psychology in the majority world will be a tall order. Psychology itself does not seem to have a strong presence in many of the countries and settings in question. For example, according to Adair, Coêlho, and Luna (2002), psychology has not had much of a presence in most African countries. However, according to those same authors, psychology does have a presence in some countries including Cameroon, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Egypt. Even when it is not possible to locate I-O psychologists to provide insights into the issues we SIOP members study and practice, our investigations are bound to turn up some very interesting realities. It is probably a safe bet that in any given region, major issues in selection, training, and organizational development (for example) are being handled by someone (even if not by an I-O psychologist)!
Concluding Editorial
So there you have it—an excellent summary of where we’ve been and a call to action that points us forward. Although the Spotlight on Global I-O column will continue to profile I-O psychology’s presence around the world, it now takes a particular focus on places commonly designated as “developing.” In the volumes and issues to come, Alexander Gloss and M. K. Ward will join me as coeditors of this column to assist with this endeavor. Together, we hope to learn from and engage with scientists and practitioners from a diverse set of backgrounds and locations in the “majority” world. We’ll need all of the help we can get! To this end, I’d like to extend a call to all TIP readers to lend a hand by contacting Alexander Gloss (aegloss@ncsu.edu ) or M. K. Ward (mkward@ncsu.edu) if you have conducted I-O work (research and/or practice) in places labeled as developing, if you know of someone who has, or if you have a suggestion for a possible setting to spotlight! Hopefully, this exciting new direction for TIP will help all of us learn more about our global profession and about the ways in which it is helping to tackle some of the world’s most important challenges!
Adair, J. G., Coêlho, A. E. L., & Luna, J. R. (2002). How international is psychology? International Journal of Psychology, 37(3), 160–170.
American Psychological Association. (2000, August 6). Resolution on poverty and socioeconomic status. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/policy/poverty-resolution.aspx
Central Intelligence Agency. (2012). The world factbook: South Africa. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sf.html
Gelfand, M. J., Leslie, L. M., & Fehr, R. (2008). To prosper, organizational psychology should…adopt a global perspective. Journal of Organizational Psychology, 29, 493–517. doi: 10.1002/job.530
Peiró, J. M. (2008, July). Work and organizational psychology in Spain: Bonding and bridging social capital within the W&O psychology community. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 46(1), 63–68.
United Nations Development Programme. (2010). Human development report 2010: The real wealth of nations—pathways to human development. Retrieved from http://hdr.undp.org/ en/reports/global/hdr2.